Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

When Breastfeeding Isn’t Best

August 8th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Paula Modersohn-Becker (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

Let me say up front that I have limited direct experience with adoption. Some members of my extended family have adopted children, another has given up an infant for adoption, and I have friends who have adopted children, and other friends who are adopted. It was one of those adopted friends who pointed me to this uncritical article from last fall about the practice of adoptive mothers ‘learning’ to breastfeed.

I’ve placed learning in scare quotes because this article isn’t about adoptive mothers developing a skill. It’s about taking high-risk drugs so that they can have the experience of breastfeeding their adopted children, even though they will be unable to produce enough breastmilk to nurse exclusively. But by taking combined oral contraceptives continuously for several months (which, contrary to the popular belief asserted in the article, does not “trick the body into thinking it’s pregnant”) and following up with domperidone, an antiemitic drug which sometimes has the side effect of causing lactation — even in men — some adoptive mothers are able to force their bodies to lactate.

What’s so terrible about this, you may be wondering. Domperidone isn’t approved by the FDA for use in the US, even for its intended purpose in treating nausea and vomiting, so it is usually purchased by ordering from other countries. The FDA, however, has not been silent about domperidone: The agency has issued multiple safety alerts, advising healthcare professionals and breastfeeding women NOT to use the drug. Although the amount bioavailable to the infant is small, domperidone is excreted in breastmilk.

The hormones in the birth control pill are also excreted in breast milk, and are suspected to promote growth of breast cancers, if not actually cause them. (And who can forget that immortal bit of testimony from the Nelson Pill hearings in 1970, “Estrogen is to cancer what fertilizer is to wheat”?)

I appreciate the desire of new moms to bond with their babies, I really do. But if you’re willing to take these kinds of risks with your own health and your baby’s, I have to wonder if your desire to breastfeed is really about the relationship with your child.

8 responses to “When Breastfeeding Isn’t Best”

  1. Laura Wershler says:

    Thanks for drawing our attention to this practice. I’m dumbfounded that women would risk their health and the health of their babies with these drugs.

  2. The breast pendulum swings more and more. When my mother delivered me, she was given medication to dry up her milk supply as part of routine care. 40 years later, when I delivered my child by Caesarian birth, I felt a great deal of failure because it took 5 days for my milk to come in during which time I supplemented with, gasp, formula.

    My understanding is that non-pharmaceutical methods (aka suckling) can bring in milk supply without a preceding pregnancy. There is also a system I have seen designed for fathers which delivers milk over the shoulder to the nipple area to simulate nursing.

    Breast feeding is an awesome thing. Having said that, I spent about 8-12 hours per day as a milk cow during the first 6 months of my daughter’s life, something that I can’t imagine without Canada’s fabulous policy of one-year maternity/parental leave.

  3. Renee Elise Davis says:

    From what I have seen and read (I am an adult adoptee who works for adoption reform), adopters aren’t worried about whether or not this practice is actually best for the baby. They are obsessed and desperate for the experience of being a natural mother and will do anything, no matter how it damages the child, to attain it.

    Run through Pinterest sometime, checking the “pins” of hopeful adopters. Tee-shirt slogans like ADOPTION IS THE NEW PREGNANT! and NO MORNING SICKNESS, BUT LOTS OF PAPER CUTS! It’s about the fantasy, the delusion. As is this.

    What’s next, belly implants that are removed on “Gotcha Day?” (Don’t get me started on that term, please.)

  4. Elizabeth – I am so glad you made reference to the 1970 Nelson Pill hearings and the immortal quote “Estrogen is to cancer what fertilizer is to wheat.”

    I have been using the reference a lot lately. Perhaps SMCR should get bumper stickers made with this statement for the 2013 conference. I would even sell them on my blog.

    Perhaps if more women read this quote – the dangers of hormone suppressants would start sinking in.

  5. Mara says:

    I am an adoptee and I breast fed both of my children. I think it is disgusting that adoptive mothers take drugs and breast feed the adopted babies in their care. This is delusional and disgusting. I love my adoptive mother, but if I knew she did this, I would vomit profusely.

  6. dee says:

    thanks renee i think you said it best. Anyone that takes a baby from it’s mother, is not thinking (at best) causing great life time harm (in reality) and hopefully not teaching humongous selfishness

  7. Nancy says:

    This practice is disgusting, delusional, and dangerous to the baby. The adoptee will live with the effects of the drug in their system for the rest of their lives. It should be considered a form of child abuse to subject a baby to unnessary drugs being introduced into their system.

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