How To Relactate — My Story Of Breastfeeding Adopted Babies
The first call we got for foster care was for a baby that was only a few hours old. We were part of the foster-adopt program in Alaska, meaning our preference was to take in children who would never have to leave — we would be their forever home. This meant that parental rights had been, or would soon be, terminated and the child was “free” to be adopted, and this was the case with our son.
At the time, I was breastfeeding my one-year-old daughter, and I asked our social worker if it would be OK if I breastfed the baby. Her response was incredible: “If I don’t know, it doesn’t matter”.
We picked him up at 3 days old, he latched without any issue, and we had a beautiful 2-year-long breastfeeding journey. Breastfeeding is supply and demand and this was a great personal lesson that it truly can be that easy.
I had adopted a 2-year-old son and called the birth mom to thank her for my son, and in that call she let me know she was 18 weeks pregnant and was scheduled for an abortion 3 days later. After our conversation, she decided not to get an abortion and instead to electively give the baby up for adoption.
At 27 weeks gestation, she asked me to be this baby’s Mom (I was connecting her with potential adoptive families). Ecstatic, I said yes and asked if I could set up prenatal appointments as she hadn’t been to the doctor outside of an early initial visit confirming the pregnancy and gestation.
A week after she asked me to be this baby’s mom she had her first appointment, and I was there for almost all of them.
At that point, I had been a breastfeeding counselor for a decade and was also licensed as a Lactation Consultant through the IBCLC. I hadn’t been breastfeeding for many months and felt strongly that getting help was important as I wanted outside perspective and guidance — I had never assisted a mom with relactation.
Since we were doing a private adoption with social services involved peripherally, and I also knew that there are chances of adoptions falling through, I opted not to start meds to relactate until after the delivery. I connected with Lenore Goldfarb using Jack Newman and Lenore’s protocol. This included breastfeeding with an SNS, pumping, and a med protocol of Dianne 35 birth control pills, and Domperidone. I skipped the “sugar pills” used in birth control pills, going straight back to the active pills, so there was a constant and even flow of hormones, as well as a galactagogue on board.
My daughter immediately latched without issue and since I was at the hospital for the delivery, I had access to her quickly and constantly. I was allowed to room in down the hall from the birth mom for the duration of her hospital stay.
My daughter was born drug positive — something we knew about going into this situation, and with lower birth weight, withdrawals, and difficulty maintaining body temperature, we spent a lot of time skin to skin — nearly constantly — and brought her into an office every other day to be weighed on a gram scale until her weight was consistently going up. She thrived breastfeeding and I feel strongly that the constant contact she was given did far more than assist her in regulating her temperature.
I had an exceptionally beautiful experience and although I wasn’t able to get a full milk supply, I found the SNS easy to use and hardly a distraction from our breastfeeding journey. I was able to get donated milk from my sister and a friend and used almost no formula to supplement my milk supply. I also learned when I could NOT use the SNS since I did have a milk supply.
Eight months later, another son was born and adopted, and not only was I at the hospital for the birth, his birth mom asked me to be her doula. Her labor and delivery were fairly fast, and because we were there and included in the plans (also a private adoption), we were able to make all decisions about his care. He was 6 weeks premature and went to NICU immediately after birth. One of the best things about this hospital is that the staff assumed I would breastfeed — even prior to learning I was a Lactation Consultant — and asked me if I wanted an SNS and needed assistance using it.
In order to take him home, I was trained to place an NG tube as his suck, swallow, and breathe were a struggle for him. He was also taken into the doctor’s office every other day to be weighed on a gram scale, and I increased his time at the breast as much as possible, weaning him off the NG tube to be exclusively breastfed.
When we were asked to adopt our son, I contacted a woman who was donating an oversupply of breastmilk and I never needed to supplement with formula. He was exclusively on breast milk until he was over a year old, and this is also how my daughter (8 months older) was almost exclusively breastfed for a year as well.
My experience with relactation was specific to adoption and I breastfed 5 children prior. Both infants had medical issues we had to work through, and both were given breast milk to supplement my supply. I breastfed both of them for about a year, and I did occasionally use a bottle — especially after my son was born.
I had exceptional support from family and friends and knew people in the industry who were also supportive. I never felt disappointed by not having a full milk supply — breastfeeding has been so much more to me than just the “food value”. It was an amazing experience.