Breastfeeding adopted infants

Ronda Barrett and her daughter. (Photo: WJLA)

Ronda Barrett remembers bringing her 2-year-old daughter Lela home from the hospital like it was yesterday. She specifically remembers the mayhem that being a new mother brings.

Like many new moms, Barrett wanted to launch Lela on a path of health and wellness beginning at birth.

“So like any expecting mother, I read up first more just on breastfeeding, and once you start reading about health benefits, nutrients, building immunities, more digestible, I really wanted my daughter to have a healthy start in life,” she says.

But what makes this situation different is that Lela is adopted.

SEE photos of the Ronda Barrett and her daughter.

To take on the challenge, Barrett turned to Margaret Wills, a lactation consultant with the Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington. Wills works mostly with biological mothers like these women but says the notion of adoptive breastfeeding is fairly common everywhere but here.

“In places where everybody breastfeeds and everyone has always breastfed, the idea of inducing at least a part of milk supply for a baby who needs it is not that unusual,” Wills says. “In a place like the U.S. where we are starting to rebuild our traditions, this is a new idea again.”

Jump-starting milk production without a pregnancy is actually easier than it might seem.

There are prescription medications that mimic the hormonal changes of childbirth and food and herbs that have long been helpful in stimulating lactation. And then there's the supplemental method in case the mother is unable to produce enough milk.

With only two months notice before Lela's arrival, Barrett used a combination of all three. In addition to nutritional benefits, both mother and baby were also able to make an emotional connection.

“For many adoptive mothers, the closeness and the bonding is what they are really hoping to gain out of this,” Wills says.

The biggest point both Barrett and her lactation consultant want to make is their belief that all mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed.

And it can be made possible, even in non-traditional circumstances.