This is the true story of a Mom’s dedication and commitment to breastfeeding, and the unexpected reward she received… what could be more precious, after following a costly and complicated protocol to induce lactation, than to have your adopted son crawl up to your breasts to nurse, minutes after birth?
This is a story that you can make you BELIEVE in possibilities, in miracles, in beauty, in nature, in the human spirit, the human body, the wonder of a Mother’s love, and the ability of a woman’s body to provide comfort, security and breast milk to their children whether or not they gave birth to them…
Why was it so important to YOU to breastfeed?
For me I guess because we were adopting, and I was missing out on not carrying my baby in utero, I didn’t want to miss out on any other part of motherhood. And of course, bonding was huge. I wasn’t prepared to miss out. When I found it was possible to breastfeed, and I knew I would get my baby immediately after birth, I didn’t want to miss out on any other parts of being a Mom.[I must tell you, if you have to skip anything, pregnancy is the best one to skip. I’m sure there are others who might tell you it’s when they become teenagers, and we’ll see when we get a bit further down the track, but so far I thought pregnancy was not great. (We laughed)]
Did you have any challenges?
I did have challenges breastfeeding… I’ll tell you what, can I explain the protocol I followed, and the process, and then we’ll see what challenges came up? [Sure. Go ahead.]
The process I went through was fairly expensive. At the time it cost about R 2,000 a month.
Firstly I met with a Lactation Consultant, Jean Ridler, who specialises in Induced Lactation. She had the SNS (Supplemental Nursing System) for me. I heard about Jean from a friend, who went to a talk on adoption that Jean was part of, and she came back saying that I could actually breastfeed. She and I met with Jean, and Jean explained the whole process, and that’s when I bought the SNS. I started the protocol when I had about 5 months to go before my son would be born.
The whole protocol was about mimicking the hormones of a pregnant woman’s body, and a month before my son was born, I went off the one pill, the one with progesterone. When a woman gives birth the high levels of progesterone drop once the placenta is out.
A month before my boy was born, I had to express every two hours, using a hospital grade double electric breast pump. I had to hire one, they are very expensive to buy. (I only needed to hire the pump for this month, I never needed it after he was born). It’s like a normal breast pump, it’s just a lot stronger, and one of the benefits of it, was that I never experienced sore nipples when breastfeeding my son.
Was it painful to use the breast pump?
It wasn’t painful. It had a suction control, so I could adjust it if it was uncomfortable, but it was never unbearable. I never had the kind of pain other Moms experience when they start breastfeeding, so perhaps it actually toughened my breasts up a bit (or perhaps it was because the latch was correct from the start, because my son did the breast crawl).
One of the challenges was having to express every 2 hours, and working, but I thankfully worked at a company that was open to it. I could go and sit in our showroom and express and wash everything out, and put the milk in the fridge, they were great.
How long did it take to express the milk every 2 hours?
It was about 10 minutes, I can’t recall. But I started with a couple of drops, which were celebrated. I mean it’s disheartening, but, for example, when my Antenatal Teacher, Rosemary Gauld, heard about it, she was thrilled.
I froze every drop I had.
I had to. I saw it as liquid gold, and I still see it as liquid gold. Anyone’s breast milk. So I froze it all.
When my son was born, I hoped I would have enough. I hoped he would stimulate in the proper way, because a breast pump never really has the same suction as a baby does. When he was born, and placed on my tummy, he was 15 or 20 minutes old, he actually crawled his way up to my breasts. But the challenge was that in that first week, he lost too much weight.
That first night home, when we went back to where we were staying, he cried and cried and cried, and so I used the SNS for the first time. And I didn’t use it again, until Day 7, when I went to Sister Lyn, and she weighed him, and said uh-uh, he’s not getting enough food. She consulted with Jean Ridler, because they are good friends, and I used the SNS from then.
So the SNS allows you get to more milk out…?
The SNS allows me to breastfeed him, but not necessarily breast milk. So what I would do, was attach the SNS, and he would latch. The aim was to leave him on my breast for 5 minutes, to stimulate it, so he could get as much milk as he could, and then to release the milk from the SNS, which, after about a week, was filled with formula. So he was getting a little bit of breast milk, topped up with formula, but he was still on the breast.
That first week of SNS he got all my frozen milk, and when that ran out, we moved on to formula. So it was still skin on skin, head right there, close, little bit of breast milk, but the majority of the milk was definitely formula.
And now? Because I know he still suckles now, doesn’t he?
Yes, he does.
So is he still getting some breast milk on every feed now?
If anything, he might get one drop. But if I ask him if there’s any milk, he says no. It’s really a comfort thing, when he wakes in the morning, he wants the breast. And if anything happens in his day that makes him upset, he will want the breast for comfort. And then for his afternoon sleep too (when that happens!).[That’s lovely. So you still have that closeness, and intimacy now….nearly 3 years down the track.] Yes. [So if I understand correctly, your reasons for using the SNS is to continue the closeness, and intimacy of breastfeeding. For all intents and purposes, the baby feels as if they are breastfeeding? Right? ] Yes. [So what you’re saying is, with an SNS, anybody who wants to continue that closeness with their baby, even if they are giving their child formula, can use it. So even a Mom who has chosen the formula route, but they still want to have the intimacy of breastfeeding. The SNS can be used by anyone, instead of using bottles? I’m just getting clear on the reasons to use the SNS.]
The SNS doesn’t stimulate the milk, the baby stimulates the milk by being at the breast.
The SNS doesn’t run the formula into them, they still have to suck to get it out, they still have to work to get the milk, and it’s right there at the breast, so that may also stimulate the breast.
Your next challenge was that he was losing weight? Once he was getting formula on his feeds, did that then resolve?
It must have been a big relief for you once he started putting on weight?
Absolutely. I was always worried about how much he was drinking. I would take my son to Sister Lyn, but it was really me going to see her.
Any further Challenges?
There were a few challenges with the SNS at the beginning. The pipes are so thin, so you can’t clean them properly. You can’t put a bottle brush in them.
What I discovered is that when washing anything with milk, you can’t use boiling water initially, because the hot water bakes the milk into the tubes. So what happened with my son, is that he actually got a bit of thrush in his mouth, from the tubes, and so I got new tubes, and from then on, we always rinsed them out in cold water, and then followed up with hot water.
The challenge I did have is that, when you buy the SNS, you get 3 different pairs of tubes, and they are different sizes, and they are colour coded according to size. Very thin ones, medium size ones and thicker ones to allow more milk flow. I really battled to find the right size for my son, because he would get bored, because he was sucking and he wasn’t having much success.
I got replacements from Jean, because sometimes the tubes actually break, but the colour coding was different. They eventually sent me a whole lot down from Joburg, to the Medela Rep, and once it was sorted, it was a bit better. But at 6 months I did my best to put him onto the bottle, because it was so stressful for him, and for me, because I couldn’t feed him enough, I couldn’t give him enough milk.
The SNS has 2 pipes, and I always put one on each breast, so he could feed from both sides, which makes sense. But in the end, what I was doing was trying to sneak the other pipe into the same side, so that I was using both tubes at the same time, to try and give him more milk.
I think another challenge, it’s not convenient. You can’t go to the shops and breastfeed. It’s a process. You have to attach all the tubes, you have to work it. You can’t be as discreet as you can if you’re just breastfeeding with a nursing apron over you.
Would I do it again? Absolutely I would.
How often were you feeding him in the beginning?
I fed him on demand, every hour, hour and a half. Whenever he needed it, I fed him. Eventually I started getting him on 3 hours, and then 4 hours, over time.[So you were pretty housebound at the beginning. And what about at night? You had to do the whole set up at night as well? It must have been exhausting.]
Yes (laughs). At night he slept better, but I was probably up once or twice a night. The minute he stirred, I’d get up and put it on quickly, I’d just keep a flask of warm water there and the formula measured out, and just bang it in quickly. You know what, you do what you have to do, or you do what you decide to do, and yes, that was my choice.
You can get negative about all the things that are not convenient, but it was just so worth it, it was such a beautiful experience, and so it was hugely beneficial for both of us.
What made you push through the challenges & continue for 6 months?
When I started I thought I would breastfeed for 3 or 4 months. In the back of my head 6 months was the biggest goal I could go for, from what I learnt at Antenatal classes. Going to Sister Lyn, she was so pro-breastfeeding, and so hugely encouraging about it.
I battled to get him onto a bottle. Someone said to me: if you don’t get your child used to a bottle by 12 weeks, you’ll struggle at 6 months, and I did. I used to have to turn him around and hold him with his back to my chest and feed him with the bottle. Eventually I had to hold him on my chest, and sneak the bottle teat in, and the breast out. He wouldn’t take a bottle from anyone else!
I stopped the SNS at 6 months. He would start to feel the tube, and it led to huge frustration. He wouldn’t take the tube anymore. The SNS isn’t big enough for the amount of milk they need as they get older, this bottle takes 150ml. He would have between 180 to 240ml twice a day on bottle feeds.
What do you love most about breastfeeding?
The closeness, the intimacy of it, the bonding skin on skin. I always had the view it was liquid gold and that any drop was beneficial, but it really is such an intimate time. (I’m not pro formula at all, I really wanted him to have breast milk. In those first 6 months he was always getting some breast milk on every feed, as well as formula. I used Novalac Caesar, then Novalac Premium)
Can you describe any joys of nursing… any beautiful moments you’ve experienced?
The most beautiful moment, was having my son, as a brand newborn, only 15-20 minutes old, crawling up to my breast and latching. We were in a maternity ward where the Ward Sister or Unit Manager was very pro breastfeeding. They were working towards being an accredited Baby-friendly Hospital. (See: Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative) The Ward Sister was doing her Masters in it, and making sure her unit complied.
Some of the sisters had never seen the breast crawl. I had seen it on a DVD at my antenatal class.
When she put my son on my tummy, and he moved up, one of the senior sisters burst into tears. It was the most beautiful thing, especially as he wasn’t biologically mine. It was very emotional. [I would have burst into tears too, I still get goosebumps every time I think about this precious moment, or hear it re-told.]
What do you feel is the single most important benefit of breastfeeding (or list your top 3 if you prefer)
Definitely nutrition (vs formula) and of course the better immunity it gives the baby, and the bonding and skin-to-skin, which is also vital.
How many months in advance did you have to start preparing to induce lactation?
I started as soon as I could, which was 5 months.
What was involved in the preparation?
I also did Acupuncture for a couple of months before, recommended by my Doctor. I work with a very Holistic Doctor, he is also a Homeopath and Acupuncturist.
Where did you purchase your SNS – online or from a store?
I bought it from Jean Ridler.
Did you do a lot of research beforehand? Are there any books available on the subject?
No. I trusted the people advising me. I met Jean, I liked her, I could do it, I decided to do it, and I just stuck with it.[I found a few highly recommended books while I was doing my own research on Induced Lactation. See below…]
Did you feel very alone, or very supported through all of this?
I probably felt quite alone, and maybe more because I didn’t phone Jean, or find any community support. But Sister Lyn became the person…my husband would say to me, you’re stressing about it, go to Sister Lyn.
It was like buying my peace of mind, because she would weigh him and say all was fine and If I was still worried, I could bring him back a week later for another weigh in, just to be sure he was gaining weight.
This is why I can’t understand why people would prefer formula over breast milk. Because when you start giving formula it’s all about volume. The minute you know they should be having 80mls or 150mls and they’re not having it, then, for me, I got stressed. Whereas, if you’re breastfeeding you have no idea how much your baby drinks in a day. I think that’s so much easier, not knowing.
Do you have any advice for other mothers who are considering nursing an adopted child?
If you are fortunate enough to receive your baby at birth (or close to), and have the desire to breastfeed (whether for you or baby), then go for it. It may have its’ challenges, but it is SO worth it!!! There is support out there, find a lactation consultant who specialises in induced lactation and enjoy it, it is unbelievably special and rewarding.
Is it also possible for a Mom to induce lactation if they adopt their baby at 4 months rather than at birth?
I’m not sure, but think Jean will be able to answer that. [I did, and they can. Read Jean Ridler’s Interview here.]
What do you feel has been the primary benefit for your son?
That’s a tough one… my immediate thoughts are, the bond and intimacy that we share and a better immune system (with the little bit of breast milk he got).
** Names have been omitted to protect the privacy of the family concerned.