I BREASTFED MY ADOPTED BABY
Juanita Fourie of Piet Retief in Mpumalanga shares her story of relatching success
Imarried my husband, Llewellyn, in 2010. We wanted children, but we also knew I had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), so we started on our road to fertility straight away. I eventually underwent a procedure called ovarian drilling to laser the cysts and have endometriosis scarring removed. I fell pregnant immediately afterwards, and in April 2012, our son Luan was born.
I breastfed Luan for nine months, then stopped as we were ready to start trying for our second child – knowing we ideally wanted a small age gap, but that becoming pregnant again could be difficult, we were in a rush.
My medical prognosis had not improved. After praying about the situation, we decided not to have another operation, but to pursue adoption instead. I had always wanted to adopt children in any case.
THE DECISION TO BREASTFEED
By the time we started our interviews with some private adoption agencies by March 2014, I had already decided that I wanted to try to breastfeed my adopted child. As a dietician, I know that breastmilk is the best start you can give your baby – I also thought it would be good for creating a bond with our new baby. We stipulated that we wanted a child as young as possible for that reason. In South Africa these days it is not possible to adopt a child before 60 days old, as this is the amount of time a birth mother has to change her mind about adoption. So we knew we wouldn’t get a newborn.
Studies have shown that it is possible to teach a three- to six-month-old nonbreastfed baby to latch; with a six- to nine-month-old, it is still possible but you are unlikely to succeed; and after nine months the baby will not be able to learn to latch anymore.
We also wanted a girl – and of course with adoption, luckily you get to choose! I started buying baby clothes, going on the adoptive parenting course that our agency – the wonderful Abba Adoption Home in Pretoria – mandated, and prepared myself for the waiting period of anywhere between three months and two years for our baby girl to come to us.
I also read up on relactation and induced lactation. Because I had breastfed my son less than two years previously, I would be officially relactating, whereas an adoptive mother who has never breastfed before would have induced lactation.
ALL THE STEPS TO SUCCESSFUL RELACTATION
Relactating is quite a process. The contraceptive pill mimics pregnancy. So first I had to go on the combined pill, skipping the placebo week (the placebo week is what starts your “period”) – which adds up to nine weeks straight of hormonal intervention. After that the woman must go on Eglynol or Domperidone – both are drugs which increase lactation by increasing the production of the hormone prolactin. Within a short three days (the average time is two weeks), I started to lactate, and express my milk.
It starts off slowly: first you get 5ml, then 10ml. By the time I was pumping 50ml at a time, I started freezing my milk, as properly stored breastmilk can be frozen for up to six months in a deep freezer. Ideally you are supposed to pump every two hours and also pump at night – something I just didn’t do, as I still had a very small Luan to look after day and night, and I would have been too tired.
MEETING OUR LITTLE GIRL
Then the call came that there was a baby for us! Finally, on 15 September 2014, the day dawned, and we could go and fetch our baby girl in Pretoria. We named her Lulanie, and she came to us the day before she turned five months old.
On the long drive home to Piet Retief, we stopped at the Spur in Bethal for lunch. Lulanie cried, and I took her to the baby changing station to change her nappy – and then I thought I would try to offer her the breast. Amazingly, she latched right then and there!
My husband and I are both dieticians at the Piet Retief Government Hospital, and I received eight weeks of maternity leave. During that time, I breastfed Lulanie day and night. The night feeds were always easy. This was good because prolactin is secreted at night, so if you empty a breast at night you help keep your milk supply up. The day feeds weren’t quite as easy though – Lulanie was biting down on the breast, which is a common thing for bottle fed babies to do to get the milk to come out faster, but it was irritating me and not good for our bonding. So I gave her bottles of expressed milk in the day and breastfed her at night.
I continued like this after I went back to work, and eventually stopped breastfeeding in January 2015, so she had about five months of a breastmilk diet. I am happy with that. I was prepared for the fact that my baby would have to have mixed feeds (made up of both formula and breastmilk), which is fine unless a mother or baby is HIV+. As a dietician I know any amount of breastmilk is better than none. Recent studies have shown that breastmilk even helps with gene expression – so it can encourage good health even at the genetic level, as it encourages good or strong genes to succeed – and I am proud of what we have achieved.
A HAPPY FAMILY
On the whole our family and friends have been supportive of our breastfeeding journey. The biggest challenge is that people still think of breastfeeding as something that should be done in private and away from prying eyes, which is why I think exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is so rare in South Africa. I really think it’s time that people changed their mindsets and educated themselves about the benefits of breastfeeding, and learnt how to support women in a community to breastfeed
Lulanie is now a happy, talkative baby. She started walking at 10 months, she loves to dance, and she has started speaking Afrikaans, which also delighted us and helped us bond with her, as she was really literally speaking to us in our language now.
Would I repeat this process with another baby? Absolutely yes, I would. It was a success. My advice for other parents contemplating relactation or induced lactation, though, is to consult the experts and get good advice and counselling. Get a lactation expert to help you and make contact with the La Leche League South Africa. This will highly increase your chances of success.
Juanita successfully breastfed her adopted daughter for five months
Lulanie, Juanita,Llewellyn and Luan are a happy,healthy family