How non-birth mothers are breast-feeding

'At that moment, the Mount Everest of pain and suffering I’d been through vanished'

MONIQUE POLAK Freelance, Montreal Gazette Sunday, November 10, 2002 

adoptive mother breastfeeding her baby
Kerri Smith breastfeeds son Adam in Chilliwack, B.C. Adam was adopted as an infant
  After years of infertility and eight miscarriages, Lenore Goldfarb was resigned to the fact she could not bear her own child.

But she refused to be childless. She found a woman in California to act as a surrogate mother. And when the woman gave birth to a son three years ago, Goldfarb was ready to pick him up and do something for which nature had not prepared her: breast-feeding.

"When Adam took my breast, I felt normal for the first time. I felt like just another breast-feeding mother," said Goldfarb, 42.

"At that moment, the Mount Everest of pain and suffering I’d been through vanished."

Goldfarb is among a growing number of women who are managing to nurse newborns without the usual requirements - pregnancy and childbirth. Many, like Goldfarb, are using a cocktail of hormones and medication to help their bodies produce milk.

Think of it as a modern take on wet-nursing, a practice that dates back at least to biblical times.

"I come from a long line of breast-feeding women. I wasn't going to be the first to bottle-feed," Goldfarb said.

So before Adam’s birth, Goldfarb consulted Toronto pediatrician and breast-feeding specialist Jack Newman.

He started Goldfarb on a drug regimen designed to mimic pregnancy. He prescribed a birth-control pill that combines progesterone and estrogen, in addition to a drug called domperidome. A medication used to treat stomach disorders, domperidome has an unusual side-effect: it causes lactation.

Within 12 days of taking the drugs, Goldfarb was able to express clear droplets of liquid from her breasts. By the time Adam was born, she was able to produce milk.

Induced lactation - also known as adoptive breast-feeding - is common in places like Africa and Australia, Newman said. The author of Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breast-feeding (HarperCollins, 2000) learned of the practice when he was working in South Africa in the early 1980s.

It’s difficult to gauge how many women are practicing adoptive breast-feeding, but a Web site set up by Goldfarb is getting 2,000 hits a day.

Goldfarb, who recently became a registered lactation consultant, is an impassioned spokesman for adoptive breast-feeding. Together with Newman, she wrote a breast-milk production guide that is posted on the Internet.

"We’ve seen a handful of adoptive breast-feeding cases," said Perle Feldman, a doctor associated with the clinic, the Goldfarb Breast-feeding Program of the Herzl Family Practice Centre.

"Many of these women have felt like complete reproductive failures. Helping them to do this most basic motherly function is a real way of helping them heal," Feldman said.

And because studies have shown breast milk provides protection against diseases like diabetes, ulcerative colitis and certain cancers, breast-feeding is good for babies, too.

Newman has been treating women since 1985. But even though his drug regimen is believed to be safe for mothers and babies, not all women are willing to use it.

Carole Dobrich, a registered lactation consultant at the breast-feeding clinic, tells women about other strategies, which include pumping the breasts 'round the clock, putting the baby to the breast and using a supplemental nursing system to deliver artificial infant milk, and drinking herbal teas like fenugreek and blessed thistle to stimulate milk production.

Patricia Jackson, a West Island lactation consultant, breast-fed her own adopted daughter 32 years ago without any drugs - though she needed to supplement her own milk with baby formula. She prepared her body for breast-feeding by letting a friend’s baby suckle at her breast.

"Nowadays, this would not be done because of fears about contracting diseases like AIDS and hepatitis," she said.

Jackson believes the amount of breast milk an adoptive mother produces is less important than the intimate connection breast-feeding provides. "To me, it’s the closeness with the baby that’s so important," she said.

Through the Internet, Kerri Smith of Chilliwack, B.C., learned about Newman’s drug regimen and asked her own doctor to prescribe it. Smith, 26, who tried fertility treatments for three years before turning to adoption, breast-fed both her sons - Cole, now 3, and Adam, 16 months - through induced lactation.

She stays in E-mail contact with Goldfarb and Newman, giving them updates on her breast-feeding experience with Adam.

In a phone interview, her account was nothing less than joyful: "You offer your best to this tiny little guy. You feel like your heart is just overflowing. It’s unreal.''

More Information

Where to learn more about adoptive breast-feeding:

The Goldfarb Breast-feeding Program of the Herzl Family Practice Centre at Jewish General Hospital is open by appointment Mondays from 9 a.m. to noon, and Thursdays from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Call (514) 340-8253. The clinic also runs a drop-in breast-feeding support group on Tuesdays from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

The clinic is at 5757 Légaré St.

ON THE WEB: - Lenore Goldfarb runs this informational Web site, which gets about 2,000 hits daily. Go here to read A Guide for Maximizing Breastmilk Production, a document Goldfarb co-authored with Toronto pediatrician and breast-feeding expert Jack Newman. Newman, Perle Feldman and Carole Dobrich act as consultants on this site. - ABRW stands for Adoptive Breast-feeding Resource Web site. It provides a useful Q&A section and mother-to-mother support.