Karen 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.
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.
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.
While 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