Nursing an Adopted Baby: Possible?

Considering adopting a baby? Or having a baby via surrogacy? Everyone says that “breast is best.” You might be wondering if nursing an baby that you didn’t give birth to is even possible.

Is it? How?

Theoretically, the answer is yes, you CAN nurse an adopted baby

The research says that it is possible to nurse a baby you’ve adopted, even if you have never been pregnant. In fact, attempting to breastfeed an adopted baby is a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The suck of an infant is a powerful signal to a woman’s body. An infant’s sucking at the breast can stimulate milk production whether or not the mother has ever nursed a baby, or even if she’s already entered menopause.

But remember, you have to have realistic expectations about nursing an adopted baby. While some mothers produce tons of milk, the majority of mothers who go down this road may fail completely or need to supplement their breast milk with donated milk or formula.

Reasons why you should consider nursing your adopted baby

Breast milk is obviously awesome. It is a simple substance which contains all of the nutrients (including vitamins) that the baby needs during the first six months of life. This milk also contains substances that help the baby fight off germs and other diseases. If you can give your baby breast milk, you can provide him with the best chance of growing a healthy body and warding off illnesses.

In addition to all the amazing things that breast milk is said to do (raise IQ, lower risk of diabetes, less likelihood of cancer, etc, etc) every nursing session causes the production of oxytocin in both mother and baby. This hormone is responsible for many thing, including encouraging bonding and love. Creating a connection between an adopted baby and his new mother is a vital component of an adoption. Nursing can be a critical step towards establishing a woman as the child’s mother.

How does nursing an adopted baby work?

There’s a few different ways to start nursing an adopted baby. If you have recently nursed a child, it may be as simple as putting the baby to your breast regularly to let him latch and see what happens over time. With this method, you may or may not produce much milk.

If you have advance notice of when the baby is going to arrive, you start preparing, and get an idea of whether you will produce milk or not.

The Newman-Goldfarb protocols for starting lactation

The Newman-Goldfarb protocols are designed to mimic what happens before and after pregnancy. During a pregnancy, the woman’s body produces tons of hormones to get the body ready for breastfeeding. The hormonal changes can be artificially mimicked with medications.

In most cases, this involves taking birth control pills for six months before the baby arrives, along with medication that encourages the production of milk. (Domperidine is one of the suggested meds for this). Then, six weeks before the baby arrives, you’ll stop taking the birth control, but continue the milk production meds. In this time, you’ll start pumping your breasts every few hours, even during the middle of the night.

Once you’ve started pumping, you can also take other steps to encourage the development of your milk supple. Some lactation professional recommend that you take blessed thistle and fenugreek. Others recommend consuming oatmeal at least three times a week.

Once the baby arrives, nurse as soon as possible, as often as the baby seems willing. After each feeding, pump for 10 minutes or more to encourage the breast to produce more milk.

If you intend to use hormones to try and breastfeed your adopted child, I have to recommend that you consult with your doctor to help you through this. If your doctor isn’t supportive of your plan, find a doctor or lactation professional who is.

Other considerations for nursing a child you didn’t give birth to

The decision to move forward with taking hormones to develop a milk supply of your own is a big one. It could make sense if you are welcoming a baby via surrogacy, because the arrival window is fairly secure.

But when you are adopting, there are more hurdles. You may not have any control over when the baby will actually arrive. Or how old he’ll be when he is finally in your arms. It is possible that the mother giving up a child for adoption will her mind at the last minute. A baby who is older, and is accustomed to a bottle may not take to the breast.

Hormones are a serious commitment. Some women experience weight gain, depression, exhaustion, and swollen breasts. There can be a lot of work, with little to no milk produced.

Other options to build milk supply

Another option if you are adopting a baby is to use a supplemental nursing system. This system allows the baby to nurse at the breast (or even on a dummy breast) and drink breast milk or formula.

Most of these systems come with a bag (for the milk) that you hang around your neck. From the bag (which is positioned close to between your breasts) there is a small tube. This tube is taped along your breast, and positions so that when baby latches onto your breast, the tiny tube is actually in his mouth. As he nurses, depending on the system, his latch pulls the milk from the tube into his mouth. Other systems use a plunger so that you can control how much milk is going from the reservoir bag (or syringe tube) into his mouth.

A system like this is something that can be used to help encourage the development of milk supply, due to the amount of time baby spends at the breast. Even if the adoptive mother is unable to produce much milk, she and the baby will still be able to reap the other non-nutrition benefits of nursing, such as skin-to-skin time, hormones, and prolonged eye contact.

For more info about breastfeeding, check out our Breastfeeding FAQs post: 100 Breastfeeding Tips For New Moms.