How to Breastfeed a Baby Who Was Adopted

Though it won't be easy, breastfeeding your newly adopted baby can be very rewarding.

Amy Harmon August 20, 2015
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I had a lot of time to dream about what it would be like as a mother. My husband and struggled with infertility for over eight years. When we decided to pursue adoption, there were a lot of changes to think about. One of those changes was breastfeeding a baby. I knew it was possible to breastfeed a child who was adopted, but I’d never met anyone personally who had done it. The idea intrigued me. Could it be possible for me and my family?  I wanted to bring my soon-to-be son comfort. I wanted to offer him everything I would have offered to a child born through me. After much soul-searching, I decided it would be the right choice for me and my son-to-be.

It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was incredibly difficult. However, although it wasn’t as easy or natural as I thought it would be, it was beautiful and I’m grateful I did it. It brought us together with a very special bond.

Everyone who hears this part of our adoption story seems to have questions. A few people want to know why I made the choice, but everyone wants to know how it’s done. In answer to that question, I have decided to give a brief step by step on where to begin on your journey.

1- Talk to your doctor. A lot of people skip this step and go straight to the internet for help. I am telling you, the doctor can make all the difference. Besides prescribing medications, they can instruct you on what type of pump to purchase, safe herbal remedies, schedules, hydration, nutrition, and exercise. And the sooner you can talk to the doctor, the better. I had just under two months’ notice that my son was on the way. This time allowed me to get a head start on the process, and ultimately provide colostrum to my son after placement. That would not have been possible without my doctor’s experience. After placement, the doctor can help with supply concerns and ensure the baby is getting appropriate nutrition. Although breastfeeding a child is a natural, beautiful choice, it does not come quite so naturally for an adoptive mother. Medical intervention may be just what you need.

2 – Buy new bras. I’m not kidding. This is an essential step. Do not ignore this advice. For some reason, this came as a big surprise to me. Women who go through induced lactation don’t usually have engorgement issues, but tissue growth is a huge part of the early lactation process. Literally. I clearly remember having to run out and purchase a new bra as though it were an emergency situation. My breasts were climbing out of my chest like two large alien beings. I was suffocating under the weight of my chest. At night, I could roll over and be awakened by severe, debilitating pain. Nighttime nursing bras and a correct fit are key to your comfort level.

3 – Enlist help. People envision breastfeeding as a simple process between mother and child. With induced lactation, this process expands to involve almost anyone within earshot. It’s a good idea to get the baby started early when possible. My son’s birth mom nursed him during the early days of his life. The hospital staff knew what the plan was in advance, and adjusted their use of pacifiers and bottles. I attended group meetings to collect every bit of advice. But what did I need the most help with?

There is a little device called an SNS (Supplemental Nursing System) that is like a tiny straw that is secured to your breast. When the baby latches to mom, the baby also latches to the tiny straw that allows formula to be given simultaneous to nursing. This increases the mother’s supply while ensuring baby’s nutrition. Sounds ideal, right? The problem? When you have a crying, hungry baby it makes this already-complicated process almost impossible.

My husband was in charge of washing and sanitizing the bottles, mixing the formula for a full day at a time, and filling the clean bottles. When the baby began to show signs of hunger, my husband warmed the bottles while I snuggled the baby, then held the baby while I set up, then passed the little one back to me without disrupting the newly placed equipment. Definitely a two-person job. And that was in the convenience of our home. Imagine how this happened when I left the house!

4 – Do your research. There are not many books out there on the subject of induced lactation, but there are a few. I read everything I could get my hands on. I was able to understand the process and found comfort knowing that I was not the first to blaze this trail.

Don’t worry if everything works perfectly. It won’t. For instance, there isn’t a place in airports to use a plug-in-hospital-grade-double-electric-pump. (I should’ve sprung for the battery pack. It was so hard to pump on schedule!) Or you may be fighting a losing battle with milk supply. Or the baby may have trouble latching. But even if it doesn’t go perfectly, it can still be an incredible experience.

Be ready for an experience of a lifetime. You will bond with your child in ways you didn’t imagine. Regardless of the amount of nutrition you are able to provide, your efforts are not wasted. Induced lactation isn’t for everyone, but I am grateful that I did it. Those early moments bonding with my son are engraved on my heart.

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Amy Harmon

Amy Harmon lives in Kansas with her husband and two boys. Each child was a miracle; the first through adoption and the second through IVF. Her family is her passion, but in addition to that she is an RN, pianist, avid reader, slow jogger and an adoption advocate.


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