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Breastfeeding an Adopted Baby

Not only is breastfeeding an adopted baby possible, it is also increasingly common. More and more adoptive mothers are interested in the possibility of adoptive breastfeeding, and with some preparation and dedication, it can be a rewarding experience for new moms and their babies.

That was the case for Carlie, who adopted her daughter through American Adoptions in 2010. Carlie had breastfed her biological son and knew she wanted to provide her daughter with the same experience. When she learned about adoptive breastfeeding, she knew it was something she had to try.

If you’re interested in breastfeeding your adopted child, Carlie’s story may offer some insight and encouragement. Remember: There’s no “right” way when it comes to feeding your baby — just what’s right for you. Whether you planning to breastfeed or formula-feed your adopted child, your decision will have no bearing on “how good” of a parent you are.

Read on to learn more about how adoptive mothers can breastfeed, its pros and cons, and Carlie’s firsthand account of what stimulating lactation for adoption is really like.

Please note: None of this information is intended to be or should be taken as medical advice. Please speak with your doctor about how you can breastfeed an adopted baby in your personal situation.

Can You Breastfeed an Adopted Baby?

Thanks to the advancement of medicine, it is possible to nurse an adopted baby — and there are plenty of resources out there to help. If you have been dreaming about the experience of breastfeeding your adopted child, this dream can come true when you put in a little work.

There are typically two reasons why mothers think, “I want to breastfeed my adopted child”: health benefits and bonding experience.

Breastfeeding facilitates physical closeness and bonding between new moms and babies, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. These benefits may be especially important for adopted babies, who experience trauma upon separation from their birth mothers.

Experts also believe that breastfeeding may reduce babies’ risks of developing many health problems, from ear infections to childhood obesity. It may also protect mothers from certain types of breast and ovarian cancer.

While there are challenges to breastfeeding your adopted child, know that it may be an option for you — but you’ll have to take a few steps to prepare.

How Do You Breastfeed an Adopted Baby?

For adoptive mothers, the breastfeeding process actually begins weeks or months before the baby is even born. While it does require some advance planning, mothers like Carlie agree that it is well worth it — and once the baby arrives, adoptive breastfeeding is not much different from nursing a non-adopted child.

The following five steps provide an overview of how to breastfeed an adopted baby:

Step 1: Talk to your doctor

If you’re wondering how to start lactation for adoption, your first step will always be to contact your doctor. They know your medical situation best, and they will determine whether it is possible to breastfeed an adopted baby with your medical history.

After hearing about the possibility of breastfeeding her adopted baby, Carlie spoke to her doctor about what steps she could take to start the process.

“He didn’t know much about it at first, but he was supportive and helped me get started,” Carlie says.

While most doctors will likely be unfamiliar with adoptive breastfeeding, speaking with one is an important first step for anyone who is interested in inducing lactation for an adopted baby. The process involves certain medications as well as changes to your body and hormones, so a doctor’s guidance will be necessary moving forward.

Step 2: Begin birth control 

The hormones in birth control pills mimic pregnancy and help prepare the body for milk production. Your doctor can prescribe the birth control that will work best with your body to help you reach your goals.

Step 3: Take medications and herbal supplements

Once the birth control has done its job and your body has had a chance to prepare for lactation, your doctor will direct you to stop taking the birth control pill. Instead, you will begin taking medications and herbal supplements recommended by lactation experts to increase milk production.

“As soon as we knew the baby was coming, I stopped the birth control,” Carlie says. “I started two different herbs and a medication that is safe to take for breastfeeding mothers — the only side effect is breastmilk production.”

Step 4: Begin pumping

As you take the medications and supplements, you will begin pumping a few times a day. You will gradually increase the duration and frequency of the pumping, and your body will slowly begin to produce milk.

This process can be slow, and it takes some time to build up milk supply. In fact, most adoptive mothers will not have enough milk to sustain the baby on their own by the time he or she arrives. Be patient and remember that any milk production is a success. Stimulating lactation for adoption is not easy, so don’t be too disappointed if the results aren’t what you expected.

Step 5: Supplement your breastmilk

To ensure the baby is getting enough nourishment, many adoptive moms breastfeeding also supplement their breastmilk using a supplemental nursing system (SNS), a device which can be filled with formula, previously pumped milk or donated breastmilk. The SNS tubes are taped to your chest, and when you nurse your baby, he or she will get any milk you are producing along with what is in the SNS.

“The SNS helps get the baby to the breast and gets them used to nursing,” Carlie says. “If a mom’s committed to the SNS, she can breastfeed a baby and still be giving it formula, if she’s not open to donated breastmilk. The baby will still get a major bond, and it’s awesome.”

Carlie chose to use her SNS with donated breastmilk to help feed her daughter. Donated breastmilk can be obtained through donation banks or by locating a direct donor in your area.

From there, it is up to each new mother to decide how long she would like to continue breastfeeding her adopted baby.

3 Things to Consider Before Inducing Lactation for an Adopted Baby

While an adoptive mom can breastfeed, there are some important aspects to consider before going down this path. Breastfeeding as an adoptive mother is a big commitment, and you should be prepared for everything that comes along — including the advantages and the disadvantages.

Your doctor and adoption specialist can discuss this topic in more detail with you, but here are the biggest things to remember.

1. The Possibility of a Disruption

Many women focus on how to stimulate milk production for an adopted baby — but not all of them consider what they’ll do if there’s no baby to feed.

In private domestic infant adoption, a prospective birth mother always retains the right to change her mind about her decision. There is a very real possibility that you will go through all the steps of inducing lactation for an adopted baby just for the placement to fall through. The work you have done — and the milk you will produce — will be a reminder of the failed opportunity.

While adoption disruptions are rare, they can happen. Think hard about this before deciding to start this process.

2. The Time Commitment

Breastfeeding is a real commitment. The more you pump, the more milk you will produce. To provide a substantial supply for their babies, most mothers have to pump every two to three hours (even at night). If you decide to breastfeed, you should be prepared for feeding or pumping at least every three hours for about 20 minutes.

Can’t breastfeed for as long as you imagined you would? Don’t beat yourself up — you have to do what’s right for your body.

3. The Varying Results

Despite the benefits, breastfeeding is not for everyone. Many new moms struggle in the beginning with pain and with learning proper breastfeeding techniques. It can be difficult to position the baby correctly and get him or her to latch, for example.

If you’re breastfeeding an adopted baby, it can seem like your body is working against you when breastfeeding doesn’t work out. Maybe your body couldn’t carry a child, and it can feel like a double-whammy if breastfeeding isn’t possible.

Know this: Your worth as a mother is not determined by whether or not you breastfeed your child (or how long you choose to do so). Plenty of mothers have formula-fed adopted children, and there’s no research indicating it’s harmful to do so.

At the end of the day, you have to do what’s right for your family.


With preparation, determination and professional consultation, you can breastfeed your adopted baby.

For more information about adoptive breastfeeding or donated breastmilk, contact a lactation consultant or visit the following resources:

  • Ask Lenore: Resources and protocols for moms who are interested in inducing lactation for an adopted baby
  • International Breastfeeding Centre: Breastfeeding clinic and online information about adoptive breastfeeding
  • Human Milk 4 Human Babies: A network of independent breastmilk donors and adoptive parents looking for donated breastmilk
  • La Leche League: Mother-to-mother breastfeeding support, encouragement, information and education 

Information available through these links is the sole property of the companies and organizations listed therein. American Adoptions provides this information as a courtesy and is in no way responsible for its content or accuracy.

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