Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Post-Institutionalized Adopted Children Who Seek Breastfeeding from Their New Mothers

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Post-Institutionalized Adopted Children Who Seek Breastfeeding from Their New Mothers

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Reports of 32 adopted children who sought breastfeeding from their mothers are presented. Children were 8 months to 12 years at placement and sought breastfeeding from the day of placement to several years after. Some children suckled only a few times whereas others breastfed frequently over a protracted period. Suckling was comforting to children and assisted some in expressing grief over birth mother loss. Mothers felt that breastfeeding assisted in attachment development. It is proposed that the reason why children desired breastfeeding is associated with their first maternal relationship. Children may be seeking breastfeeding as a conditioned response to stimuli provided by the adoptive mother, have memories of breastfeeding or the mother child relationship, or be exhibiting regression in response to stress. Suckling at the breast could provide comfort and stress relief to the child and promote maternal responsiveness. The frequency of adopted children seeking breastfeeding is unknown however adoption professionals should advise adoption applicants of the possibility. It may also be appropriate for adoptive mothers to pursue breastfeeding in the event that the child does not.

KEY WORDS: Adoption, attachment, breastfeeding, institutionalisation, memory.


Institutions are inadequate environments for the satisfactory growth of children (Ainsworth, 1962; Bowlby, 1952; Spitz, 1945). The physical and emotional deprivations of institutionalisation result in damage to the child that is manifest in disturbances of attachment, physical, and developmental delays, sensory integration problems, and various behavioural abnormalities (Rutter and Team, 1998; Zeanah, 2000). Although some of the damage from institutional care is no doubt due to poor nutrition and the lack of developmental and educational experiences in such environments (Johnson et al., 1992), probably the most serious deprivation is due to lack of a consistent and sensitive caregiver whom the child can trust and form a healthy attachment to.

Development of trust and a secure attachment normally occurs through reciprocal interactions in which a caregiver gratifies a child's needs in an appropriate and consistent manner resulting in reduction of anxiety or discomfort and feelings of relaxation and relief (Levy and Orlans, 2000). This cycle of need-arousal-gratification-relief-need is ordinarily repeated many thousands of times in the first years of a child's life (Hughes, 1999; Levy and Orlans, 2000) but is absent or greatly reduced in the experience of institutionalised children. Without the consistent completion of the attachment cycle the emotional, social, and even physical development of children can be severely impeded because the primary attachment relationship is the base from which children explore themselves, others, and the world (James, 1994).

A small proportion of children in the institutions of developing nations are adopted into famines in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and other countries (Chisholm, 1998; Goldberg and Marcovitch, 1997; Harvey, 1980; Hoksbergen, 1981). Parents who adopt a child from an institution need to care for them in ways that facilitate the development of the attachment relationship between the child and themselves (Levy and Orlans, 2000). Amongst the tools suggested as helpful in promoting attachment are actions that involve the parent giving the child eye contact, skin-to-skin contact, rocking, sugar, smiles, and vocalizations (Hughes, 1997; Thomas, 2000). It is suggested that parents can provide some of these attachment-promoting interactions through a regular time of cuddling and bottle-feeding (Gray, 2002; Hopkins-Best, 1998; Hughes, 1997). Bottle-feeding, however, is a substitute for breastfeeding (Newton, 1971; World Health Organization, 2001) but breastfeeding is rarely suggested as desirable for post-institutionalised children. In fact, adoptive breastfeeding is a subject that is usually only discussed in the context of the adoption of newborns with the understanding that older children will refuse to breastfeed. …

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