Many hopeful adoptive mothers wonder, “Can I breastfeed my adopted baby without being pregnant?” For those adopting a newborn, breastfeeding can seem out of reach. But it’s not! With the right information, guidance, and plenty of support, you can breastfeed the baby you adopt.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breastfeeding an adopted baby is recommended. It is even possible to breastfeed if you’ve reached menopause or have never been pregnant. Although breastfeeding an adopted baby differs from breastfeeding a baby after pregnancy, you can achieve it through induced lactation.
It will take time and effort to begin breastfeeding your adopted baby, but the benefits are enormous. You may need to start by giving your baby supplemental milk since starting a milk supply takes time. You can produce enough milk for your baby, but it may not happen immediately. But, eventually, you’ll get there.
Can I Produce Milk?
As an adoptive mother, you can produce milk without giving birth. You will encourage your body to make milk using a supplemental nursing system (SNS), regular breast stimulation with a breast pump, or hormones. These methods trigger a natural reflex that releases a protein, causing your body to produce milk.
That’s not to say it’ll happen overnight. It takes lots of patience and determination on your part. In addition, every woman’s body is different. Some adoptive mothers have an entire milk supply, while others may not make enough to feed their babies. Don’t give up because you will produce some milk over time.
With dedication and preparation, breastfeeding without pregnancy may be possible. Keep in mind that any amount of breastfeeding is beneficial for your baby as it will help build a bond between you and your baby.
How Do I Get Started?
Your first step is to find a lactation professional who can help you. Consider contacting an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant to work with you. These qualified consultants have spent years assisting mothers in breastfeeding. Your consultant can guide the breastfeeding process, give you information, and answer all your questions. Typically, there are three techniques that adoptive moms can use to start breastfeeding their babies:
- Supplemental nursing system (SNS)
- Stimulating your breast
A supplemental nursing system
This method may be best if you don’t have much time to prepare for your baby’s arrival. With a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS), donor milk or baby formula is fed through a thin feeding tube taped to your nipple. An SNS provides the baby with the sensation of nursing as it stimulates your breast to build up your milk.
Stimulating your breast
Several months before bringing your home, you can start to stimulate your breasts. With this technique, you gently massage your breasts by hand or with a breast pump. It’s recommended to massage for ten to fifteen minutes several times daily.
Many women choose an electric breast pump so they can get the best breast stimulation. Breast stimulation should be done when you get up, several times during the day, and before bed. Typically, after a month or so of using this technique, drops of milk will start to appear. Gradually, your milk supply will begin to build up.
During the last months of pregnancy, lactation is generated by a complex interaction between three hormones— estrogen, progesterone, and human placental lactogen. Once the baby is delivered, the levels of estrogen and progesterone will reduce, allowing the hormone prolactin to start milk production.
Induced lactation is trying to bring about a successful replication of this process. If you have a few months to prepare for breastfeeding, your doctor may prescribe hormone therapy to imitate the effects of pregnancy. Then, a couple of months before your baby’s birth mother is due, you can stop hormone therapy. At this point in time, you’ll want to start pumping your breasts using a hospital-grade electric breast pump.
If you only have a short time to prepare for feeding your adopted baby, hormone therapy may not be an option. Instead, check with your health care provider, as they may be able to recommend other medications to help induce lactation.
Foods to Increase Milk Supply
Eating certain foods can help increase your milk supply, in addition to herbs called galactagogues. These include:
- Whole grains
- Dark, leafy greens
- Sesame seeds
- Nuts and seeds, especially almonds
- Brewer’s yeast
- Alcohol-free beers
- Blessed thistle
- Tehina (made from sesame seeds)
Adoptive Breastfeeding: The Ultimate Guide
Many adoptive moms have found my book, Adoptive Breastfeeding: The Ultimate Guide, to be a helpful tool in learning how to breastfeed their baby. The guide includes information about how to get started nursing your baby and information about the benefits of breastfeeding.
As an adoptive mom myself, I was able to nurse my adopted son successfully. Because of my experience, I believe that all moms can breastfeed a baby, whether they carry a pregnancy or not.
The Benefits of Adoptive Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding allows you and your baby to connect physically through skin-to-skin contact. This contact is vital not only to your baby’s development but also to form an attachment between the both of you. Skin-to-skin contact provides many benefits for your baby, including better organization of reflexes, a regulated heart rate, and stable temperature. In addition, the hormones which are released during breastfeeding can help the bonding process.
Research shows that breastfeeding provides positive psychological benefits for the mothers too. One such study investigated mothers’ moods when they breastfed and then when they bottle-fed their babies. Researchers found that the mothers had positive moods immediately after breastfeeding. They hypothesized that the higher levels of oxytocin released by breastfeeding may have caused the mothers’ positive attitudes.
Breastfeeding isn’t just for biological mothers. With proper preparation, patience, and professional support, you can nurse and enjoy the closeness you share with your baby!