Can I breastfeed my adopted baby?

The best possible feeding option for your adopted baby is the milk you produce. It is possible for non-birth mothers to induce lactation and either breastfeed or breast milk-feed their babies. Elizabeth Hormann, author of Breastfeeding the Adopted Baby and Relactation, explains that the main essentials are “close and near-constant skin contact (to stimulate the release of the hormones needed to make milk and make it available to the baby) and very frequent suckling.”

In short, a baby’s sucking stimulates the pituitary gland to release prolactin and oxytocin, the hormones responsible for milk production and milk release. If this stimulation is repeated often enough, the milk-producing cells in the breast will begin to do what they are designed to do—make milk. Continuing stimulation will cause the muscles to contract and move milk to the nipple openings where it can be accessed by the baby. 

It sounds simple, but it can be complicated. A baby may be unwilling to breastfeed if a mother has little or no milk. If he is being fed artificially, such as from a bottle, he may have little interest in breastfeeding. A nursing supplementer that allows you to supplement at the breast while the baby breastfeeds may help; your baby’s pediatrician or a lactation consultant can help you get started with one of these devices. Galactagogues—plants, foods, or medications that encourage milk production—may also help, but always talk with your health care provider before taking any medication, even those available without a prescription.

A mother who wants to breastfeed her adopted baby must find a way to: 

  • Encourage her baby to latch on to the breast and suckle effectively. 
  • Ensure that her baby is receiving adequate nourishment while she is building a milk supply. 
  • Maintain the special mother-child bond. 
  • Maintain interest and enthusiasm for breastfeeding.

Adoptive mothers who are unable to induce a full supply of breast milk may be able to obtain donor milk from a milk bank or from other breastfeeding mothers. Mothers obtaining milk through informal channels should be aware of the risks involved. 

For more on adoptive breastfeeding, read this.

Last updated August 15, 2020

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