When preparing for the delivery of your child, it is a good idea to think about your birth plan and your hospital bag packing list in the weeks before to prepare. However, one thing you also need to consider when you have an adoption plan is whether you will breastfeed or pump during your hospital stay and even beyond placement.
The benefits of breastfeeding include having the ideal nutrition for your newborn with the right amount of fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. It also aids in protecting against diseases and illnesses as your milk contains antibodies that help to build the immune system. Breast milk tends to be easier to digest for babies and research shows that can help the digestive system to grow and function better. It also has benefits for you after birth as it triggers release of the hormone oxytocin and makes the uterus contract to help it return to its pre-pregnancy size and slow bleeding immediately after birth. Nutritionally, any breast milk is better than none and you have the option to provide that to your child if you desire.
11 years ago, when I was making my hospital plan prior to placement, I was discouraged from breastfeeding by family and staff as they thought it would make it harder to relinquish my daughter when the time came. I was very confident in my adoption choice and I didn’t feel pressured in any way, but I also didn’t want to make it harder on myself emotionally than it had to be. Being 16 at the time, I didn’t know pumping was even an option, so I decided to only feed her bottles of formula during my time with her in the hospital.
Just as adoption openness has changed over the last decade, so has the stance on breastfeeding or pumping before and after placement. Breast milk is considered to be the best option, if available, and many birthmothers and adoptive parents are recognizing that these days. I was able to talk with a few birthmothers who chose to go this route to gain some insight as to why they made this choice and how it made them feel when it came to placement.
Laci placed her son in October of 2014 and received lots of support surrounding her breastfeeding experience at the hospital. Laci chose to breastfeed her son for a few days before placement and found that easier than preparing bottles during that time. “Everybody was great and very supportive of my choice,” she said, which also included the adoptive parents as they all discussed the option beforehand. “The hospital didn’t even ask me if I wanted to give him bottles and they also provided me with a lactation consultant.” Another birthmother, Jen, chose to pump for her child during their hospital stay. “I pumped because I knew that colostrum is important and I wanted to be the best mother possible while I could.”
Often the argument against breastfeeding a child before placement is bonding too much and not being able to follow through with the adoption or making it harder emotionally. Laci said, “Placement will always be the hardest thing, whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding. For me personally, it did seem very hard after placing him and then having to go home and pump. Every time I pumped I would cry because my body thought a baby should be there and he wasn’t.” In Jen’s experience the adoptive family did not want milk donations after placement so she stopped pumping after leaving the hospital. She agreed that having to go home empty handed with leaking breasts was “a daily painful memory of my inability to parent.” I think most birthmothers can relate to that experience regardless if they breastfeed or pump. I know I felt that same sadness in the following weeks as my milk dried up slowly as well.
Both birthmoms agreed that though it was hard, if they could do it over again, they would still choose to do the same thing. “If I had to do it again I would always choose breastfeeding for him. The bond and close contact with my son helped me heal in so many ways,” Laci said. Jen felt it was the best choice for him while he was with her and considered it a sacrifice along with placement. “My milk was the best I could give him in the short time he was mine. I would do anything for him. I did do everything for him.” She also expressed a wish that she had tried breastfeeding at least once. Many birthmothers have shared that same desire with me, wishing it had been a supported option even if only for a few feedings.
In deciding if breastfeeding or pumping surrounding adoption placement is right for you, think about the benefits of the nutrition and your rights as your child’s mother until you sign the relinquishment papers. Will you look back and regret not trying or giving even a little to your baby? Do you think you can handle the emotions that come with breastfeeding? Will it make it harder or help you heal? Also, communicate with the adoptive parents if they would want expressed milk from you post-placement. I have known birthmothers who shipped milk to their child for a few months afterwards! It can be a beautiful gift if both sides are willing and able to give or use it. In the end, you are making a brave and selfless choice to place your child in an adoption plan. Whatever you decide is best for you and your baby should be supported.