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Nurturing Bonds in Adoption : Parenting: More adoptive mothers turn to breast-feeding to experience a physical aspect of motherhood. An institute helps prepare the women for the work ahead.

March 19, 1992|ROBIN MAY OLSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Olson is a Sherman Oaks writer

Women usually choose to breast-feed because of the potential nutritional and immunological benefits or to bond closely with their babies. But adoptive mothers have another compelling reason--to experience a physical aspect of motherhood, since they missed out on pregnancy and birth.

The number of adoptive mothers trying to breast-feed is small but increasing, according to the Lactation Institute in Encino. About two prospective adoptive mothers call the institute a month, about twice what it was two to three years ago, institute officials say.

Local branches of La Leche League, a support group for breast-feeding mothers, report an increase in calls to the league's San Fernando Valley hot line from adoptive mothers. Statistics are not kept, but a spokeswoman said calls had about doubled in the past two years.

There is enough interest in the subject that La Leche League offers a booklet called "Nursing Your Adopted Baby," which is available from local groups and through the league's international catalogue.

The ability to produce breast milk does not depend on pregnancy or hormones, but can be brought about through mechanical stimulation, according to staff members at the Lactation Institute. To prepare to breast-feed, future adoptive mothers must keep an intense pumping schedule--using an electric breast pump 10 to 12 times a day for 15 minutes at a time. This procedure often starts two to three months before the baby arrives.

"We have the moms pump as often as a newborn baby would breast-feed," explained Chele Marmet, one of two directors at the institute. "We don't pull any punches; we let them know just how much work and dedication this is going to take.

"To really make it work, a mother has to come in with an attitude that she is going to breast-feed her baby, and will do whatever it takes to succeed," Marmet said. "Lots of mothers call and come in for the consultation, and then we never hear from them again. It takes a special commitment to breast-feed an adoptive baby."

The nonprofit Lactation Institute, established in 1979, specializes in helping mothers with breast-feeding problems and training lactation consultants. The staff of two directors and lactation consultants advises about 15 mothers a week. (About 67% of mothers in California leave the hospital breast-feeding, compared to about 52% nationally, according to a 1990 study provided by La Leche League.)

When a prospective adoptive mother calls the Lactation Institute, she is encouraged to come in for a two-hour consultation. Institute staff members take her fertility and medical history, talk about her reasons for adopting, work on the physical aspects of breast-feeding and describe the procedure for inducing lactation.

After the baby arrives, the mother continues to pump and use a supplementation device to make sure the infant gets enough milk. "We use the baby's weight, how much the mother is pumping, how long the baby is at the breast, amount supplemented along with how both mom and baby are doing and our years of experience to determine the lactation progress," Marmet said.

Adoptive mother Lani J. Rosenberger, who lives in the West Valley, knew she had broken into the true ranks of motherhood when she got a painful breast infection from nursing her 8-month-old son.

"I attended a breast-feeding support group, and when I told them about my breast infection everyone cheered. I bet I am one of the only moms to ever be excited about a breast infection," she said.

Rosenberger, 46, has a biological son who is now 23 and an adopted son, Caleb, who was born in 1985. When her older son was 11, she and her husband decided to adopt after 10 years of trying to have another baby.

They decided on a private, open adoption, which is an adoption between two private parties that allows the adoptive parents and birth mother to know each other. Five adoptions fell through in the next five years, sometimes within weeks of the babies' births. Through a friend, they found out about a pregnant mother in an unstable relationship who already had three children and wanted to put up her fourth for adoption.

Six weeks before Caleb was due, Rosenberger visited the Lactation Institute and started the recommended pumping regimen. "By the time he was born I could get a few drops of milk," Rosenberger remembered.

Rosenberger said she learned about adoptive breast-feeding from books on natural childbirth and knew she wanted to breast-feed Caleb. "I knew what bonding was with my firstborn, and I didn't have that time in pregnancy this time to start the process. I felt breast-feeding would help me bond more quickly and deeply. To me it was absolutely essential for bonding in the postpartum period."

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