Why non-gestational moms should consider breast feeding their baby(ies).
March 9, 2012 | By: Liz
I saw the most amazing picture of a woman simultaneously breast feeding twins, her husband’s arms are wrapped around hers, which are wrapped around the babies. I will try and post the picture. It was sent to me by someone in the reproductive industry so I assumed that the twins were conceived through assisted reproduction. But as I looked at it, the photograph got me thinking about all my clients who are using third-party reproductive technologies, surrogacy, to conceive their children and how many of those clients conceive twins. I then wondered whether any of my clients chose to breast feed their baby, or babies. I kind of stopped talking about non-gestational breast feeding unless someone raised the topic with me. I don’t know why I don’t talk about it as much as I used to. I talk about it every day with my daughter (adopted) whom I breast fed for nine months (and her older brother for six months). My daughter very much misses the closeness we shared when she was nursing – how the heck she remembers it is beyond me, I assume she thinks about it because there is a picture of her breastfeeding in her baby book and there is one on my desk in my office – and we often talk about what a wonderful thing it is that we got to have that special relationship. I also don’t know why I don’t talk about it more because almost every day I pass a bus stop that has a billboard from a breast feeding center and they mention “adoptive breast feeding” on the billboard. For the record, I think it really should be called non-gestational breast feeding because anyone can do it. It’s not a process that is somehow exclusively tied to adoption and in fact the most successful protocol for inducing lactation when you didn’t deliver was designed by a woman whose child was carried and delivered by a surrogate (her name is Lenore Goldfard and the protocol is the Newman-Goldfarb Protocol for inducing lactation, and it is what I used to get my milk a flowin’).
So here I am with this beautiful picture and I am wondering why I don’t advocate for non-gestational breastfeeding anymore? Maybe it’s because at the seminars I have attended and at which I was asked to speak on the topic, very few women attended (this particular seminar always seems to be offered at the very end of a very long day and I would bet a lot of money that if they held the seminar at an earlier time the attendance would be better). Maybe it’s because of my own guilt that I didn’t nurse longer? Last summer I read a great book called The Milk Memos which I gave to a client who did breast feed her child after a surrogate birth. The Milk Memos is more about the transition back to work when you are nursing, but a lot of the issues that come up are issues that are faced by non-gestational breast feeders and I found it really helpful – albeit several years after the fact. After I finished the book I was really angry at myself that I stopped nursing when I did. At the time I stopped, I was going to have surgery that would have required me to “pump and dump” for at least two weeks and I hated pumping (“pump and dump” is an expression that refers to pumping breast milk which you then, for any number of reasons, have to throw out). A combination of the thought of pumping day and night just to maintain my supply until I was no longer taking medication that made my breast milk unsafe for her to drink, and the fact that I would be dumping the milk . . . I don’t know I guess I just decided it wasn’t worth the bother. I also thought it would be rather cumbersome and painful to try and pump after having had back surgery. It turned out to be a big mistake and one that I am reminded of daily by my DD (dear daughter). So here I am this morning, mesmerized by the picture which is reminding me of what a beautiful experience breast feeding can be and I realize what a disservice I am doing by not advocating for NON-GESTATIONAL BREAST FEEDING!
Most people don’t even know that you can do it, or that it can be successful. I think the general assumption is that even if you make milk, you won’t make enough milk to fully meet a baby’s needs so why deal with the hassle? But even when you don’t make a lot of milk and have to use a nursing supplement of some kind (either a Lact-Aid® or an SNS, or formula in a bottle), the physical closeness provided by the experience is incredibly rewarding and some would say important enough not to ignore. Even more so when the baby didn’t get to spend the previous ten months in your belly hearing your voice every day and bonding with you before birth. There are studies that show that if a baby is put on her mother’s chest within minutes after birth and stays there for as little as 20 minutes, that the baby can learn to identify her mother’s smell, thus beginning the bonding process. I believe that for those of us who can’t be in the delivery room we can still achieve the same instinctive bonding through breast feeding, even if it starts days, weeks, or months after birth. Another point is that many of us can be present at delivery (more likely in a surrogacy arrangement than in an adoption) and could ask to have the baby similarly placed on our chest immediately after birth in order to facilitate this immediate bonding. There are also studies about how important touch is to a baby’s neurological growth and development. “Kangaroo care” is routinely used in NICU’s to help at-risk newborns. Thus, the physical closeness and skin on skin contact provided by non-gestational breast feeding can only be a positive for the baby. And the bonding it provides to us moms isn’t insignificant either.
I had horrible post-adoption depression with both my kids. I think one of the things that snapped me out of it was the ability to snuggle and hold them so close to me. I was scared to bond with my each of my babies because I was afraid someone would take my baby away from me. It also was very surreal and I couldn’t wrap my brain around what was really happening after all those years of infertility — it was such a huge leap to suddenly be a parent, I didn’t know what to do emotionally. But having this baby at my breast, looking at me and touching me, forced me to face facts, face my fears, and move past them. It also helped me heal from all the years of IVF and miscarriages. All the parts of me that were broken, the sense that I had lost the essence of being a woman, disappeared when I had a baby at my breast. Breast feeding did more for my destroyed self-esteem than years and years of therapy. I felt whole in a way that I don’t think I ever would have been able to achieve if I hadn’t breast fed.
So there you have it. A quick little piece of my mind about why women who are having babies without a birthing experience can and should consider breast feeding their baby, or as the case may be in a surrogacy, babies.
How you do it as an entirely different discussion. I wrote about it in The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Adoption (Warner Books 2006), and I will post a blog about how to go about inducing lactation. But for today, I am enjoying the bliss that this picture evokes in me, and has made me realize that I should be encouraging my clients and other women who want help doing this to DO IT! And for what it’s worth, I so loved breast feeding that – and I am not kidding – I very much want to have another baby JUST so I can have this experience again. If I am blessed with another child, you can bet that I will do it for as long as humanly possible.
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