Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Confessions - Comfort Nursing - Adoptive Nursing

My three year old son asked to nurse the very first night. He was two and a half at the time. He still does. There. I said it.

I've attempted to write this post a hundred times. I'm not ashamed. At all.I'm proud of all the work we've done and this was often a hard one.  It's just that- - - - I tried researching- to find more about this 'phenomenon' and... could find very little. No one seems to talk, blog/write about it.  All I have to go on is my own short 6 months with my own son. First hand knowledge should account for something, but writing it and pushing 'publish' - with no other back up material... ugh.

So lets' be clear. I'm no expert. I was winging it for a long time. There are a few resources, but most of them have to do with supplemental feeding your child. The articles I found most helpful- after much digging- had to do with breastfeeding mothers anxiety/questions/issues over their childs comfort nursing (and not feeding). WOW! That was an eye opener. Breast feeding kids comfort nurse too. Ok- so--- this is not completely unnatural! phew.

ETA: I never did research till in the midst of realizing I didn't know 'appropriate' from not in regards to this entire concept.

There is so much I could write. SO much detail- for a boundary challenged person- it would all be TMI. So I'll try to tell you like it is- without going to far.

The first time I ever heard of this "comfort nursing" was from a couple of private messages I received from some BTDT mom's. I had posted a question (in an ET adoption forum) about bottle feeding a child that age and whether or not I should attempt. Plenty of public response and discussion- but privately- the word was passed on "Don't be surprised if he asks to nurse."

"HUH? What?" I responded. "I've got nothing to offer! These puppies couldn't deliver milk if I was the milk man!"

They kindly explained that it was just for comfort and that I should be open to it.

Man, were they right.

The first night together, as I got dressed into my PJ's- Mr. Curious spotted, pointed and came over. He 'asked' if it was ok.

"Oh boy. Is he kidding? Already??" I thought.

"Yes. Yes. I nodded and sat down.

He didn't that first night. (He couldn't anyway. Many of you know he couldn't suck and I needed to teach him how to drink from a bottle for the first few days) but he continued interest and by the 3rd night he was suckling.

I didn't know what to do. I was literally winging it. I didn't want to force him to do it. But at the same time- I wanted to encourage him, as he was interested and it was the first thing my new son had ever asked of me. So I made a plan.

I would sleep in a tank top. A loose one that left me..."accessible". One that allowed him to be comfortable and explore without having pasty white lady br3ats in his face all the time. I wore the tank top often when it was just me and him- so that he was comfortable with me in that type of dress.

For him- he rarely suckled himself to sleep. It was literally and quick and long lasting comfort thing. 5 seconds or 30. Sometimes a minute or 5. But to this day- he finds comfort in my chest. It isn't just about the suckling. It is about the comfort he finds in knowing that I'm available.

We all have little scars, collar bones, neck muscles, skin tags, heart beats, breath sounds, skin folds, fat rolls. Something that they find comfort in. Landmarks I call them. Hears them. Touches them. Sees them. Feels them. Sometimes he tastes them. This is where six months brought us to. Landmarking... more than Nursing.

It wasn't always about comfort. Sometimes it felt almost desperate. As part of his grieving. He wanted me to be able to provide milk. "Whetat". He'd say over and over again. Trying so hard to put the bottle and me in his mouth at the same time. Eventually finding a spot to let the bottle drip down my br3ast captured at the nipple.

Painful to watch. Painful ache, that I couldn't give him more. Painful to see his greiving. And knowing- as I watch him struggle- he wasn't weaned before his 'transitions'.

We are close to him being 'weaned' off of me. I am fully open to him continuing, on an as need basis, for a full year. He'll be almost 4 by then, but only with me a year.

This past week, he's done little if any nursing and a little landmarking at bed time. But for the month of July! It was intense. Often, frequent and demanding. And then suddenly- done.   (He's also sleeping in his own bed for the first time in 6 months this week too- so maybe a correlation?!?!?)

This, comfort nursing, did much to hasten our attachment process. It did NOT substitute all the other things we need to do for attaching.

I know I'm not alone in this. Since talking about this with a few adoptive family friends, they have all opened up about it- in private. One was surprised when it 'happened'. Another was home almost 4 months before her 3 year old asked. She explained he was too old and she wasn't comfortable with it. Another wanted her child to- but he showed little if any interest and she didn't know how to facilitate it for him. There are so many questions... and it remains so personal... but I also know many out there- with younger ones that may not be able to ask- that crave it- that need to know you're available- but can only scream, kick, fuss, bite out of frustration.

There is so much more. More I could say. TRY IT! BE OPEN TO IT- or at least be prepared for when your child needs it. I hope this made sense. I hope I've done the subject justice- or at least opened the discussion so that others may take it on. Peace out.


scooping it up said...

I am so proud of you for writing about it, and your support as I attempt with my own booger.
Go Shannon!

My only advice for you is this: make this post more findable in google by making the post title more obvious. You want other adoptive moms to find this. What if they google "adoptive nrusing" your post might not come up. You have something important for others to read, I think. :)

kn said...

Oh sweet woman. What a wonderful, giving post. I am totally surprised! I've been reading for two years about all of this stuff and never have I read anything like this. Wow! This would be very hard for me. But I would do it. Absolutely. Q nursed and often comfort nursed, especially at night. Of course they need this level of intimacy. I don't think three is too old. I think so much depends on the individual child. Honestly, depending on the child, I don't think 5 or 6 is too old. Not for these children. I think the year thing is right. How long has he been with you...that's the real thing.

Thank you so much for this! Thank you thank you thank you.

Jennifer said...

Wow Shannon. I am completely blown away by your honesty and 'realness' in sharing this. I just have to say I am humbled and in awe of not only your willingness to share, but of your openness to do what it takes to help your son. You are an amazing woman and Mama!

Neither of my kids ever had mothers available to them after birth (as far as I know), so I don't think they knew anything but a bottle. Therefore I've never given this topic much thought, but now that you made me aware of it, I bet this is a very big and real topic for children who initially nursed with their birth moms and then as you stated, weren't fully weaned or were just weaned when the kids lost their BM. Wow. What a great topic.

Thank you for sharing. I'm sure that not only have you helped someone who is going through this or will be going through this, but you've also opened the eyes and mind and heart of people like me. Great post!

KamPossible said...

Thanks for writing this.

I have lots to say about it too...

When my 3 year old came home, we started him on a bottle. He loved it he did great and it facilitated bonding. He was done with it in a few weeks. But I loved it for him. I wished it could have been me, but I was happy to give him a bottle (others had feedback about "starting" a 3 year old on a bottle)

When my 8 year old came home. She was interested. And I have been contacted by several parents of older kids who have asked about nursing. Ages 6,7,8 etc. I didn't know what was going on when my daughter did it, so I just explained "my body, my space". Other kids have been more verbal with their mothers, asking what and why. I have been repeatedly asked if the "asking" is normal. I think it is, but an not aware of anyone who has admitted allowing this with kids over 5.

A couple of weeks ago I was in country meeting my 18 month old. It seemed desperately obvious that he wanted to nurse. I felt total guilt that I had nothing to offer. And I knew I would have to leave him and return to the US and I wasn't sure how that would affect bonding. So, I came home and thought more on it... and now I read your post... I am going to follow his lead on this when I return to him.

Great job bringing this into the light!

Bonnie said...

good for you to bring this out in the open! I'm pretty sure I'm one of the ones who warned you. And yep when our little one came home she made it clear that she needed to be nursed - frequently for about 6 mths and then all of a sudden she was done. It really helped her to calm down and to realize that I was mom... all good things.

Gretchen said...

I'm proud of you! I had no idea. But I for one think its GREAT!

Sha Zam- said...

Yep! Bonnie you were one that gave me the initial heads up! You Rock...

InventingLiz said...

Shannon - I know you said you were going to write about this, but I honestly never thought you are a brave, brave woman who I think has just done a great service to a whole lot of adoptive parents.

I don't know your son's story, but I wouldn't be so sure that he wasn't weaned before his transition. Elfe's birth mother was gone for at least a year, possibly closer to two, before she was relinquished, and she did this within our first week home too. I think part of it is that they have seen other kids nursing in Ethiopia and just know that that is what mommies do.

Do you mind if I link to this in my weekly reading list?

Single PAP said...

wow, i agree with liz.. very brave to write this. i brought my daughter home at 19months and we coslept for about 6 weeks. she would reach for me too but i rejected her because i had no idea it was done. it didn't seem appropriate. you are right, there isn't anything about this readily available. i, for one, had no idea people did this. i had heard of taking something to get the milk to come in and that this was done for infants but i had no idea people nursed toddlers purely for comfort. very eye opening.

thanks for this post.

Anonymous said...

I am a frequent reader but have never sent in a comment. I am so thankful to read this! My son has been home with us for 7 weeks today and the past two weeks has just been fascinated by my breasts. He is 6 so I thought it was just because we were snuggled in bed and reading books that made them seem comfortable like a pillow to him. He started by just pushing on them and then squeezing them and then grabbing onto them. Always when we were in an affectionate moment. I now feel so much better knowing that this is probably him feeling more attached to me and seeing me as "mommy".

Frequent reader,


Melodie Monberg said...

What a fascinating post to read. Really! I found it interesting, thought provoking, even moved to tears thinking of your son's little life. I think it's wonderful how as mothers we have an innate gift to know what our kids need. Thank you for sharing!


Jennifer said...

Going out of your comfort zone and into the unknown for your child; what a good mom. Thank you for your honesty.

Anonymous said...

My son was 9 (now 10) and he asked, very hesitantly. I didn't think it would be appropriate at his age so I just explained that I didn't have any milk and so it wouldn't do any good.

A few days ago he said that he wished I would have a baby, and then throw it away, so he could have its milk. He lost his mom at age 4 or 5 so I definitely think it's more than just not having been weaned.

People thought I was weird to co-sleep with him at his age, strokes & mild heart attacks might have ensued if I had pseudo-nursed.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. I am an adoptive mom, brought our little guy home when he was a baby, but when we went on 1st visit trip (not ET), he rooted, my heart skipped a beat, and instincts kicked in - like yours.
My agency director ironically called that evening to see how we were doing, and honestly I was a bit freaked out that I might be doing something 'wrong', & she assured me that comfort nursing was/is normal and to follow his lead. I did, and I was lucky to have that advice from my agency when I needed it.
Our 'little' guy is now 5 years old - lol -
and he does the landmarks still (& I called it that too!)
Follow your instinct. It is not for anyone to judge. You are doing a great job. Keep it up, mama!!

Waiting for Zufan! said...

I tried so hard, for months, to get Zufan to nurse. When we went to Ethiopia I was all prepared, and had even taken medication so that I had a small milk supply. I could never get her to nurse, although a couple times she latched on briefly. You are SO SO fortunate to have had this experience. Awesome. Cherish it, and stretch it out as long as possible. :)

Julie said...

Shannon, what an amazing mother you are. This must bring him so much comfort. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I had not even considered adoptive nursing. I though it was weird and gross and some weirdo adoptive mother craziness. but I am so sorry I did not consider it and that I did not have this post to read about comfort nursing.

My daughter was 13 months old when I met her and she definately wanted to nurse. But I was to freaked out about doing that. I felt guilty about not doing it but weird about doing it. In retrospect I REGRET I did not. She would have loved that bonding.

Annie said...

I've heard of adoptive parents nursing when they have milk, but I wish I had heard of "comfort" nursing when our daughter came home. Good for you.

Hi from Ruth! said...

Hi there -
I just happened upon your blog and wanted to let you know that I stopped by...I have a feeling I'll be back.

My husband and I are in the process of adopting an older child (3-4) from Ethiopia (we expect a referral any week now) and your post about comfort nursing was very helpful for me to read - thank you. I really appreciate your willingness to blog about this, if only because it helps folks like me prepare myself for such an event.


Ruth...from central Canada

Claudia said...

really, really interesting - thanks!!

Corinne said...

Shannon, I just wanted to add my voice to the chorus and say this is a great post and one that has lots of personal meaning to me. Thank you so much for bravely writing about the un-talked about. i wish i'd known about comfort feeding and that its okay at a little older age. M has struggled with this and I've always said no. Reading your post made me realize its my hang up.

Chrissy said...

Wow! I totally missed this in my "adoptive books". B never acted like that was something he wanted but we did cosleep for about 4 months. Now that I am back to work I don't want him getting up as early as I do-

what an interesting post!! :-)

Dora said...

This is such a beautiful post. I'm an SMC via embryo donation, so I'm lactating. But wanting to comfort your child in whatever way works is what motherhood is all about. Brava, mama!

BTW, your boy is so adorable!

Kimmie said...

How very awesome...for you and for him. There are suppliment nursing helps you can get from la leche league (I think that is the breastfeeding group name) is like a bag with a tube that you slip in their mouth while they nurse. You can fill the bag with breastmilk (if you have it) or formula or goats milk...or cows milk, or soy ;-) but it gives them a liquid along with the sucking.

I had gotten one in hopes that ours would nurse, but alas she was getting teeth (all at once) and didn't want anything to do with it.

I am glad you were blessed with this bonding time with your son. Truly a gift from God my friend. truly.

mama to 8
one homemade and 7 adopted

Bridget said...

Shannon....for some reason, I lose and find your blog all the time. I need to just add it for God's sakes. Sorry. Anyhow....I FOUND the blog again (duh!) and this post. Wow. I am SO glad I read.... We are still waiting.... and this is sooooo helpful. I agree with all the others, this needs to be readily available for everyone to read! I wasn't able to breastfeed my daughter Elia after giving birth. I used one of those tube things for a couple of weeks. The whole breast-feeding not working thing really left ME scarred, so I didn't go any further with it. I wish I would have thought about comfort feeding my daughter who I bottle fed. The thought never even occured to me. Wow. It's brilliant. I'm definitely going to put this one in my back pocket. Thank you. What a gift.

three little birds said...

I too want to add my voice to the chorus saying thank you for this post. I am a single mom to one (breast fed for 2 years) and am waiting for number two to come home from Ethiopia. I had silently thought and hoped that I would be able to breastfeed him too but could find NO info on it and assumed that since he will be older (2-3 yrs) I wouldn't be able to. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I would love to read more about adoption and nursing if anyone has any other links. I'm also interested in trying to stimulate milk production if anyone has info on that too. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog and this post. Wow, I never realized that this was something that people did. We are in the paperchase to adopt a baby under 12 months from Ethiopia. We also have 3 bio kiddos at home including a 9 month old that I am still nursing. I had been thinking about continuing to pump and freeze after she finished breastfeeding thinking that maybe the milk would be helpful for our next baby. I was thinking that this might be strange, but I figured that if breastmilk is so healthy for newborns that it should be better than formula for an older infant that may be malnourished. I never even thought about actually being able to nurse an adopted child and that this may be helpful in bonding. This is definitely something I will be researching more, and I am pretty sure that I will try to maintain my milk supply until our baby comes home. Thanks so much for your transparency and willingness to blog about this.

Mark and Wendy said...

I was directed to this post by a friend who knows I hope to induce lactation for the 6 mos. old baby girl we're adopting from Ethiopia. There's a few websites out there ( is one) for inducing lactation, but in my deliberate searching for that info, have NEVER seen anything about comfort nursing older kiddos. Kudos to you for putting it out there, and thanks for the encouragement!

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to add to the chorus of thanks! We are adopting a toddler or preschooler internationally, and this was only after I had given up hope of being able to adoptive breastfeed.... months of pumping to try to induce lactation left me very disappointed (and the fenugreek made me nauseous so I couldn't take it). For months after stopping the pumpting, I'd be able to squeeze a few drops out in the shower and it would just tear me up inside. Now, I am so excited about shifting my focus from the nutritional needs to the attachment needs of my future child, and I'm soooo thrilled that comfort nursing can be a part of this experience for us, especially if the child will need to regress to a younger stage. Btw, I'll be selling my pump (which never saw any milk go through it), but I'll be holding onto the supplemental nursing system to encourage this wonderful bonding stragegy! THANK YOU!

Cindy said...

Awesome post Shannon! We are working through this very thing so the timing is perfect! Thank for speaking up!

Jenny said...

This was so moving. I just posted a link to it on

I can't describe how deeply your post touched me. All I can say is I know exactly EXACTLY the emotions you felt/feel and recognize my little girl in your little boy. My daughter was born in Ethiopia and started nursing with me at 2yo. Thanks so much for posting. :)))