Is It Possible for an Adoptive Mother to Breastfeed?

It’s a widely accepted fact that there are medical and psychological benefits to breastfeeding. Breast milk provides all the nutrition an infant needs. It provides the perfect mix of vitamins, protein and fat, and is more digestible than formula. Breast milk contains antibodies which help babies fight off viruses and bacteria, and lowers the risk of asthma and allergies, as babies get older. Breast milk has also been shown to play a role in the prevention of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). There is a correlation between breastfeeding and a lower risk of obesity and less chance of having diabetes later in life. The physical closeness, skin-to-skin touch and eye contact which occur between a baby and mother during breastfeeding can foster the baby’s development of secure attachment, and enhance the mom’s bonding\ experience with her baby.

Techniques for Breastfeeding an Adopted Baby

Through induced lactation, it is possible for adoptive moms to breastfeed their babies. Breast milk is generated via the interaction of three hormones during the final months of pregnancy: estrogen, progesterone and human placental lactogen. During labor and delivery, estrogen and progesterone levels fall, allowing the hormone prolactin to increase, and initiate milk production. This process can be replicated before your baby is born, by stimulating your breasts manually with massage, or mechanically by using a breast pump. There are also medications that can help increase milk production.

How to Induce Lactation

The first thing to do is discuss medications you might need with a physician. Women who have not previously breastfed often opt to take medication before they start the pumping process. Some of these may have side effects that may make them inappropriate for your use. You and your doctor can discuss the benefits versus the risks, so you can make a decision which feels right for you.

About six to eight weeks before your baby is born, you should begin pumping. A hospital grade, double electric stimulation pump with the ability to mimic the rhythm of a baby’s suck ratio may be best, and are available to purchase or rent.

La Leche League guidelines are to pump every two-to-three hours, for about fifteen minutes, before your baby is born. A woman’s milk supply typically builds over time. However, there is no way to know how much milk will be produced.

With induced lactation, there is always the need to supplement with either formula, or donated breast milk. This can be done directly at the breast with a nursing system which uses small tubes taped to the nipple, to allow the baby to get enough milk while suckling.

Other Ways to Enhance Bonding and Attachment

Breastfeeding for adoptive moms may be challenging. It takes lots of time, patience and commitment, and the knowledge that all situations are different. There are times when adoptive families do not have enough notice of their baby’s arrival to start the induced lactation process. Women who work may not be available for the time consuming process. There are also some women who may not be comfortable taking medication. What is important to remember is whether or not you choose to induce lactation, there are ways to obtain breast milk for the health benefits, and other ways for you to bond with your baby.

National milk banking organizations exist where adoptive moms can access breast milk that has been tested for safety. If you chose to bottle feed your baby, holding them, looking into their eyes and being close enough so they can touch your face and skin all enhances bonding. Skin-to-skin contact with your baby does not only have to come through the feeding process. Holding your baby often, wearing a sling with your baby in it throughout the day and maximizing eye contact are all ways to increase the bonding process. Creating rituals around bath and bedtime are other ways that help create a bond between you and your baby.

It’s important to note that bonding is a term that references a caregiver’s attachment to a child, and this is about you as the mom, bonding with your baby. Your new baby will naturally become attached to you through your daily parenting and availability in meeting his or her needs in a timely, consistent and nurturing manner. Try not to spend too much time over-thinking it. It’s essential to do what causes the least amount of stress and anxiety for you, not only for your own well-being but also so that those feelings don’t get passed onto your baby.

Learn more about adoption here.

Robyn Harrod, MSW, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Adoption Service Provider (ASP). She is also a member of Path2Parenthood’s Adoption Advisory Council.

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