Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Dear Sugar: Adoptive Breastfeeding, An Interview With Expert Alyssa Schnell

Dear Sugar:

Adoptive breastfeeding is one of today's hottest adoption topics, both because of its mystery and controversy.  So today, in my continued commitment to National Adoption Month and providing you with a myriad of voices and resources, I'm introducing you to Alyssa Schnell, an adoptive breastfeeding expert. 

Alyssa is the author of Breastfeeding Without Birthing , co-creator of the podcast Breastfeeding Outside the Box, and is a mom of three breastfed children, two by birth and one by adoption.  She offers a wealth of information to those interested in learning more about breastfeeding the babies they didn't birth.  

On a personal note, Alyssa has been a tremendous support person to me over the past several years, especially as I navigated my own adoptive breastfeeding journey.  You can read more about my experience here and here.  I also discuss the option of adoptive breastfeeding in my newest book, The Hopeful Mom's Guide to Adoption.  I also had the opportunity to appear alongside Alyssa in a Huff Post Live video on the subject of adoptive breastfeeding.  

Rachel:  Alyssa, why was it important for you to write Breastfeeding Without Birthing?  

Alyssa:  When I was expecting my daughter by adoption, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed her.  I scoured everywhere I could find – books, internet, journal articles - for comprehensive up-to-date information on how I could do this.  Nothing fit the bill.  The most helpful resource was actually a book written for mothers who had had breast reduction surgery.  I didn’t want other prospective adoptive or intended parents interested in breastfeeding to have the same experience, or to simply to give up on the idea because they could not obtain adequate information and support.  I wanted to be able to provide them and their health care providers with a single, up-to-date, comprehensive resource that adoptive and intended parents could use to help them successfully nurse their babies.  I think that Breastfeeding Without Birthing does that.

Rachel:  In a nutshell, if a hopeful mom (by adoption) wants to have a nursing relationship with the child, what are the options?  (Of course, they can learn more in your book and via your podcast.)  

Alyssa:  Many people assume that in order to have a nursing relationship between a parent and a child, the nursing parent must produce a full supply of milk.  While some adoptive parents do produce plenty of milk for their babies, most of the time adoptive nursing looks a little bit different.  The adoptive parent can nurse with an at-breast supplementer (a tiny feeding tube that leads to the nipple delivering supplemental milk or formula to the baby) if she is making some, a little, or no milk at all.  Another option may be to bottle-feed baby for nutrition and comfort nurse at the breast.  Comfort nursing does not require production of milk, although not all babies will be interested in this.

If a (prospective) adoptive parent wants to bring in milk for her baby(-to-be) – and as noted above this is optional – she can induce lactation (if she has never been pregnant before) or relactate (if she has been pregnant before).  This typically involves using a breast pump, nursing, and potentially taking medications and/or herbs.  It is not an easy process, but with the support of an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) educated in inducing lactation and relactation, it can be extremely rewarding.

Rachel:  I have noticed an increasing interest in hopeful mom's wanting to learn more about adoptive breastfeeding, yet I've also noted some backlash from the adoption community who say adoptive nursing is unnatural and offensive.  As someone who is obviously a breastfeeding advocate (and a mom of an adoptee), what do you think of the criticism and how have you responded to it, if at all? 

Alyssa:  Breastfeeding in general is a very personal choice that parents need to make based on accurate information and their own circumstances, needs, and values.  And that choice is especially tricky in special circumstances such as adoption.  There is research in peer-reviewed professional journals supporting the emotional benefits to the baby of breastfeeding in adoption.  There is also research in peer-reviewed professional journals showing that the composition of the milk from a parent who has induced lactation or relactated is comparable to that of a birthing parent.  That is the information piece.  Then parents need to look deep into their hearts to decide if breastfeeding feels right for them.  For those parents for whom the answer is “Yes!” we are there for them.

After much thoughtful deliberation and consideration, we have decided not to allow voices of hostility or opposition on our webpage.  The purpose of our social media platforms is not to debate whether certain people should or should not breastfeed their babies, but to provide information, encouragement and support in a safe environment to those who wish to breastfeed and to the professionals who support them.

Rachel:  You co-host a podcast called Breastfeeding Outside the Box.  What can listeners expect from listening in?  

Alyssa:  Our podcast is for both parents and professionals wanting to learn more about breastfeeding in “outside the box” situations like adoption.  We interview parents who have breastfed outside the box, including many adoptive parents.  They share their stories which are always really inspiring!  We also interview health care professionals with specific expertise that may be helpful to parents breastfeeding in less common circumstances.  Professionals discuss specific tools and techniques that can be used to support successful breastfeeding in challenging situations. 

Rachel:  What do you think the future of adoptive nursing looks like?  Do you think more and more parents-by-adoption will choose to nurse?  

Alyssa:  Right now, when I tell people that I nursed by baby my adoption they almost invariably say, “You can do that?!” I think that will change and is changing.  More and more people are aware that adoptive nursing is an option.  And I certainly hope that as a result of the work we are doing, more and more families will feel successful in their experiences with adoptive nursing.

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