As the adoption world becomes more open, so has the viewpoint on breast milk during and after the hospital stay. More people are learning that breastfeeding, when possible, provides the best nutrition for babies. Breastmilk has the perfect composition of healthy fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. It is a great boost to a baby’s immunity because the mother’s antibodies are passed on through her breastmilk. Breastmilk is easier for the baby to digest compared to formula, and the colostrum, the first milk a new baby would receive, is rich in protein, fats, immunoglobulins, and many other important nutrients to help a baby adjust and thrive in its new environment. Any amount of breastmilk is better than none for a newborn and can even be used for supplementation, whether short term in the hospital or in a long term agreement between the birth mother and the adoptive parents. Whether or not a birth mother decides to breastfeed or pump for her child in the hospital, it should be an option that is presented to her, just as she has options in other aspects of the adoption.
Many years ago, I knew the benefits of breastfeeding as a 16-year-old. Right after the birth of my (birth) daughter, I wanted to breastfeed her in the hospital. However, family members and hospital staff discouraged me from doing so. There was a fear breastfeeding her would make my decision to place her up for adoption more emotionally difficult, even though I was very set in my decision for adoption and had peace with it. I agreed to what the staff and my family members suggested, and did what I was told. A part of me always has always wished I tried to breastfeed her, even if only to give her a small dose of benefits. No one ever told me I had the option to pump my milk as an alternative. If someone did tell me, I would have absolutely chosen to do so.
Many birth moms now choose to breastfeed or pump during their hospital stay, despite the concerns of bonding “too much” with their children and despite the fear that it could make saying goodbye harder. More birth mothers seem to be dismissing these concerns. Often birth mothers say the extra time spent with their child, whether through pumping or physically breastfeeding, was a positive bonding experience that they treasured. They also felt satisfied that they were doing the best for their child during their time with them. Only the birth mother can decide what is best for her healing as she thinks through her placement plan.
Before the signing of the relinquishment papers, a child legally belongs to their birth mother and the birth mother has the right to decide how to feed her baby. These rights should be respected and her choice should be supported. Of course, communication between the birth mother and the adoptive parents makes for a healthy adoption relationship. Discussing the choices while in the hospital and post-placement should be part of the adoption plan. Some birth mothers and adoptive parents may agree that the birth mother continue pumping post-placement (sometimes even shipping it with dry ice!), which benefits the baby’s health, may cut formula costs for the adoptive family, and also may help a birth mom to emotionally heal knowing that she is still has some connection with her birth child. If both the birth mother and adoptive parents are open to this nourishing gift, pumped milk can be a beautiful extension of the adoption plan and the adoption relationship.
By Leah Outten, from The Grace Bond
Do you remember your middle school or high school reproductive health class? When I think back to my education about periods and “How babies are made” my memories are brief. I can remember short parts of videos or awkward condom demonstrations and disgusting pictures of STDs. Does this sound familiar to you?