Chetana Ajit is a La Leche League Leader and a Certified Lactation Educator Counselor. She has two children- Disha is 7 years and recently self-weaned. Read about Chetana and Disha’s breastfeeding journey here.
Tamia was adopted when she was 5 months old. She is 2.5 years now and their nursing relationship is going strong. In her spare time, Chetana helps out as an admin in Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers (BSIM) Facebook group.
1. Chetana, you have a heart of gold. It is not easy to adopt a baby and consider breastfeeding. How did you prepare yourself?
My experiences of breastfeeding my older daughter Disha, set me on a new path. After spending six years working in a corporate as an engineer, Disha’s birth, made me passionate about advocating for gentle, natural childbirth. As an extension, I am also an advocate for ecological breastfeeding (exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months) and natural term weaning.
I am glad to have gone down this route as it prepared me to welcome my second daughter into our family, like nothing else would have. Before Tamia came into our lives, I was formally and informally helping mothers with any challenges they faced while breastfeeding. A big part of this was the BSIM group. Spending a considerable amount of time answering queries and learning about different situations that mothers and babies can overcome left me feeling like I was doing something worthwhile. Being a part of BSIM also helped me learn more about breastfeeding an adopted baby. So when Tamia came home, I was ready.
2. This is truly amazing! We have read about re-lactation but is it really possible?
The anatomy of the female human is designed in such a wondrous way. The mammary glands can start breast milk production from adequate and continued stimulation. While pregnancy and childbirth prepares the body for breastfeeding, there are several induced lactation and re-lactation protocols available to help mothers breastfeed without giving birth. These are especially helpful for mothers who are interested in adoptive breastfeeding. Be it a newborn or a two year old toddler, mothers have been able to successfully breastfeed and produce milk. Most babies and toddlers can be coaxed to accept the breast. Depending on the baby’s temperament and personality- some take to breastfeeding faster than others.
3. What was Tamia’s diet during the initial few months?
We adopted Tamia when she was almost 5 months old. Going from a small hospital in Tamia (her namesake village in Madhya Pradesh) where she was first treated, to the District Hospital in Chhindwara where she finally started getting some much needed nourishment. She was wet nursed by mothers in the hospital as and when the nurses could take her to the maternity ward. At the children’s home where she stayed most of the first few months, she was given diluted cow’s milk and sometimes formula.
4. You must have been ecstatic on her first latch! Tell us about it and how you eliminated formula completely.
Tamia came home with us on the 21st of March 2015. She had an ongoing eye infection, cough and cold, probably made severe because of her compromised nutrition. I could not help but think about how much breast milk would help her at this time. I have always wanted to nurse my adopted baby. With the lowest of expectations, but a flame of hope and a fluttering stomach, I used a nipple shield and dropped formula from a bottle into it. She latched on and suckled for almost 15 mins! What may have helped is the memory of being wet nursed.
I was delighted that things were working out so well for us. Tamia was breastfeeding like a pro. We did a lot of skin-to-skin which helped us bond and helped Tamia get more breastmilk. Although I had a double electric pump with me and I did try pumping many times, I could not keep at it in a sustained manner. We are a nuclear family and taking care of a child and a baby did not leave me enough time for pumping. Over time, I reduced the amount of formula she was getting through the lactation aid and was able to wean her off formula at about 10 months. After that she was on breastmilk and solids.
5. Disha, your older daughter, was nursing when Tamia came home. How did you manage attending to both their needs?
Disha was 5 years old when Tamia came home. While I was making milk as Disha was nursing, my body was producing enough milk for one child who did not depend as much on breast milk for nutrition. Tamia, being a baby, needed more breastmilk as that was her primary source of nutrition. I had to re-lactate to increase my supply. I followed simple steps- increased breast simulation- nursing Tamia after supplementing her, breast massage, skin-to-skin and using the homemade lactation aid. I also consumed galactagogues to aid my efforts to re-lactate.
In my case, as I was already lactating, so in the strictest sense, it was increasing supply and not re-lactation. If a mother who was previously breastfeeding had stopped nursing and making milk wanted to start milk production, then it is called as re-lactation.
We tandem nursed for almost two years as Disha was not ready to wean yet and Tamia was already with us. It was mostly manageable as Disha’s needs were not as demanding as time passed by. The boundaries I set for Disha helped me not feel overwhelmed and meet both my children’s needs.
6. Sometimes, your work or personal issues demands for you to be away from your children. How do they manage when you’re away for longer periods? Did you think of weaning your child since some situations are unavoidable?
As with Disha, we want Tamia also to self-wean. As with many long term nursing relationships, we have had our fair share of challenges.
Last year I attended a La Leche League conference in Germany. I travelled by myself and due to the separation; I was not able to nurse Tamia for five days. My husband Karthik, took the time off to take care of the children. He would have Tamia on his chest through the night so that they both could get some sleep. When I got back, Tamia got right to nursing like I had never left. I was a little apprehensive, wondering if she would wean, though I knew she was way too young (18 months).
Recently, I had an ankle surgery. We were again separated for about one week. My sister helped take care of the children while I was in the hospital. Once I was back home, Tamia got back to nursing, yet again, like we were never apart.
These experiences show that a child will wean, when she is ready to. I am thankful that despite these separations, we were able to get back our breastfeeding relationship.
7. Can you throw some light, for our readers, on how to use a lactation aid?
I made a lactation aid at home by watching Youtube videos, to help her latch on and learn how to nurse. All it took was two tries for both of us to get comfortable and start using the lactation aid. A lactation aid helps to supplement the baby at the breast. It is not very expensive if made at home. An infant feeding tube, a feeding bottle and a sharp scissors are all that are needed. Supplementing at the breast means that the baby gets the pumped breastmilk or formula while latched on and suckling. This helps stimulate the breast to increase the milk supply. Lactation aid helps to eliminate artificial nipples and baby learns to breastfeed while getting adequate nourishment. For anyone who is interested in learning more about lactation aid there is a detailed document in the BSIM group.
Thank you so much Chetana for enlightening us on the process of re-lactation. It is indeed amazing to know about what all the human body is capable of. I am sure a lot of mothers who struggle with doubting whether they make enough breastmilk for their baby will gain confidence from your journey with Tamia.