It was a natural idea to me, to breastfeed our daughter when she arrived. I breastfed our three boys, was active in supporting other mothers who were breastfeeding, so when I told others of my plans to breastfeed my adopted daughter, I wondered what the big deal was. Why suddenly I was looked at like I had three heads. One healthcare provider told me flat-out that she would not help me.

Relactating or Inducing Lactation

Ultimately, I contacted a physician friend of mine who had never helped a patient relactate but who was willing to do some research on medications that would help me. Relactating is the act of rebuilding your milk supply after you have stopped breastfeeding, either months or years ago. If a mother has breastfed a baby in the past and wants to breastfeed either that child again, or another, she goes through a process called relactation. If she has never breastfed a baby, then she goes through a process of making milk without pregnancy and birth called inducing lactation. She has to give her breasts the signals of making milk without the hormones of pregnancy and birth.

How? How does one go about either relactating or inducing lactation for a baby that comes to them through adoption or surrogacy? I learned it was not that difficult of a process for me, but it did take dedication and commitment, just what any breastfeeding relationship takes. It also helps to have contact with a lactation consultant throughout this process.

Here are the basic steps:

1. Prepare your breasts with breast massage, nipple stimulation, and/or medications, either herbal or pharmaceutical.

2. Start pumping. This can be done with a hand pump or an electric one. I used a hospital-grade electric pump. You can choose to pump on one side at a time, or both sides. I felt more comfortable using the one-sided pump.

3. Latching on increases lactation. What does that mean? The more you stimulate your breasts, the more milk production is caused. Whether you use a supplemental nursing system (SNS) while your baby is at breast, allow your baby to nurse for comfort, or are making enough milk to meet all of your baby’s nutritional needs, continuing to put your baby to your breast will make your body produce more milk.

I was able to take medication under the supervision of my physician friend and began pumping. Within days I was getting little drops of liquid gold. It was perfect timing for us as our daughter was born three weeks early, only a week after I started attempting to relactate.

Taking Your Child’s Birth Mom Into Consideration

I can remember sitting across from her birth mom explaining my intent to breastfeed our baby. Her birth mom encouraged me to do what I felt was best. The first time I placed our daughter to my breast, she latched on like a pro and we were off! There were rules at the hospital where our daughter was born, though. I was not allowed to breastfeed her while she was there. Our first breastfeeding experience was in the hotel across the street right after we were discharged. Some hospitals will let adoptive moms breastfeed while the child is there, even shortly after birth. If you know where your expectant mom will give birth, call and ask them about their rules.

Some expectant moms have strong feelings about if an adoptive mom should breastfeed or not. Although I did discuss breastfeeding with our daughter’s birth mom, I had strong feelings that it was something I wanted to do for our daughter like I did for our sons. I did not deceive her, and thankfully she couldn’t have cared less how I fed our daughter. But some moms do care, and if you plan on breastfeeding, you should let the baby’s expectant mom know. Be courteous of her feelings and be open about your intent if the topic arises.

Preparing For Criticism

Breastfeeding without giving birth will have many people raising their eyebrows at you, though. Many wonder how it can be done. Many want to know WHY you would do it. And many people are shocked that it is even possible to begin with. (It is, and the relationship is very rewarding.) Be prepared to do a lot of education and explaining if you are that type of person. I tend to be an open book, so when people asked questions, I would gladly describe our process. They could clearly see for themselves that our daughter was thriving.

My favorite story is when I was sitting in the pediatric cardiologist’s office so that our daughter could have an evaluation for a heart murmur. She was hungry, we were waiting in an exam room, and so I put her to breast. When the doctor came in, he began to ask questions about family history. It was clearly stated on his paperwork that she had been adopted and we did not know her family history. He asked anyway. I kept telling him I did not know her history. I could not answer his questions. I had no idea. Finally in exasperation, he threw up his hands and said, “How do you not know your own child’s history? Your history? How can you do THAT (breastfeed) and not know anything about her?” I simply explained to him that she was adopted and I was able to relactate to have a breastfeeding relationship with her. I stated that I did not need to know her history to love and provide for her. His disdain turned to interest and he began asking questions about breastfeeding. It was priceless!

If you want to breastfeed your child, do it. Find a support system that will help guide you. Look up a certified lactation consultant (CLC) who will be right there with you. Ask questions. Ask for help, and stick to it. Whether you produce milk or use a SNS to feed your baby at breast, it can be done. And if you want to do it, you will. And you will never regret it, no matter how long it lasts: weeks, months, years. It is an awesome experience.

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