Breastfeeding a bonding experience any woman can enjoy, even those who choose to adopt

Thursday, May 9, 2019

child sitting in front of coolers filled with donated breast milk
For nearly two decades, Jessica Donnahoo helped countless mothers learn how to care for their new babies as a labor and delivery nurse at Bon Secours St. Francis Health System. So it’s no wonder she dreamed of becoming a mother and sharing the breastfeeding experience with a child of her own.

Unfortunately, after years of infertility treatment, Donnahoo and her husband were told she could not get pregnant. So they decided to adopt, but there was one part of motherhood the former nurse wasn’t willing to part with.

“I made peace with the fact that I wouldn’t give birth, but I really wanted to breastfeed,” she said. “I know some moms don’t breastfeed and I would never, ever judge that, but for me, it was incredible important. I felt like I didn’t have to give that up.”

No woman does, according to Bon Secours lactation consultant Mandy Schaub.

“It is a real possibility for moms, even moms who have never had a baby.”

Schaub says breastfeeding as an adoptive mother is time consuming and hard work. Medication is often required as well to help mimic the hormonal effects of pregnancy and then to induce lactation. A hospital-grade rental pump is also an important factor in success.

The lactation consultant says the sooner the mom starts the protocol for inducing lactation, the greater the milk volume she is likely to produce. Still, mothers who choose to go this route may not be able to produce enough milk to be the baby’s sole sustenance.

“We try not to focus on how much milk they end up getting, but just on the experience as a whole,” said Schaub.

Donnahoo began taking the physical steps toward being able to breastfeed as soon as they made the decision to adopt.

“We just believed that a baby was going to come, and I needed to be ready when that happened,” she explained.

The adoption of Donnahoo’s son happened rather suddenly, lessening her chances of being able to induce lactation. Still, she never gave up and was able to share the bond experience with her new baby.

“We supplemented with donor breast milk until my milk came in and I breastfed him just like any other mother would do.” 

Young Sailor had several birth defects, so the new mother felt the ability to breastfeed him was crucial. She did so until he was about 9 months old, when the Donnahoos received a big surprise – she was pregnant! As a result, Sailor continued to receive donor breast milk – giving Mom a break so she could prepare for the arrival of baby #2 – Sunny. 

Donnahoo was able to successfully breastfeed her daughter naturally, but she didn’t stop there. Because she relied heavily on milk donors with Sailor, she chose to become a milk donor for other moms after her daughter’s birth. In total, she was able to provide 13 gallon-size bags of milk to adoptive families.