You may be surprised to learn that mothers of adopted newborns and infants can breastfeed, and the children will potentially benefit from the experience in much the same way as children breastfeeding with their biological mother.
However, for mothers who are adopting, the desire to breastfeed comes with many additional challenges they will need to overcome. During the final trimester of pregnancy, the birth mother’s body will begin producing a combination of estrogen, progesterone, and human placental lactogen that will help to stimulate milk production. For the adopting mother, their bodies won’t have produced these hormones. So adopting mothers will first need to find ways to stimulate milk production before attempting to breastfeed.
Additionally, breastfeeding can be a difficult task for any mother, regardless of the circumstances. Research from UC Davis Medical Center showed that out of a group of 418 first-time mothers, 92 percent were unable to successfully breastfeed due to pain, a low level of milk production, or nipple confusion. Within two months of birth, around 47 percent of mothers had used formula, and 21 percent reported no longer breastfeeding.
While these challenges can feel daunting, they may be possible to overcome. Below are a few helpful tips that families who are curious about adoption may find useful. Pregnant women or women who have recently given birth may also find that these suggestions useful to inspire confidence as they work to overcome their own challenges.
Tips for Breastfeeding an Adopted Baby
The most important first step toward breastfeeding is managing expectations. The inability to breastfeed an adopted child or newborn of the biological mother does not represent a failure or a shortcoming. Many women have these issues and find that baby formula provides an entirely acceptable and nutritious alternative to breastmilk.
Talk with a Lactation Specialist
The next step to successful breastfeeding as an adopting mother is a consultation with a primary care physician or a lactation specialist. According to the Mayo Clinic, your care provider may recommend “induced lactation,” which may include a hormone replacement therapy that seeks to replicate the normal hormone production of a pregnant woman.
This duration of hormone replacement therapy will vary, but may take place for up to six months or longer, with the treatment ending around two months prior to the start of breastfeeding. At this stage, you will begin to pump breast milk with a “hospital-grade electric breast pump,” a process that promotes prolactin production and a healthy milk supply. You may also be directed to continue pumping breast milk while breastfeeding to continue encouraging the body’s natural milk production.
Hormone replacement may not be a viable option, so other treatments may be recommended depending on your individual needs.
Bonding With Your Baby
It may be surprising to learn that physical contact (bonding) with the baby is important to the production of hormones that contribute to breast milk production. The process of bonding may also help the new mother to overcome social stigmas around breastfeeding and adoption, as well as help them to overcome a lack of confidence as a new mother.
Great ways to bond with your baby may include:
- Spend time laying down with baby and making skin-to-skin contact
- Take baths together
- Create rituals, such as massages, singing, or other shared moments each day
- Spend time carrying your baby instead of using a stroller or carrier
- Sleep near your baby (follow these safety guidelines)
- Hold baby while feeding a bottle or solid foods
- Avoid too much contact with visitors that contribute to stress
- Encourage lots of face-to-face contact
- Make sure you pay attention to your mental and physical wellbeing
Potential Herbal Support
For women who are looking for additional support, an herbal galactagogue may help to provide support for healthy milk production.
Galactagogues are any food, herb, or drug that seeks to support the production of breastmilk. There are many different forms of galactagogues, but blessed thistle may be an ideal for lactation support.
Blessed thistle is sometimes thought of as a stimulant for certain areas of the body, including a healthy appetite, digestion, and even for the support of healthy milk production. Blessed thistle is sometimes combined with fenugreek for optimal medicinal support for lactation.
Lactation Support from Gaia Herbs contains blessed thistle and fenugreek, in addition to marshmallow root, fennel seed, and red raspberry leaf. This combination of herbs seeks to provide optimal support for lactation and a healthy milk supply.
New mothers have many options when it comes to finding support breastfeeding. Whether through herbal supplements, a close support system of friends and family, or your family doctor, your best chances of success come when you ask questions and recognize that you’re not alone in overcoming some of the very common challenges that all mothers face when breastfeeding.