Friday, February 11, 2011

Adoptive Breast Feeding

A controversial topic, adoptive breast feeding is considered to be a beautiful bonding experience by those who adopt and disgusting child abuse by many adoptees and natural mothers. My experience of it is this. My adoptive mother likes to tell me the story of how she was so clucky after bringing me home that she started lactating. She tried to breast feed me but I rejected her attempts as I was 7 weeks old and had only been given a bottle, and possibly because I didn't know what to do with this strangers breast. She once said jokingly that it hurt her feelings that I rejected her and that I should apologise to her. It took everything in my being to not scream at her that I thought it was unbelievably sick to try and breast feed me and that it wasn't my fucking fault that I didn't know what to do with her tit. But I didn't say any of that because I am a good little adoptling. I did not apologise but I did say "I probably didn't know what the hell to do with it, I mean, I even had trouble getting my son to latch, it's not that easy."
I have just read a post about an adoptive mother who forced her 20 month old adoptee to breast feed. She started by giving him bottles of her pumped breast milk but the poor little boy was so traumatised by his experience and being in a strange house that he would not let them cuddle him. He was not sleeping, when he did he would wake often and cry. She started sleeping next to him, doing skin to skin contact, co-bathing and putting her nipple in his mouth while he slept. He eventually submitted to all of this and started feeding from her. The comments on this blog varied from "Disgusting" to "what a wonderful way to bond and what a lovely thing to do for the child." Personally, I vote disgusting.
For those of you reading this wondering what my problem is, I want you to think of it this way - if a complete stranger picked up a 20 month old child and tried to cram her breast into the child's mouth insisting that breast milk was good for the child would that be wrong? Yes, it would. This is what the child is experiencing; they are not aware that a piece of paper with adoption decree written on it means that this woman is legally their mother. All they know is that a strange lady is putting her breast in their mouth. Some of the techniques described in the blog would be questionable even if a natural mother did them with a child at that age. I also wonder how people would feel about an adoptive father using skin to skin contact and co-bathing to bond with his adopted 20 month old son or daughter. What happens in 20 years when this child is an adult in therapy repeating the memory that this woman that he did not know got naked with him and shoved her breast in his mouth while he slept?
Adoptive breast feeding is not about giving the child the best start in the world, it is about the adoptive mother wanting to feel like a mother. Breast milk contains specific proteins and antibodies for the biological child. The lactation drugs that many adoptive mothers use are known to cause depression and some that are used to induce lactation are used to treat schizophrenia - no research has been done on what that does to the child who is consuming it. There are other ways to get to know your adopted child, other ways to make them feel safe, adoptive breast feeding is just not necessary and I sincerely wish that "adoption specialists" would stop encouraging it.  


  1. Totally with you and I know many other adoptees who feel the same.Great blog, pleased to have found you!

  2. Thanks Von. I have seen you in the adopto-blogosphere. Glad you found me too!

  3. Bloody good post.
    As alwayss.
    Have missed you greatly.
    Just dipping my little toe back into bloggerville - and wanted to say hi.
    Hope you are well.
    Poss. xxx

  4. This is an interesting topic to me. While I think it's strange to try and nurse a 20 month old who has no experience with this other woman, I do think it's completely natural and normal to nurse babies (infants) other than our own. It's not an acceptable practice in modern Western cultures, but wet nurses have been around forever. But yes, I agree that trying to get a 20 month old baby to nurse is strange.

    If a mother bottle fed her baby initially, even after a few weeks the baby would reject the breast. Forcing a nearly two year old to nurse seems almost abusive to me.

    As far as nudity goes...well, babies don't really have issues with nudity unless something inappropriate happens. Nudity, again, is natural and normal and there are still cultures that practice minimal clothing & the children are just fine. My two-year prefers to be nude & screams "naked baby" around the house. When she sees me nude she will scream "naked momma!"

    Cracks me up!

  5. Thank you for your comment the mommy. The difference between a wet nurse and an adoptive mother breastfeeding is quite considerable. Wet nurses were women who had just had babies themselves and were producing milk naturally. Adoptive mothers use drugs to produce milk and the side effects for the child are still unknown. I firmly agree that putting your breast in the mouth of a nearly 2 year old who does not know you, particularly while he sleeps, is abusive. I feel that it is not about what is best for the child, it is about a woman desperate to become a mother going to extreme and bizarre lengths to act like she gave birth to the child.
    As for the nudity, I don't disagree that nudity is natural but as you yourself said it is a cultural issue. To me, a signed adoption decree does not make it OK for a stranger to bathe with a child. Once the child has accepted you as a parental figure, maybe, but I still think people would be far more squeamish about an adoptive father doing this with his adopted daughter than they are about an adoptive mother with her adopted son which is a double standard and makes women seem like they are above reproach which I don't think is necessarily true.

  6. Agreed, Eri.

    You bring up a valid and concerning point: that this seems to more about the mom wanting to experience the "motherly" role in its totality, rather than what is best for the child.

    Reminds me of a biblical story about two women fighting over a baby. Apparently the baby had been stolen from a jealous woman who could not bear her own. When King Solomon decidely offered a solution to cut the baby in half and give each mother one half of the baby, the non-mother seemed satisfied, while the bio-mom was horrified. She knew the result would be a dead baby.

    She relented without hesitation, conceiding to allow the other woman to have the baby, thereby ensuring its survival. Of course the king immediately figured out that only a mother's love would make that kind of sacrifice.

    Yes, strange to impose such strange behavior on a child without considering what he might be feeling. I am somewhat new to this and am trying to gather info on adoption issues. I just didn't realize until recently that this is really quite serious. I have been surrounded by adoption my whole life (my mother gave up one child, my sister gave up two, and my littlest sister is adopted)...and I am beginning to realize that this just isn't a good solution for anyone, especially the child.

  7. I liked this post, but as you know, I totally disagree :-) I figured I should post on yours since you did on mine.

    I definitely think, like with all adoptions, everyone is different and each family should make the most appropriate decision for that particular child. In our situation it was something my son wanted to do and could verbally express. He could chose if and when he did it (just like he did with his birth mother only a couple of months earlier) and he has almost completely weaned within six months. He will occasionally see his brother nursing and want to, too. So, I couldn't imagine how saying yes to my bio son, but no to my adopted son would be healthy in our situation. You know more of our situation that is private, so I'm hoping that you can definitely hear me out on this issue, because I feel so strongly about it.

    I can see why so many adoptees are against breastfeeding. Between birth mother disapproval (again, that is case by case), to your situation where your mother wanted you to apologize for not breastfeeding at seven weeks old. Most babies that have only been bottle fed for seven weeks will never latch on, there is nothing wrong with that. I think your adoptive mother was very wrong for saying that.

    Oh, not to put more fuel into your fire (because I am definitely an opponent on this issue ;-) ) but if you want to see some jacked-up adopted breastfeeding- WATCH THIS MOVIE. It sickened me and makes me realize how screwed up people are:
    This woman was so detestable, even the title (she no doubt picked) was pretentious. Yuck.

  8. Yes thanks Jamie, I saw that movie a while ago and threw up in my mouth a little. That woman is obnoxious and exploitative.

  9. What about where it is the adopted child who wants to breastfeed. Is that OK?? Seems that it is fairly common.

  10. Thank you for the link Anon, it was an interesting read. From my perspective, I think it is inappropriate to breastfeed a child who is not your own even if they ask for it. I am not convinced that adoptive breastfeeding is either necessary or healthy. The drugs that are taken to produce milk are particularly potent and have side effects for the mother and there are no studies to prove that they are not toxic to the child - if alcohol and other drugs are shared through breastmilk, lactation drugs would be too. I believe that children can be made to feel wanted and loved through lots of cuddles and shared play and time spent together. "Thus far, the results indicate that, for most children, time spent building trust and attachment between themselves and their mothers is a necessary part of the process of working towards breastfeeding." If trust and attachment have to be built first, why is the breastfeeding necessary? Everyone is entitled to their opinion though.

  11. Thanks Eri. I'm curious, what is it about breastfeeding that you feel makes it appropriate only if the child is the bio child of the mother??
    Drugs are not always used. The first writing about women who had not recently given birth breastfeeding children and making milk was a couple of thousand years ago...women do it now without drugs too.

  12. Oh, and to answer your question. I think that attachment is a process not a destination so while adoptive breastfeeding often requires that a level of trust and attachment to be achieved that's not to say that it cannot assist in the further development of trust and attachment...after all breastfeeding has been identified (long, long ago by Mary Ainsworth) as an "attachment behaviour" in older babies and toddlers.

  13. Spontaneous lactation is pretty rare. The main problems I have with adoptive breastfeeding are the reasons for doing it and the way it is carried out. Particularly with an older child, the nutrition they receive from their food is more than adequate so it is more about attachment. As an example, the article you directed me to suggested that attachment should occur prior to attempting breastfeeding, so why is breastfeeding necessary? From what I have read in the blogosphere, it is more often about a woman who really wants her own children and is trying to act like the adopted child is their own, which the adopted child will never be. Adoption was always meant to be about the best interests of a child, not about providing a motherhood experience to an infertile woman. Attachment may be a process but it can be achieved with other types of physical contact and connection with the child.
    The other problem I have is the way it is often carried out, for example the woman I mentioned in my post who was putting her breast in her adopted son's mouth while he slept. This woman was little more than a stranger to this child - in any other reality, that would be sexual abuse. I was told by my adoptive mother that she tried to breastfeed me and the thought of it made me want to vomit - I love this woman, she's my Mum, but the thought of it still made me sick. Many adoptees I know share my feelings so whose to say that many adoptees who have breastfeeding imposed on them aren't also repulsed by it, or may be in the future?

  14. No, not spontaneous lactation but lactation in response to suckling, it is how it has always been done...a perfectly natural process.
    Actually most women that I know who have wanted to breastfeed a adopted child who is not a newborn have not had a history of infertility but have had a history of breastfeeding children that they have given birth to and see breastfeeding as a mothering tool.
    I agree with you that forcing anything on a child is not a good idea...but encouraging closeness (for eg some children don't want to be touched at all but they need touch) is really important...has to be done slowly.
    What does breastfeeding have to do with sex?? I suspect that that is where the issue might be. I've also seen lots of people talk about how disgusting it is for someone to breastfeed a 2, 3 4yo when the child is the bio child of the mother and say that the thought of their mother breastfeeding them for that long is repulsive- nothing to do with adoption, everything to do with not being comfortable with breastfeeding per se.

  15. Excuse me? I will thank you not to tell me how or why I feel the way I do about adoptive breastfeeding. I personally breastfed my son for 2 years and do not have problem with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is not sexual but breasts are sexualised everywhere you look in society and a stranger putting their breast into a child's mouth would be deemed unacceptable by everyone if it weren't for a piece of paper, the adoption decree. If a child does not want to be touched, then breastfeeding is the last thing that should be done. I have stated my reasons repeatedly now, and have suggested alternate ways to get close to a child without breastfeeding them. I will not change your mind and you will not change mine.

  16. I'm really sorry Eri. I did not mean to be presumptive. I am truly trying to understand where you are coming from.
    Since you breastfed your son for a long time you probably had people suggesting that you were feeding him for too long?? And I guess that you've read/seen others suggest that a mum who breastfeeds for so long is doing something perverse and disgusting? That "she must be doing it for herself"? Did you have difficulty understanding this point of view because it was so divergent from your experience? I have also breastfed children for years and I know that there is nothing perverse about it regardless of it being unsual to breastfeed for years. Similarly, I saw how my adopted daughters responded to breastfeeding, saw what it gave them and how much they wanted (and needed it) and so I struggle to see this as disgusting.
    I guess what I really want to understand is why a child should not get the normal standard of care from their mother whether their mother is the one who gave birth to them or is a substitute mother because I view breastfeeding as being a normal part of the mother-child relationship.