Can You Breastfeed an Adopted Baby?

Updated: March 9, 2022
Can you breastfeed without giving birth? If you're wondering if it's safe to breastfeed an adopted baby or another mom's baby, here's what you should know.
Breastfeeding Adopted Baby
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Breastfeeding is an amazing gift that a mother can give to her child. Not only does breast milk provide infants with crucial antibodies for fighting off future illnesses, but these feedings can be a fantastic bonding experience for mother and child. Unfortunately, many adoptive mothers feel that they have to miss out on these benefits since they are not the ones giving birth. This leads many to question "can you breastfeed an adopted baby?" We have a surprising answer.

Breastfeeding Is Possible Without Pregnancy

A woman's body is an amazing thing. According to the La Leche League International, "it is possible to establish milk production for an adopted baby, even if you have never been pregnant or given birth." This process is called induced lactation. While it is not a successful method for all women, if you have enough time before the baby arrives, you can engage in therapies and techniques that will establish a milk supply.

How To Induce Lactation For Adoptive Breastfeeding

Induce Lactation

The Mayo Clinic notes that "induced lactation depends on the successful replication of [the natural lactation process]. If you have months to prepare, your health care provider might prescribe hormone therapy — such as supplemental estrogen or progesterone — to mimic the effects of pregnancy." These will trigger your pituitary gland to increase the creation of the hormone prolactin. This is a chemical messenger in your body that causes the breasts to enlarge and begin milk production.

However, just like with a normal pregnancy, it will take some time for your body to actually begin creating milk. This means that the sooner you begin this process, the better the chances will be that you will be able to successfully breastfeed your baby when they arrive.

This treatment normally takes a minimum of six to eight weeks, with some women requiring more time. Then, approximately two months before you intend to breastfeed, you will stop these therapies and begin pumping with an electric breast pump. Similar to when a woman starts breastfeeding naturally, in order to make enough milk, you need to encourage production.

Thus, you will electrically stimulate your breasts for short increments each day. Over time, you will increase these time frames and the frequency of your pumping sessions to help build your supply and keep it up until the baby comes. However, it is important to remember that the amount of milk produced will vary from person to person.

How To Boost Your Breast Milk Production

For many moms like myself, even a natural birth does not bring an ample milk supply without some assistance. For adoptive parents who want to increase their amount of milk, you can take galactagogues. These are herbal supplements and foods that organically trigger the female body to make milk. The most common herbs include fenugreek, blessed thistle, fennel, ginger, oats, and brewer's yeast. Yes, drinking a pint of Guinness can help to produce human milk! (Just remember that moderation is key!)

Additionally, if you are doing an open adoption, speak with the biological mother about being present for the birth so that you can engage in skin-to-skin contact with your baby. Research indicates that "newborns that have skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth are twice as likely to breastfeed within the first hour. Mom’s prolactin level rises as a result—this is a hormone that is critical in maintaining a strong milk supply."

Lastly, for those who do not find success with these methods, consider speaking with a lactation consultant. They can provide expert insight on how to more effectively get things moving along.

Things To Avoid During This Process

Many times the issue with milk production has nothing to do with your breasts, but rather what you are putting in your body. Breastfeeding mothers need to prioritize their health while trying to stimulate milk production and throughout the breastfeeding process. Thus, eat healthy foods and avoid junk food. Also, quit smoking and get off of your birth control pills, unless otherwise instructed by your physician.

Moreover, avoid taking antihistamines and decongestants, unless you need these over-the-counter drugs for medical reasons. These medications are designed to dry up fluids in the body. Unfortunately, they do not pinpoint just your upper respiratory system. In fact, these are recommended ways to dry up your milk supply once your baby has transitioned to solid foods. Therefore, cease taking these unless absolutely necessary.

Finally, stress is something that can deter your body from effectively producing milk. This means that sleep and relaxation are key while trying to build up a supply. Also, give yourself some grace. If you are even making a few drops of milk, that is progress! Try not to get discouraged throughout the process and don't be afraid to ask for help along the way.

What If I Cannot Produce Enough Milk Or Any Breast Milk At All?

Producing Enough Milk

Unfortunately, induced lactation is not a successful venture for everyone and that is okay! The La Leche League notes that "human milk banks provide pasteurized, screened donor milk" that can allow the adoptive family to still bottle feed with this liquid gold. Additionally, formula can also provide your sweet new baby with the nutrients they need to thrive!

For those with a low milk supply, know that you are not alone. This is a normal problem that a large portion of the population experiences. If you want to breastfeed, but an ample milk supply is not there, or dry-nurse your adopted baby, consider investing in a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS).

The folks at Medela have created "a reservoir that is filled with supplemental nutrition. It can then be placed on the mum’s chest or on a pole. The very thin, flexible tubes are fixed alongside the mother’s nipples and release additional milk and supplements as the baby feeds."

There is also the Lact-Aid Nursing Training System that provides the same benefits. These tools can allow you to provide your child with donated breast milk and or formula to ensure that they continue to grow big and strong! Most importantly though, no matter what feeding method you choose, there are amazing ways for you to bond with your newborn.

Other Ways To Bond With Your Adopted Baby

Skin-To-Skin Contact

First and foremost, skin-to-skin contact is a spectacular way for new moms and dads to bond with their baby! While it can help to facilitate breastfeeding, it also has amazing health benefits for you and your little one. Studies show that it can help regulate your baby's temperature, breathing, and heart rate. It can also aid in their digestion, help them sleep, and it can even assist in their cognitive growth!

"Brain development begins with positive sensory stimulation at birth. Sensations that tell the baby’s brain that the outside world is safe are things like their mother’s smell, movements, and skin-to-skin contact." Furthermore, this simple act can help you and your baby bond, in turn, lowering both of your stress levels. Most notably, "psychologists say there are five types of love languages, but to newborn babies, only one really registers: physical touch."

Skin to Skin Contact

When you engage in this activity, the hormone oxytocin is released. "The rush of oxytocin not only makes Mom a super warm and cozy place for a newborn to nestle, but it also enables mothers and babies to recognize each other’s unique scent." Odors have been shown to imprint on our emotions and memories, making this an extremely powerful tool for building your relationship with your baby.

Engage With Your Newborn

Additionally, while your newborn's sight is still developing, they can hear you quite well! Thus, talk, sing, and hum to your baby. Let them know that you are there and that you love them unconditionally. Moreover, get in close when conducting feedings and keep eye contact with them. Let them study your face and see their beautiful new mom!

Moreover, take your time with their feedings and bath time. Rock them, give them an infant massage, play with them in front of the mirror, and dance with them around the room. Keep them in a baby wrap while cooking and cleaning, and most importantly, just be present. Bonding takes time no matter if you are trying to connect with a two-week-old or a 52-year-old. Let time slow down and cherish these little moments because your tiny little baby will grow up in the blink of an eye.

Final Thoughts

No matter if you are a new mother with an adopted child on the way, the biological parent who chose surrogacy, or a busy mom who stopped breastfeeding and wants to try re-lactation, these methods have had proven success. Just remember that throughout this process, patience is a virtue. Rome was not built in a day and creating a milk supply takes time and a lot of effort.

Finally, it is also important to note that everyone's experience will be different. Induced lactation and breastfeeding will unfortunately not work for everyone. In the grand scheme of things, all that matters is that your baby is fed, warm, and loved. Your baby needs you more than anything else!