Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Updated December 2015
Photo: Athena courtesy of Lena Ostroff
Ask any breastfeeding mother why she has chosen to breastfeed and she is likely to tell you about the benefits to her baby, family and herself, as well as the joy and satisfaction of being able to meet her baby’s needs for food, protection, and security through breastfeeding.
Some adoptive mothers choose to nurture their baby at the breast for the same powerful and compelling reasons.
How does breastfeeding your adopted baby work?
During pregnancy, hormones cause the milk-making cells and milk ducts in the breast to enlarge and multiply. From late in pregnancy colostrum, a low-volume milk, high in protein and antibodies, is produced. After birth, milk is produced and released in response to your baby’s suckling and the hormones prolactin and oxytocin. For a mother who has previously breastfed, stimulating the breasts to produce milk without pregnancy and child birth is called relactation. If you have never had a baby before, this process is called induced lactation.
Milk production depends upon a number of factors, including:
• Your baby’s age and willingness to breastfeed effectively.
• Frequency of breastfeeding and/or milk expression.
• Whether you have ever been pregnant and how long ago.
• Effective treatment of any medical conditions you have, for example, thyroid problems or diabetes.
• Extent of any previous damage to your chest/ breasts/nipples, for example, surgery, burn or other injury.
• Extent of any previous damage to the pituitary gland in your brain (where the necessary hormones are produced).
• Reason for any infertility.
• Practical and emotional support available to you.
It’s possible to induce lactation successfully and increase milk production just by breastfeeding frequently and/or expressing.
It can take anything from a few days to a few weeks to be able to express a few drops of milk. You can express as you prepare for the arrival of your baby and/or while you encourage him to the breast. Certain hormonal, herbal, pharmacological and dietary treatments can also help stimulate milk production. Galactogogues are effective only when combined with frequent nursing or expressing.
You can also stimulate breast development and induce lactation using oral contraceptives. www.asklenore.info describes various protocols, depending upon how long it will be before you are likely to welcome your new baby into your family.
Learning to breastfeed
Your adopted baby will probably have already experienced bottle-feeding, and breastfeeding may be a new experience for him. He may take to it quickly or need time and patience to get used to this new way of feeding. Mothers have found that even babies older than three or four months can still learn to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding may be a new experience for you too, so finding good support and information on the basics, including comfortable positioning and attachment will be invaluable. It may help to talk to an LLL Leader or attend your local LLL group, where you can be sure of support, even if you attend while bottle-feeding.
Close contact really helps
Offer lots of close contact and carrying, either skin-to-skin or lightly dressed, to help your baby associate close contact with pleasure and comfort. Offering to breastfeed before your baby is too hungry or when he is sleepy may help him respond instinctively to the sensations of being held at the breast. Breastfeeding, rather than using a pacifier when your baby needs to comfort suck, can encourage him to nurse more too.
Some of your adopted baby’s feeds may need to be supplemented with artificial infant milk. There are alternatives to using a bottle that can help your baby with the transition to breastfeeding, depending on your baby’s age and previous feeding experiences. These options include supplemental nursing systems/nursing supplementer*, cup feeding, spoon-feeding, and feeding with a syringe or dropper.
Monitoring your baby’s weight gain and keeping a check on his wet and dirty diapers will be a guide that he is getting enough milk.
Powdered infant formula is not a sterile product. To reduce health risks associated with using infant formula, follow carefully the guidelines for preparing it and use water at 70°C.
The devices used to give the artificial milk need to be washed in hot, soapy water and sterilized.
All mothers need to look after their own health by remembering to eat a good diet and to drink to thirst. This is as important for adoptive mothers as it is for birth mothers.
Signs that your milk is increasing include:
• Hormonal changes, such as a brief slump in mood before your milk appears.
• Breasts feeling hotter, tingling, fuller or heavier.
• Leaking milk and/or being able to express more milk.
• Your baby gains weight and produces more wet and dirty diapers, especially yellow, mustard-colored stools.
• Your baby starts to refuse supplements.
Take things at the right pace for your baby. There is no right or wrong way to feed your adopted baby and you will probably prefer whichever option enables you both to relax, enjoy and get to know each other. Breastfeeding an adopted baby can be a wonderfully fulfilling and satisfying experience. It is probably best entered into with equal measures of optimism and realism for mother and baby to enjoy any special breastfeeding
* a supplementary nursing system/nursing or at-breast supplementer is a bottle with thin tubes that attach to the nipple. When the baby sucks at both the breast and the tube, she gets milk from the bottle while the suckling stimulates the mother’s breast.
Extracted and adapted from Relactation & Induced Lactation no. 3104 available from La Leche League GB.
Gribble, K. Breastfeeding the adopted child
Schnell, A. Breastfeeding Without Birthing