Breastfeeding an Adopted Baby
It is possible to establish milk production for an adopted baby, even if you have never been pregnant or given birth. The amount of milk you may produce depends on many factors.
Most mothers are able to produce at least a little milk. You might be able to induce lactation (start to produce milk), and then build up your milk supply by putting your baby to your breast often and/ or expressing.
Some adoptive and non-gestational parents stimulate milk production by using a breast pump every 2-3 hours, before the baby comes. It can take anything from a few days to a few weeks to start to produce drops of milk. The more stimulation your breasts get the more milk you will produce. If you produce any milk before your baby comes you can store it to use later.
Even if your baby does not breastfeed, you can still hold him for all his feedings (and lots of holding in between!) and foster the same kind of attachment that nurturing through breastfeeding brings.
Many mothers find they can produce enough milk to be able to give up formula supplements totally. While there is no guarantee that you will be able to meet all of your baby’s needs, you can maximise the amount of human milk your baby has. Any amount of breastmilk is beneficial Even if you haven’t managed to cut out supplements totally by the time your baby is over six months old, solid foods can gradually start to replace any formula supplements.
Some adoptive and other non-gestational parents use the Newman-Goldfarb protocol to stimulate their milk supply. You can read more here.
Using a nursing supplementer
If your baby needs a supplement of expressed milk or formula you might want to consider using a nursing supplementer. Doing this can give your baby that extra milk while they are nursing.
Supplementers can help parents have an at-breast or at-chest relationship with their baby whether or not they are able to produce milk.
You might find this post on supplementers useful.
The image at the top of the post shows a mother encouraging her adopted baby to latch on by holding her familiar bottle next to her breast. The baby went on to breastfeed successfully.
Skin-to-skin contact is beneficial for babies and parents; it simply means holding your naked baby on your bare chest. You can drape a blanket over you both for warmth. Within minutes, you will see the benefits of skin-to-skin as you and your baby relax. Your baby’s body temperature, breathing, and heart rate will stabilise. Babies often latch on and nurse more efficiently during and after skin-to-skin contact.
It is a lovely way to nurture your baby even if you are not nursing.
La Leche League fully supports the use of human milk for babies; we cannot facilitate or set up milk sharing networks, though your local LLL Leader can help you with contact information for non-profit human milk banks, other regulated collection centres, and formal/medically supervised or informal milk sharing networks.3
Human milk banks provide pasteurised, screened donor milk. There are documented benefits and risks to informal milk sharing. Human Milk for Human Babies (HM4HB) is an “informed milk sharing network”, and is an international organisation that many parents use to source human milk.
LLLI groups are a great place to find support, whatever your circumstances. If you plan to adopt or have a baby born by surrogacy, you can attend LLL meetings before your baby arrives just like other expectant mothers and parents.
Once you have your baby you will find a warm welcome in your group, and help and information you may need to help you meet your breastfeeding goals.
LLL meetings are held in a wide range of venues – La Leche League is not affiliated to, and does not endorse or support, any business, organisation or religion whose premises we use.
Breastfeeding Without Giving Birth
Full Drip-Drop Feeding Article
Full Milk Donation and Sharing Article
LLL Great Britain Article: Relactation & Induced Lactation
LLL France Article: Adoption et Allaitement
Published January 2018, minor revisions made September 2023