Induced Lactation and Adoptive Breastfeeding

Is it possible to breastfeed an adopted baby?

How to Induce Lactation: What to Know First

Since breast milk is recommended as the best food for babies, many families who plan to adopt are interested in whether they will have this option with their new addition. The answer is: Yes. Breastfeeding an adopted baby through induced lactation is possible, but it takes plenty of planning, introspection, and support.

Building a breast milk supply when you haven’t given birth involves “tricking” your body with cues that tell it to produce milk. It’s important to understand that every woman’s body is different – some adoptive moms will be able to build a full milk supply, and others may not make enough to totally sustain their baby without supplements. Remember: any amount of milk is of great value to a baby, and the focus of adoptive breastfeeding and induced lactation should be on the relationship and bond it helps mother and baby build.

You may be wondering how to induce lactation, what happens, and where to start. Here are a few details to consider:

  • Work with a Lactation Professional. Reach out to your doctor, midwife, or a lactation consultant if you plan on inducing lactation. They can help you build a personalized plan based on your goals, connect you to resources, and provide important expert guidance. For some women, your healthcare provider may discuss the option of taking hormones that imitate the hormone levels of pregnancy. These medications are stopped after a short while, tricking the body into sensing that a baby has been born (and thus producing breast milk). They may also recommend that you take certain galactagogues (lactation enhancements) to stimulate milk production.
  • Stimulus and expression. Starting about two months before the date the baby is expected to join your family, if time permits, introducing a routine of stimulus and expression for your breasts can help with milk production. Gently massage your breasts by hand for a few minutes, then use a hospital-grade (multi-user) double electric breast pump for about 10 minutes more. Do this after waking, before going to sleep, and several times throughout the day for your body to begin reacting to the implied “demand” for breast milk. Drops of milk usually appear, on average, about a month or so after starting this routine, and milk supply typically builds over time.
  • Specialty-feeding devices. Adoptions can be unpredictable. Sometimes parents have plenty of time to prepare. Other families greet the arrival of their baby before milk supply has had a chance to develop. Specialty products like the Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) protect the option to breastfeed because it lets you to supplement your baby directly at the breast. The SNS allows expressed breast milk, donor milk, or formula to be fed through a thin silicone feeding tube that is taped to the nipple, providing baby with the sensation of feeding from the breast, and sucking stimulation to help build your supply.
  • Track your progression. After inducing lactation, tracking your baby's feeding sessions and your pumping sessions with a convenient, easy-to-read printable log can help you stay organized, set realistic breast milk feeding goals, and best understand your breastfeeding journey in an "at-a-glance" way.

Breastfeeding is not just for biological families. With the right preparation, expectations, and professional support for successful induced lactation, an adoptive mom can provide her child the amazing benefits of breast milk and build a strong, nurturing, and loving bond along the way.