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Lip Tie

What is lip tie?

Lip tie before the procedure.

Lip tie before the procedure.

A labial frenulum, or lip tie, is found when the thin membrane attaching from the top gumline to the upper lip, is tight.  Though breastfeeding problems are much more commonly caused from tongue tie, severe cases of lip tie can interfere with a baby’s ability to maintain a latch at the breast and make breastfeeding difficult.

Symptoms

A very tight lip tie can keep a baby from maintaining a latch while nursing.  If you notice the labial frenulum attached to the bottom of the gum line, as well as have problems with him maintaining latch even while trying various positions, lip tie may be the cause.

Does lip tie affect anything in addition to breastfeeding?

Though some cases will need revision for breastfeeding concerns, a tight labial frenulum can be more of a concern because it can cause a gap between a child’s two front teeth or the rotting of the front teeth.

Treatment

Same baby following laser release of lip tie.

Same baby following laser release of lip tie.

Increasing a baby’s head extension will usually allow a baby to grasp the breast sufficiently for breastfeeding.

As with tongue tie, a frenotomy can also be performed on lip ties.  By clipping the labial frenulum, the lip will immediately have more movement range, allowing the breastfeeding issues to be improved if not resolved.  However, unlike with tongue tie, lip tie revisions with scissors are subject to bleeding and most surgeons require a baby be put to sleep for the procedure.  Therefore, a preferred method by parents is usually to revise a lip tie with laser.  In this case, the procedure is quick and easy, with little to no bleeding.  Babies do not need anesthesia for the procedure and many times don’t feel a thing.  Typically being swaddled and held is much more alarming than the procedure itself.

Having a session of cranio-sacral therapy along with the lip tie revision can maximize results – the gentle manipulation of the head, neck, and back can help relax tension and thereby restrictions that were caused by a tight labial frenulum.

When should it be corrected?

If there are breastfeeding issues and your baby is diagnosed with lip tie, the sooner you have it revised the better.  It is safe to do the procedure on a newborn and, the sooner it is performed, the less relearning the baby has to do at the breast.  Even if the baby is a few months old (or older) when a frenotomy is performed, improvement should immediately be seen.

Post-Procedure

After a frenotomy, it is good to work with your baby to help her learn (or relearn) how to breastfeed properly.  This may include shaping the breast and holding the teat in the baby’s mouth for the duration of the breastfeed for the first few days to two weeks (depending on how much relearning the baby needs).  Be proactive to ensure good positioning and latch so she will learn to latch correctly.  It is also a good idea to perform some simple exercises on your baby for the first two weeks.  With clean fingers, gently sweep across the revision area.  Then place gentle pressure on either side of the revision lifting the top lip so scar tissue does not form.  Do these several times a day for two weeks.

You can read here about my experience breastfeeding a child with lip tie.


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Pacifiers

PacifierIn the West, mothers are often told not to let their babies use their breasts as a pacifier.  “It will spoil them,” moms are told along with a myriad of other reasons.  Instead, mothers are encouraged to replace the original pacifier – their breasts – with something artificial.  Assuming this cultural norm must be correct, and wanting a break from the almost constant nursing in the early days, many mothers introduce a pacifier to their baby.  However, from a breastfeeding perspective, there are many negative impacts a pacifier can have.  Let’s look at the benefits and repercussions of this common practice.

Pros

  • Allows baby to self-soothe
  • Perception parenting can be easier
  • Can improve digestion when a preterm baby sucks on a pacifier during gavage feeds 1
  • Possible reduction in SIDS

Cons

  • Associated with a decrease in exclusive breastfeeding
  • Associated with earlier weaning
  • Increased incidence of ear infections
  • Increased incidence of thrush/candida
  • Increased risk of dental caries
  • Increased risk of mouth malformation
  • Cannot rely on LAM as reliable method of birth control in first six months

Pacifier’s impact on milk supply

During the first six weeks following birth, a breastfeeding mother’s body is adjusting to the right amount of milk production for her baby(ies).  Giving a pacifier during these early days can alter breastfeeding rhythms and decrease the number of breastfeeds in a day.  Decreased breastfeeds – along with other associated factors of pacifiers such as decreased time in skin-to-skin contact and being held – can reduce a mother’s milk supply.  Therefore, even if you do decide to give a pacifier later, it is best to never give a pacifier until breastfeeding is well established.

One study looked at a pacifier’s use in relation to breastfeeding duration and weaning.  These researchers found that daily pacifier use had a deleterious effect on breastfeeding duration. 2

Decreased milk supply and/or early weaning also impact a mother’s fertility returning earlier.

Pacifier’s impact on infant health

Numerous studies have shown that pacifier use is positively related to ear infections.  In fact, there is a 1.2 – 2-fold increase in ear infection rates with pacifier use. 3

In addition to ear infections, pacifier use is also associated with an increased incidence of candida.  Whether the pacifier is accidently shared, touches a surface contaminating it, or is not cleaned thoroughly allowing for reinfection, if the fungus is on the pacifier and then put in the baby’s mouth his chances of getting an overgrowth greatly increase.  Not only this, but researchers postulate that sucking on a pacifier can also allow for the build up of sugars in a baby’s mouth. 4

The position of the tongue when sucking on a bottle or pacifier is completely different than suckling at the breast.  Breastfeeding helps to develop a normal palate and jaw formation, as well as protect against malocclusion.  Conversely, sucking on an artificial teat increases malformations of the mouth as well as cavities.

Benefits of pacifier use

Why is it, with so many known detriments, that pacifiers are still as common as candy?  Well, many mothers are tired and exhausted in the early days and need a break.  Mothers are not informed of any detrimental effects and think if a pacifier can just give them a few minutes to rest, shower, or grab a bite to eat it will have been worth it.  It’s true; many times babies will self sooth with a pacifier and allow a mother a break.  Additionally, western culture puts a top priority on scheduling babies, putting them on routines, and not wanting mothers to meet their babies every desire immediately.  A “good” baby is considered one that sleeps often and/or doesn’t cry much.

Another perspective, though, is that babies really may not be manipulative and if they are crying they actually have a need.  They’ve just entered a scary new world, coming from a place that was warm, where they were gently rocked to sleep, soothed by quiet sounds, and ate on demand.  Seen from this light, leaving a baby to “self soothe” may not be ideal.  See the page about fussy evenings for more information and tips on dealing with a needy baby and exhaustion.

Do pacifiers decrease SIDS rates?

Research has shown a 71% decreased risk of SIDS when pacifiers were given to babies to sleep. 5  So compelling was this information that the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Task Force recommended all babies be given a pacifier for sleeping (with the exception of breastfed babies whom they caution mothers to wait until baby is one month old first).

However, we also know that breastfeeding is protective against SIDS.  It is not the fact that baby is sucking on a pacifier that protects him against SIDS but that he is sucking.  Therefore, safely co-sleeping with your baby to allow easy nighttime nursing could offer the same protection.  In fact, simply sharing the same bedroom (not necessarily bed) with your child is protective against SIDS.  And though the AAP may recommend pacifier use when sleeping, the World Health Organization in their Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative clearly state that no pacifiers or artificial nipples should be given to breastfeeding infants.


Breastfeeding

Increasing Milk Supply

Concern over low milk supply is a very real issue for many breastfeeding moms.  While not having enough milk is the most common reason given by mothers for early weaning and supplementation, actual low milk production is very rare. 1 Whether it is real or perceived, understanding how your milk supply is established and knowing what to do to optimize your breast milk supply can relieve stress, worry, and ensure your body has the opportunity to make enough milk for your baby.

Strategies to increase breast milk supply

Once you realize there is a milk supply issue, diligence is extremely important to help build your supply.

  1. Ensure you are feeding your baby with a deep latch and effective milk transfer at his early feeding cues, without limiting access to the breast, at least 8-10 times (or more!) every 24 hours.
  2. Increase the amount of times your baby is nursing at the breast.  Babies with an effective suck are usually more effective at milk removal than pumping or expression.  Offer each breast more than once at a feeding and offer to nurse your baby often!
  3. Use breast massage/compression.  Think of this as “pumping” into your baby.  Breast compressions while breastfeeding (or pumping) help your breasts drain even more milk.  And an empty breast makes more milk.
  4. If your baby doesn’t completely drain your breasts, you can express following a feeding to help build your supply.  Alternatively, if your baby does empty your breasts, waiting 30 minutes (while your breasts are busy at work making milk) and then expressing will help increase your supply.  Remember, an empty breast makes more milk, whereas milk stasis in your breasts slows milk production.
  5. Don’t allow more than 5 hours to go between a feed, and only allow this much time once every 24 hours.  If your baby goes this long between a feed, make sure he is still nursing at least 8-10 times in a 24 hour period.
  6. Spend as much time skin-to-skin with your baby as possible.
  7. Consider safe bed sharing or co-sleeping with your baby.
  8. Avoid pacifiers (dummies) and anything else that would keep him from suckling at the breast.
  9. Consider taking a galactagogue.  Herbal galactagogues include fenugreek and blessed thistle.  There are also prescription medications that can help (though all galactagogues can have side effects and inherent risks) so other measures should be tried first.  Also, a galactagogue will only be effective if you are frequently and effectively removing milk from your breasts.
  10. If a supplement must be given, consider giving it through an at-breast tube feeding device.  This has the benefits of continued breastfeeding and breast stimulation while at the same time giving your baby a supplement (which could be formula or breast milk), skin-to-skin time holding your baby, and no chance of nipple confusion! But, be aware that formula takes nearly twice as long to digest as breast milk (78 minutes vs. 48 minutes) so if you give a supplement with formula (as opposed to expressed or donor breast milk) then your baby may sleep longer between feeds than he should.  You may need to express twice during this time to actually mimic how your breastfeeding baby would have nursed.
  11. If any bottles are given, make sure you pump or hand express on both sides so your body knows that your baby just ate.  If using a pump, make sure the flange is the correct size.
  12. Use caution with bottles. Babies must suck at the breast before there is a let-down of milk.  This makes it easier to self-regulate how much milk he actually needs.  With a bottle, some babies continue to eat even when they are full because it is an “effortless flow” and they can do nothing but gulp and swallow.  Taking care in how you give a bottle can ensure this doesn’t happen.

Other things to consider:

  • Make sure you are not using any hormonal medications (estrogen suppresses lactation and progesterone may also) or other known anti-galactagogues (such as decongestants).
  • Is it possible you are pregnant?  Hormonal changes in pregnancy can also decrease your milk supply.
  • Have your doctor check your endocrine levels. Perhaps there is a thyroid issue or some other hormonal imbalance that could be corrected with medication.

Hand Expression

When using hand expression, try to express while near your baby so you can look at, smell, touch him.  If this is not possible, look at a picture, think about your baby, play a relaxing song, express in the same location…whatever you can do to relax and think about your baby.  These things will help stimulate your milk ejection reflex, which is necessary to express milk!

Steps for hand expression of breastmilk:

  1. Begin by washing your hands and having a clean, dry receptacle to collect your milk.
  2. Gently massage your nipple/areola by running your fingers over it.
  3. Cup your hand and hold your thumb on one side and your index finger on the other, just behind the areola (or about 2.5 cm behind the nipple).  Thus, if your thumb is at 9 o’clock your index finger will be at 3 o’clock.
  4. Gently push your breast back into your chest, then gently squeeze your thumb and index finger toward one another – without actually moving them together.  Do this until you stimulate the milk ejection reflex.  Collect all milk/colostrum, then swap sides and repeat.
  5. Continue to swap back and forth between breasts until you are satisfied you have adequately drained the milk/colostrum.

Remember, an empty breast makes more milk so the more you express the more milk your body will make!

Here is a video of hand expression.


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Signs of Good Feeding

There is not one “perfect” way to attach a baby to the breast.  Different positions work for different babies.  Finding what works for you is key.  There are signs of good feeding to look for, though, to ensure your baby is feeding well at the breast.

A good latch includes the following:

  • Wide, opened mouth
  • Flared lips
  • Deep latch with chin firmly against breast
  • Nose free to breathe without having to move breast tissue away

Signs of good feeding – that baby is drinking milk:

  • Rhythmically takes long sucks and swallows
  • Pattern may change as he pauses sometimes but he should not slip off
  • Audible swallowing after milk ejection reflex
  • Relaxed arms and hands
  • Baby finishes the feed and comes off the breast on his own
  • Shape of the nipple at the end of feed should be round – not flattened

Skin-to-Skin

Skin to Skin Contact

Jack is Born at Heath Hospital

Skin-to-skin contact, when possible, is important for getting breastfeeding off to a good start.

Skin-to-skin contact (SSC) following birth is incredibly important for all babies, including preterm babies.  It is easy to do – a mother simply holds her baby with his stomach down (prone position) against the front-side of her chest between her breasts, neither with clothes between them.  A blanket can be placed on the outside of the baby while he is wearing a diaper and/or a hat.  Ideally, SSC should begin immediately following birth and last through the first breastfeed – or for the first 1 ½ – 2 hours following birth. The results are amazing!

A new baby has just come from the safest place he’s known – inside his mother’s womb.  There, he has been cared for completely having every need met immediately.  He was protected, hearing gentle noises buffered by the womb; his heart rate and oxygen saturation levels were optimal; he was held, warm, fed, and loved on demand.  After birth, this same baby has entered a whole new world and the safety of being skin-to-skin against his mother’s body helps him in this transition.

Today the over-medicalization of the birthing process many times leads to the separation of mother and baby following birth.  Lights are bright, sounds are loud and unfamiliar, scales are cold, and the person he knows best, his mother, is not always nearby.  Research shows this separation of mother and baby is highly stressful and can lead to what is known as “protest despair” in baby.  When babies are separated following birth, babies exhibit a ten-fold increase in stress hormone levels.1  This stress should not be underestimated either!  The baby will protest by crying. His heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing will increase.  After protesting, he will despair, moving to a state of dissociation.  Left in this state of distress, away from his mother, can have lasting emotional effects. And maternal levels of oxytocin (which is often referred to as the love hormone and significantly impacts bonding) peak following birth. When mom and baby can’t be together, precious bonding time is lost in their relationship.

SSC is a safe and simple alternative to separation following birth.  In fact, babies’ body temperatures are better regulated in SSC than in an incubator; heart rates are more stabilized; cortisol and blood glucose levels are more normalized; and there are greater chances for breastfeeding success . . . not to mention the precious time of cuddling and bonding together.   For mothers, SSC not only helps to regulate her body temperature, but heightens oxytocin levels and milk volume, promotes bonding , and increases confidence in her mothering ability.2 Babies who are placed in SSC following birth are much more likely to spontaneously breastfeed than those who are not.

SSC was first used in Colombia, South America in the 1980s for babies in the NICU when there wasn’t space available in conventional incubators.  Compared to babies cared for in environments with greater technology, the babies receiving skin-to-skin contact each day fared much better.3  Research on SSC and twins has found that each breast uniquely regulates its temperature depending on what each baby needs.  If one baby was too cool, the breast temperature on that side would increase; if the other baby was too hot, that breast would decrease in temperature.4  SSC after birth has also been shown to significantly increase the survival rate of babies who are born with very low birth weights.5

In addition to its many positive benefits immediately following birth, SSC continues to have a positive impact on breastfeeding in the early weeks and months with your new baby.  SSC continues to promote bonding between mother and baby, helps baby to latch, increases a mother’s milk supply, and can even help a baby who is refusing the breast to begin to nurse.  The benefits of SSC are increased, the longer and/or more frequently a baby is held this way.

The first hours after birth are critical to bonding with your new baby and can never be returned.  All necessary interventions in a healthy newborn can be done while baby is skin-to-skin with his mother.  Bathing, weighing, etc. can all wait until later.  Postpone all non-essential things and relax and enjoy this precious time with your new little blessing.


Milk Supply Issues

Whether real or perceived, low milk supply is one of the main reasons given for mothers to supplement or wean their baby.  There are a number of things that can cause milk supply issues; these are known as antigalactogogues.  The Top 10 most common antigalactogogues in our western culture are listed below:

  • alcohol, tobacco, other recreational drugs
  • caffeine
  • decongestants & antihistamines
  • contraceptives with estrogen
  • chasteberry (fruit/leaf)
  • greek oregano
  • parsley
  • peppermint
  • rosemary
  • sage

While not every mom reacts to these, if you are at all concerned about your milk supply it would be wise to steer clear.  But it is important to remember that these antigalactogogues are dose-dependent – the more you have the greater the negative impact on milk supply issues. For example, an occasional glass of wine or daily cup of coffee is usually fine for most breastfeeding mothers.  But daily alcohol intake or multiple sources of caffeine throughout the day can definitely cause milk supply issues.  And while most drugs are completely compatible with breastfeeding, decongestants and antihistamines should be taken with extreme caution.  Not only do they dry up the sinuses but they can dry up a mother’s milk supply quite fast.

Perhaps the most often overlooked antigalactagogue is STRESS.  If you are facing milk supply issues, seek out qualified help and support and try not to spend time worrying about making milk.  Also, try to eliminate other sources of stress you may be dealing with.

Two herbal galactagogues that can increase your milk supply are Fenugreek (3 capsules, 3 x per day) and Blessed Thistle (3 capsules, 3x). It usually takes at least 24 hours to begin to see any effect.

In Egypt, home to the fenugreek research for increasing women’s milk supply, the common wisdom is to cook fenugreek (it looks similar to wheat) like you would oatmeal and then serve with milk and honey. All new moms drink this regularly after giving birth.

For any mothers with supply issues, please let me know if you’ve found any of these to be true and what has worked for you!

Additional information about reasons for low milk supply and increasing your milk supply can be found here.


4 Goals Of A Healthy Breastfeeding Diet

breakfastburrito2

Fruits and vegetables in season are always a good option for healthy meals.

A healthy breastfeeding diet doesn’t look a whole lot different from a healthy pregnancy diet except for the volume of food that you eat. Once your baby is born, your nutritional needs as a mother increase even beyond when you were pregnant. Your baby is growing bigger and still relying on you as their sole source of sustenance.

While you are breastfeeding is not the time to focus on a super-restrictive diet (perhaps in the hope of losing weight faster). Dieting and breastfeeding need to be handled with great care and wisdom. The caloric demands on your body grow, not diminish, once you have your baby. But it’s the type of calories that you intake that will make all the difference for you and your growing baby.

“If you come up short on your calories or nutrients, your breast milk is usually still sufficient for supporting your baby’s proper growth and development. Unless you are severely malnourished, your breast milk will provide what the infant requires. However, this will be at the expense of your own nutrient reserves.” ~ Kimberly A. Tessmer, R.D., L.D. 1

A healthy balanced diet is key to providing for all the nutrients both your baby and your own body needs during this time. The goal is to eat a nutrition-packed diet.

Here are four guidelines for a healthy breastfeeding diet. Use these to see how your current eating habits might be tweaked.

1. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal.

The fresher the produce, the better. That’s always a good rule of thumb. This could be a mixed green salad, a fresh fruit salad, 1/2 a grapefruit with your sandwich, some steamed vegetables, etc. Use lots of variety and have fun with it! Eating with the seasons can be helpful in giving your body lots of variety, and it’s easier on your pocketbook as well.

2. Keep prepackaged snack foods to a minimum…perhaps only once/week.

Prepackaged snacks are typically high in ingredients that your body does not need and lower in nutrients (a higher percentage of “empty calories”). Instead, if you feel “snacky”, choose a nutrient-dense snack. This could be a favorite nut mix, an apple with some peanut butter, some low-fat cottage cheese with fruit, or some fresh popcorn popped over the stove. The absolute best way to insure that you don’t get snacky on nutrient-deficient foods is to not even bring them home.

3. Don’t eat past bedtime.

Make your healthy evening meal or a small evening snack the last food of the day. Avoid snacking during midnight feedings. If you have been in the habit of eating late into the night, your body will fight against the change…but not forever. You can retrain your brain and your stomach to not expect this anymore. And these extra nighttime calories are not really needed at all as long as you are getting adequate calorie intake throughout the day.

4. Reduce sugary beverages to 1/day.

Ok, this is a big one for some folks. Sugary drinks like sodas, sweetened lattes, and fruit juice are the largest contributors of added sugar in today’s American Diet.2 Your body (and your baby) get almost zero nutritional benefit from these liquid calories. You are both better off when you just drink water when you are thirsty.

These nutritional habits are great not just for breastfeeding, but for a lifetime of excellent health. Use your lactation season to become consciously aware of what a healthy breastfeeding diet looks like. Then, when your breastfeeding time is done, you will have some healthy dieting habits that will serve you long into the future!

Note: As always, if you are on a special diet that has been recommended by your doctor for specific health reasons, then be careful not to change things without his/her approval.

BonnieColor

Bonnie Hershey is a family health coach, practical nutrition advisor, and mother of three breastfed children. At Proven Nutrition For Kids, Bonnie shares research-based information and experience to help moms find targeted nutritional solutions to common health problems. You can also connect with Bonnie on Twitter {@bonniehershey}, GooglePlus {google.com/+BonnieHershey} and on Facebook {fb.com/ProvenNutritionForKids}.


Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding Gave Me Confidence

Krista Elliott HeadshotKim is an American living abroad in China with her husband and 2 very active boys. She enjoys cooking, cross-cultural living, and experiencing life through the eyes of her children.

When I got pregnant with my first son, Nate, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. My mom had breastfed my sister and me and talked often of the benefits. I remember as a child hearing her talk about how she wanted to “give us the best start in life possible” and not really understanding at that time what she meant. Now, after having children of my own, I understand.

Thinking through what it meant to be a mother and how God was entrusting this tiny human to my care, I was determined to breastfeed. I believed it made a lot of practical sense. Breast milk is free, convenient and healthy. I was also looking forward to the extra cuddle time and close knit bonding that breastfeeding provides.

During my pregnancy with Nate, I read lots of books about pregnancy, nursing, and newborn care. I watched other moms nurse, met with a Lactation Consultant and felt like I had a good handle on what to do. I often daydreamed of a perfectly latched baby who smiled lovingly up at me as he enjoyed the nourishing milk, flawlessly suited to his particular needs.

BreastfeedingDay one, the latch hurt.  A lot. I asked the nurse to have the hospital’s Lactation Consultant check in. She was not much help. By the end of the day, my nipples hurt so bad that I dreaded each feeding. Day two, Nate refused to latch and he began to get jaundiced. Day three, we fed him formula through a syringe because he wouldn’t latch and my milk hadn’t come in yet so pumping was fruitless. Nobody offered donor milk as an option.

Thankfully, after my milk came in, we were able to get him to latch again. I went home with him from the hospital totally terrified about nursing. This was a disaster. I was almost ready to give up right then and there. I cried. I sobbed. I prayed. I was destroyed. This was not the story I had pictured in my head. However, my heart was set on doing this. I knew in my soul that breastfeeding was important and that my baby had a right to have access to the nourishment God intended for babies. I desperately wanted my new baby boy to have all the benefits breastfeeding provides.

So I pressed on and contacted the Lactation Consultant I had seen while I was pregnant. She was incredibly helpful. She came to my home, watched me nurse, helped me nurse, and imbued me with confidence. She came as often as I needed her. She brought lanolin for my sore nipples. She worked with me for six weeks and though it got better, nursing was still really painful. The latch looked right. There was no thrush or physical abnormalities. She didn’t find a tongue tie. It simply hurt to nurse. I started to feel crazy and like a giant failure. There was no reason visible for nursing to be this painful.

Nate began to develop some other puzzling symptoms also. He coughed and choked a lot while nursing. He was extremely gassy and fussy after nursing. He had a hard time maintaining his grasp on the nipple and easily slid off or lost suction. Nursing sessions lasted upwards of an hour and so on. The Lactation Consultant recommended I take Nate to the local Dysphasia Clinic. She was out of answers and felt he may benefit from the more specialized kind of care they could provide.

BreastfeedingThe first visit at the Dysphasia Clinic was wonderful. The specialist confirmed that I was not crazy, the latch was perfect, but Nate was not using his mouth and tongue normally. She noticed that his suck/swallow/breathe rhythm was a little disorganized and that he was using a chewing instead of a sucking motion. This was the source of the pain.

Imagine my surprise when she assured me with some special exercises and time, Nate would learn to nurse properly and it would stop hurting!! She assured me that this was all within the range of “normal” for babies and that some just need a little more help to learn the skill of nursing than others. She also felt that his tongue might have been a little tighter than normal, but not enough to warrant surgical correction. She also broke the news to me that my milk supply was most likely low because he was not efficiently removing milk.

Over the following weeks, I was to nurse, then pump, then feed what I pumped to Nate in a special bottle using a special technique. This would empty my breasts more adequately, thus increasing my milk supply and give Nate the opportunity to strengthen his suck and learn the proper suck/swallow/breathe rhythm.

I saw dramatic improvement within the first few visits! Although it was hard work and nursing was still not completely comfortable, we had come a very long way from the first few weeks where I cried before every nursing session in anticipation of the pain. I knew now that I would continue nursing Nate until he was ready to be done. Oddly enough, this struggle gave me a lot of confidence as a mother. I knew that I had what it takes to surmount challenges. I knew I would push through to do what was best for my children despite personal pain or hardships, that I would be able to put my children’s needs above my own.


Adoptive Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding My Adopted Baby

Mary Straits HeadshotKaren Lytle is the mom of four kids so far, three biological and one handsome adoptive son.  She has had the amazing privilege of breastfeeding all four of them, including her adopted son. Karen’s story is as unique as each mother’s breastfeeding journey, but she shares it hoping that some of it helps to inspire other adoptive moms as to the wonders of intimacy that can be a part of nursing adoptive children.

When our oldest was 15 months old, we brought home two beautiful, identical twin girls. Life was busy, but good. I was learning the joys and challenges of nursing multiples. When the girls were 6 weeks old the Lord told us it was time to start a process of adoption. We had always known we would adopt, but he told us the time was now.

We explored foster care, international, but in the end for this time, God was leading us to adopt a newborn – one who fit the qualifications of “more difficult to place.” We were matched when the girls were 14 months old, and Isaac’s birth mother was 37 weeks pregnant. I was still nursing the girls twice a day at this point, and I started weaning them the day after we met Isaac’s birth mother. As I weaned them, I began to pump every 1 1/2-2 hours including a nightly pump to get ready for the demands of breastfeeding my adopted baby.

Adoptive Breastfeeding

I had always struggled with low milk supply issues, so I think like every adoptive mother who tries this, I went through all of those concerns of whether or not I would be able to produce enough milk. But I was determined to teach him to breastfeed. So, I began to research, and I put myself on a nursing mother’s diet. I drank barley water and ate a variety of foods and spices (such as anise) that helped to nourish my milk. I also took fenugreek and blessed thistle supplements.

We brought him home when he was two days old. And I still remember that night. I told my husband that I wanted to have that first night where it was just Isaac and me so that I could be totally relaxed and work just with him on his feeding while he was sleepy and just get him used to my heartbeat. I stripped him down to his diaper, and laid him on me skin to skin. Every time he stirred, I would offer him my breast, and within a few offers, he had latched on just suckling instead of nursing. But, by the end of that first night, he had nursed twice. We slept together skin to skin, or I should say dozed together, like this for about a week. And he rarely wore any clothes during those first days together. I wrapped him up next to my skin and held him almost the entire time.

Adoptive babies need to acquaint themselves with their adoptive mother’s heartbeat, scent, and touch. With a biological newborn there are changes outside of the body, but there is an instant connection with sounds and sensations when their biological mother holds them.

With an adoptive infant, those connections need to begin to form with that new adoptive mother’s heart rhythms and touch. While there is no physical memory at this point, a child still has something called cellular memory. So, imagine this as a time where you are helping them through a grieving process that they don’t even know they have.

Also while helpful for every infant, light infant massage can be especially helpful for an adoptive infant’s transition into your family. It has also been proven to heal and correct any sensory pathways that might have received slight damage due to stress in utero or stress during delivery.  For an adoptive infant there is the added stress of separation from their biological mother.

Big brother with adopted baby.

Big brother with adopted baby.

Now, truthfully, nursing wasn’t a perfect process. While he was nursing like a champ, I have always struggled with low milk supply, so we did supplement some. And the most difficult time nursing him actually came when he was about 3 months old. I had emergency surgery and was in the hospital for four days, and while I pumped, I couldn’t nurse him. Fortunately, my sister had just had a baby, and so while I couldn’t nurse him she was able to.  But, by the time I got out, my milk supply had dropped even lower.

I met with a lactation consultant two days after I came home, and for the next 2 weeks, I used an at-breast-tube-feeding device when I nursed him. I think the amount of pain I was in and my stress that I might not be able to keep nursing him was affecting my supply. But, we made it through that, and I was able to nurse him until he was a year old.

I hope this inspires other adoptive mothers. This is a precious time with your child; relax and do everything you can to make it happen. You will not regret it. Nursing builds intimacy and trust between a mother and child.

Adoptive BreastfeedingWhile it is their best nourishment for their body, it is also building their emotional well being, and promoting their brain development beyond just nutrition as well. And when you are nursing your precious infant, especially your adoptive infant, remember to use it as a time to look deep into their eyes.

There is a reason the eyes are called the windows of the soul, and science has proven that those moments of eye contact between a mother and child in those early years provides a foundation of trust and connection that supports them for years to come. And for an adoptive infant, these times are being built at placement rather than before, so by doing this you can recoup some of that
lost time.