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New Beginnings Bookshelf: Breastfeeding Without Birthing by Alyssa Schnell, MS, IBCLC

shutterstock_114530854Reviewed by Winema Wilson Lanoue

As a La Leche League Leader, I have seen a gradual rise in the number of women who did not give birth to a child and who choose to breastfeed. More and more often, health and adoption professionals recommend that mothers strengthen the new bond with their non-gestational child by suckling them at the breast. Historically, there have been few resources to support this choice. While some materials have been helpful, they do not seem to be intended specifically for these mothers and babies and to truly address their unique needs. I am happy to report that this situation is changing and that one of the signs of this change is the new book Breastfeeding Without Birthing by Alyssa Schnell, who is an adoptive/breastfeeding mother as well as a breastfeeding professional.

Breastfeeding Without Birthing is a refreshingly comprehensive text that seeks to support non-birth mothers throughout the process of breastfeeding their children, from the decision of whether or not to breastfeed through their eventual success (which can be defined in varying ways) and continued pumping/nursing. In naming the book as she did, Schnell chose to include all mothers who might breastfeed a child they did not birth, such as non-gestational lesbian mothers, mothers who use birth surrogates and foster mothers, as well as adoptive mothers. In writing the book, she chose to incorporate her own personal stories, and those of others, into an impressive body of research, facts, and tips. These stories serve to illustrate her points and to remind readers that she has been on this journey herself and knows what unique challenges these mothers face. Additionally, a great deal of the information in this book would be useful to any mother trying to boost supply, induce lactation, or introduce the breast. For that reason alone, this book will doubtless prove invaluable to breastfeeding counselors and mothers alike, even if they never find themselves in the position of breastfeeding without birthing.

Schnell begins her book by defining “non-birthing mother” and “breastfeeding” which can apply when there are many different combinations of latching and nursing, not just when meeting all baby’s nutritional needs by breast alone. She then moves on to talk about making the decision to breastfeed and the support one might need to do so. She devotes quite a bit of time to the mechanics of latching, which she calls “Nurturing at the Breast,” and to making milk, which she calls “Nourishing from the Breast.” I enjoyed seeing this distinction because mothers often attach so much importance to making milk that they overlook the fact that there are many crucial advantages, including quicker and easier bonding, to suckling at the breast, whether or not milk is being made. It seems probable that this benefit would be of even greater importance for a baby who needs to bond with a non-gestational mother. Even for a birth mother who has had supply issues or who would like to introduce or reintroduce her baby to the breast, this idea—that success is not solely determined by how much milk is being made—is truly significant!

As I continued to read, I was struck by the amount of good information and detail that were included in Schnell’s technical sections on latching and producing milk. I was happy to learn about some new ideas for building breast tissue and enhancing pumping output, among other things. I was further struck by the fact that she was able to maintain a compassionate and encouraging voice in these chapters and by how accessible she made the material. Certainly, the personal stories helped with this, as did Schnell’s down-to-earth style.

71L3q2KT+JLAs a La Leche League Leader, I felt comfortable with the information and stories in this book. Indeed, I plan to add this to my growing collection of books that I feel are necessary for truly supporting mothers who are trying to build supply, latch their child, or induce lactation.

Breastfeeding Without Birthing fills a niche that has been sorely in need of filling and I feel confident that it will help many mothers and babies!

Winema Wilson Lanoue is a La Leche League Leader, a writer, and an avid knitter. She lives with her husband, Eric, two sons, Ezra and Zeb, and daughter, Vivienne, outside of Blacksburg, Virginia.