Many new moms feel that breastfeeding is an important part of the parenting experience — it is a way for them to bond with their new baby, and it has been suggested to offer health benefits for newborns as well as their mothers. Adoptive moms often wonder whether they can have the same experience with their new babies.
It is possible, and increasingly common, to breastfeed an adopted baby. Read on to learn more about adoptive breastfeeding methods, benefits, challenges, and resources for adoptive moms who wish to breastfeed.
How Does Adoptive Breastfeeding Work?
For moms who feel strongly about the benefits of breast milk, breastfeeding an adopted baby can be a rewarding experience. Experts agree that once you get started, adoptive breastfeeding isn’t all that different from nursing a non-adopted child. However, adoptive breastfeeding does require some advance preparation. The following provides an outline of the breastfeeding process for adoptive mothers.
The first and most important step for any adoptive mother who is interested in breastfeeding is to talk to her doctor. It is important to explain your breastfeeding goals and to follow all of your doctor’s recommendations when starting and stopping medications to induce lactation.
- Hormones: To induce lactation, many women are first prescribed hormones, most commonly birth control pills. These medications are meant to mimic pregnancy, which helps prepare your body to produce milk.
- Herbal Supplements and Medications: As soon as you have an idea of when your baby is coming, the doctor will likely have you stop taking the birth control pill. You may begin using certain herbal supplements or other medications recommended by your doctor to help promote milk production.
- Pumping: While taking the supplements recommended by your doctor, you will begin pumping a few times a day. It will take some time, and you may not produce anything at first. Eventually, you will start producing milk, and your supply will gradually build up as you prepare to welcome your new baby.
- Supplemental Nursing System: You will likely not be producing enough milk to sustain the baby on your own when he or she comes. Supplemental nursing systems (SNS) are commonly used by adoptive mothers alongside the milk they produce on their own. The SNS has a container for additional milk with tubes that are taped to your chest. When you nurse your baby using the SNS, he or she will get that milk, along with whatever milk you are producing. This device allows you to breastfeed your baby and gets him or her used to nursing.
- Donated Breast Milk: You can supplement your breastfeeding with the SNS using formula, milk you’ve previously pumped, and/or donated breastmilk. Women who are producing an abundant supply of breastmilk will commonly donate the excess to adoptive moms or those with medical conditions that prevent them from breastfeeding. Donated breast milk is also an option for adoptive moms who choose to bottle feed.
Every mother’s breastfeeding experience is different — the process can vary based on a number of factors, and there is a learning curve involved for all new mothers who choose to breastfeed, adoptive or not. If you choose to breastfeed, remember to talk with your doctor and other breastfeeding or lactation consultants for guidance and support throughout the process.
Pros and Cons of Breastfeeding an Adopted Baby
The decision to breastfeed or bottle feed is a personal one, both for biological and adoptive parents. New moms who choose to breastfeed cite a number of reasons, and adoptive moms enjoy all of the same benefits as non-adoptive moms:
- Bonding with Baby: The physical contact of breastfeeding helps newborn babies feel secure and comforted. Many prominent organizations and health professionals, including the U.S. Surgeon General, encourage breastfeeding to help promote bonding and psychological health for mothers and babies. This bonding may be especially important to adoptive mothers.
- Health Benefits: Research has suggested that breastfeeding can reduce babies’ risks of developing many health problems, from ear infections to childhood obesity, and it may help protect mothers from certain types of breast and ovarian cancer, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- Convenience: In some ways, breastfeeding may be more convenient than bottle feeding a new baby — with breastfeeding, moms don’t need to worry about preparing bottles and packing formula before leaving the house.
While there are many advantages of breastfeeding, it is not for everyone, and there are some challenges for adoptive moms to consider before making the decision to breastfeed:
- Time Commitment: Breastfeeding does require a significant time commitment, with babies often nursing 10–12 times every day. For adoptive mothers, even more dedication is required, as they will have to pump throughout the day for weeks or months in advance of the baby’s birth.
- Learning Curve: Adopted or not, it can take new mothers and babies some time to get the hang of breastfeeding. It can be challenging and even painful at first, and adoptive moms may face the additional challenge of learning to induce lactation ahead of the baby’s arrival.
- Inconvenience: Depending on the amount of milk an adoptive mom is producing, breastfeeding may actually be less convenient for adoptive moms. Using the SNS in public, for example, is not always as convenient as bottle feeding.
There are many factors to consider when making the decision to breastfeed or not, but the most important is your individual circumstances. It is up to every mom to do what she feels is best for herself and her baby.
Tips and Resources for Nursing Mothers
If you are committed to breastfeeding your adopted baby, there are some steps you can take to help increase your chances of success throughout the adoptive breastfeeding process.
- Prepare ahead of time — Don’t wait until you are matched with an adoption opportunity to begin the process. Talk to your doctor as early as possible, and give yourself some time to build up your milk supply.
- Talk to a lactation consultant — There are breastfeeding classes new mothers can take, as well as nursing and breastfeeding experts who can give new moms suggestions to help them through the early challenges of breastfeeding.
- Avoid introducing a bottle to your baby until you are ready to wean them from breastfeeding — The flow rate of a bottle is different from breastfeeding, and introducing an occasional bottle may make it more difficult to get your baby to nurse.
- Talk to your adoption professional — It can be difficult to find support and information on adoptive breastfeeding. If you are interested in learning more about others’ experiences, ask your adoption professional if they know of any resources or previous clients who would be willing to share their story.
- Have realistic expectations — Most adoptive moms will not produce enough milk to exclusively breastfeed without using an SNS, and it can take a while to build up any milk production at all. Don’t be discouraged if you are able to breastfeed a few times, a few months or not at all — many perfectly healthy and happy babies are bottle-fed.
The following resources provide additional information and support for parents who are interested in breastfeeding an adopted baby:
Ask Lenore: Dr. Lenore Goldfarb and Dr. Jack Newman are experts on breastfeeding and induced lactation. Their website provides resources specifically tailored to moms who are interested in adoptive breastfeeding, including a step-by-step protocol for inducing lactation.
International Breastfeeding Centre: Dr. Newman’s breastfeeding clinic and online resource provides additional information about adoptive breastfeeding.
Human milk 4 Human Babies: Human Milk 4 Human Babies connects breastmilk donors with adoptive moms and others in need of donations. Their community network pages allow adoptive parents to find local women willing to donate excess breastmilk.
La Leche League: LLL provides mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information and education to all mothers interested in breastfeeding.