Breastfeeding adoptive children

Posted on: 18 July 2016

Many adopted parents are not aware that it is possible in some cases to induce lactation and allow adopted children to breastfeed from you. This can be challenging but very rewarding if you can be successful as there are many health benefits including the bonding formed by the regular physical, skin-to-skin contact of breastfeeding. 

Here are the steps to developing a breastfeeding relationship as an adoptive parent. 

Inducing lactation

The first step is to induce lactation. In biological pregnancy this is induced by a cascade of hormones as well as physical stimulation of the nipple in the first few hours and days post birth as the newborn baby feeds rapidly and encourages milk production.  In adoptive pregnancies this is usually done by prolonged stimulation of the nipple, often using a breast pump, along with manual stimulation. If this is not enough to induce lactation, then it can be useful to speak with a lactation consultant that specialises in inducing milk in adoptive parents as they can prescribe medication to induce lactation. 

Encouraging feeding

The babies' urge to latch is naturally strongest in the younger babies. Babies that have previously had a breastfeeding relationship can often be encourage to relatch, whereas babies and toddlers that are used to a faster flowing bottle may find the extra work of breastfeeding and latching on the nipple hard. It can often be useful to have the assistance of a lactation consultant who can help you set up system such as a supplemental feeder which encourages the child to latch at the breast, while providing extra drip feeds through a tube that leads across the breast to the nipple. 

Allowing regular feeds

It can take a while for normal milk supply, independent of pumping and medication, to be established. The best way to ensure that an adequate milk supply is maintained is to allow the child to feed on demand, and substitute any missed feeds with pumping sessions. While an adoptive child may also feed for comfort as much as nutrition it's a good idea to allow these feeds in order to keep a solid milk supply stimulated. 

Having a breastfeeding relationship with an adopted child can be a good way to help bonding and ensure that the adopted child gets the many health benefit of breastfeeding. It can be extremely useful to have the support of a lactation consultant throughout the process to provide the technical support and emotional guidance.