I will be honest with you all, if I had known what I know now, I would have breastfed our adopted child. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that was even a possibility. However, I now know it is possible to breastfeed an adopted child. Let’s see if I can help answer the question of, can I breastfeed my adopted child? Again, before we get too deep into my article, I want to remind you that this is based on my opinion and my own research. Please consult a medical professional if you feel the need to discuss the possibility of breastfeeding your adopted child.
It is totally possible to breastfeed an adopted baby, even if you have never been pregnant or given birth. However, the amount of milk you produce will depend on several different factors. Also, as many of you may know, in an adoption there is not a “due date” for when your child will arrive, which means knowing when to start the process of wanting to breastfeed is even more difficult. However, there are a few solutions to that issue, for instance, milk sharing, if available in your area.
Before you do too much research on your question, “Can I breastfeed my adopted child?” You may want to decide why you would want to breastfeed your adopted child. Breastfeeding is time-consuming and hard. Add breastfeeding and an adopted child and it requires even more work, time, and patience. Make sure you go into it with an open mind and know you may not be able to exclusively breastfeed your child, as you may not have enough milk. Make sure to adjust your expectations and give yourself a lot of grace as you maneuver through the process. Ask any of your mom friends who are breastfeeding, I am sure they will tell you all kinds of stories. It is not a walk in the park. However, the benefits are great for the baby. Not to mention, the bonding experience you will have with your newly adopted child. As I mentioned above, I wish I would have known I could have breastfed our adopted child, however, at the time I didn’t even know it was possible. The thought never crossed my mind until I had a conversation with another adoptive mom who said she was going to try to breastfeed their new adopted baby. And then I was intrigued! But why did I wish I would have done it?
We were able to watch our son be born. We took him home from the hospital. He was ours from the beginning. Of course, legally, he was not, but in all other senses, he was ours. I did everything I could think of, of course, instead of breastfeeding, to bond with him. We had skin-to-skin contact. We made as much eye contact as possible. We talked to him in our normal voices so he would know them. We did as much as we could to form a connection, to make a bond. Looking back, I think all of those things helped. I just wish I would have done one more thing: breastfeed. Not only for the bonding connection, but also for the health benefits he would have received. And, in a sort of selfish way, because it would have been the one thing that made me as close to being pregnant as I ever would have been.
How to Start the Process:
Most mothers are able to start producing a little milk even before the baby comes. If you are able to really start producing milk, you may freeze it for when the baby arrives or, as mentioned above, look into a milk sharing program in your area. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to even start producing milk. You are basically “convincing” your body to start producing milk when it is not naturally going to do it because you are not pregnant. This process is called inducing lactation.
I think in order to better understand how to breastfeed an adopted child, we first need to understand how milk production works. Naturally, milk production is a “use it or lose it” process. The more you use it, the more milk you will make. The less you use it, the less milk you will produce. This is essential to know if you are trying to breastfeed an adopted child. Milk production is hormonally-driven during pregnancy, this process is called the endocrine system. Basically, as long as the right hormones are in place, you will start making colostrum (a form of milk) about halfway through the pregnancy, this is known as Lactogenesis I and then the milk volume will increase around 30-40 hours after birth, this is known as Lactogenesis II. Toward the later part of the pregnancy, breasts are making colostrum but there are high levels of progesterone which suppress milk secretion and keep the volume of milk low. Then, at birth, the delivery of the placenta results in a drop of progesterone/estrogen level, and the sudden withdrawal of progesterone cues Lactogenesis II. As indicated above, this usually occurs 30-40 hours after birth. However, you may not feel an increase in milk coming in until two to three days after birth. This process is purely hormonally driven, they occur whether the mom wants to breastfeed or not. That is not to say it isn’t possible. We just need to learn how to make it.
To prepare your body, you can stimulate your breasts by hand or try to pump for several weeks or months before your baby arrives. Now, I know in an adoption you might not know when the arrival of your baby will be. You can always try to wait until you get word of a match with a birth mom or just start trying when you bring the baby home. Just make sure you understand that this is a long process and not to get too upset if it doesn’t work right away. If you want to use a breast pump, try to use one that is the highest quality available to you. This could make a world of difference. Some insurance companies will provide a breast pump to you even if you are not pregnant. Check with your insurance carrier to see if this would be an option for you. Another option would be to see if you can rent a rental-grade pump from your local hospital; medical supply store; through Women, Infants, and Children; or even a private practice lactation consultant. This type of pump will help you get the best results. Whether you use a pump or stipulation by hand, it is going to be most effective if you do it several times a day, close to eight to ten times a day. This will also help you get used to how many times a day a baby will want to eat. It has also been researched that using breast massage will help increase milk production more quickly. Many women will notice breast changes in the first six weeks of expression. You may notice your breasts are larger and firmer and may also experience breast tenderness, protruding nipples, and drops of milk.
Another option, which can be used in addition to the above, is to take hormones and/or galactagogues daily to prepare your body for lactation. Galactagogues is an herb or prescription that increases milk production. There are several over-the-counter remedies that may also help in the production of milk. You may also want to research things you can eat and/or make to help milk production once you start making milk. A simple Google search will result in several home remedies. Whatever route you choose, make sure to talk to your health care provider for medical advice.
After the Baby Arrives:
If you do not prepare your body before the baby arrives, you can still breastfeed. Again, it is suggested that you talk to your health care provider to make sure you are taking what is needed to help produce milk. Some moms have used an at-breast supplementer. The supplementer is basically a thin plastic tube that sort of wraps around the mother to just past her nipple. This tube is then linked to a receptacle filled with milk. This will allow the baby to get supplemental milk while breastfeeding. It will also allow the baby to have skin-to-skin contact with you as well as helping both of you get comfortable with breastfeeding. Having the tube come right to your nipple and having your baby placed on you in a feeding position will also allow your breasts to get the stimulation you need to help produce milk.
This also could eliminate the need for a bottle. Some mothers feel that allowing the baby to use a bottle will confuse them when they try to breastfeed. There are two main brands of breast supplementers: Lact-Aid nursing training system and the Medela Supplemental Nursing System. Both are great at serving their purposes, however, they both work differently. The Medela system allows milk to flow by gravity and the tube comes in a variety of sizes allowing a faster or slower flow. The Lact-Aid does not allow for milk flow unless the baby is sucking. If your baby is having a hard time latching on and sucking, this one may not be the best option for you. Make sure to do your own research into what system may work for you. You may also have to adjust systems once your baby arrives and you know which system works better for your baby.
Using a supplementer is a great way for your baby to get nourishment while still at your breast. Your breasts will also get the stimulation they need to begin producing milk. Keep in mind that your baby will most likely need to get used to feeding on your breast and learning to suck. It is okay to let your baby spend time at your breast without any milk. This will allow both of you to get comfortable with feedings and also help the baby with latching. You may also want to allow your baby to use pacifiers to get used to the sucking simulation as well.
If you are able to be in the room when your baby is born, try to allow him/her to be put on your breast immediately after birth. It is important to note that babies are instinctive to breastfeed at birth. They will naturally want to breastfeed. If you are unable to do so right away or are adopting an older child, don’t worry, you are still able to breastfeed the child. Even if your child has only used bottles, you will still be able to teach him/her to breastfeed. The older the baby, the longer it may take to get him/her comfortable with breastfeeding. It is important that you remain patient, calm, and relaxed. Babies pick up on your feelings right away! If need be, just practice skin-to-skin contact before starting to try to breastfeed. You may also want to try taking baths together, lying down with your baby during the day, wearing your baby during the day, sleeping near your baby, holding the baby while feeding, making eye contact with the baby and just talking with the baby to develop a relationship with the baby.
It should be noted again that the more your breasts are stimulated and the more milk you remove, the more milk your body will produce. It sounds easy in theory, but it won’t be so easy to always remain patient and calm at all times. Nursing as much as possible is the best way to increase production. You should offer both breasts twice at every feeding, even if you are using a supplementer. This allows both breasts to receive stimulation and allows the baby to get comfortable with feeding on both sides.
Lastly, it is important that you build a support system while breastfeeding. It is not something you want to be alone and in the dark about. It is can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Having a newborn or baby at home is hard work, let alone making milk when your body is not naturally going to do it. Consider contacting a breastfeeding counselor or a lactation consultant. If you are comfortable enough, there are social media groups online that share stories with and encourage each other when it gets hard. It is important to find like-minded people while going through the process so that you do not get depressed. Believe it or not, you can have postpartum depression even when you adopt. But that is an article for a different day!
I hope you were encouraged by this article and that it was able to answer your question of, “Can I breastfeed my adopted child?” The short answer is yes, yes you can. The long answer is it will take awhile. So be patient, enjoy the journey, and remember they are only babies once.
Jessica Heesch is an avid runner and fitness guru by choice, occasional writer by coincidence, loved by an amazing husband, and mother to an incredible boy, Jackson, by the gift of adoption.