We often hear that breast milk is the best source of nutrition for infants. To that point, a fact sheet from the CDC states that both the AAP and the WHO recommend exclusively breastfeeding babies up to 6 months and continuing to breastfeed up until 1- 2 years of age with complementary foods. These recommendations support the notion that breast milk is thought of as the ideal option.
What we don’t tend to hear much about alongside such recommendations is how adoptive parents should handle the matter. And as it turns out, it is possible to adhere to the breastfeeding recommendations even without having given birth to your baby.
How Can You Breastfeed Your Adopted Baby?
You may be surprised, relieved, or even downright elated to hear that women can breastfeed adopted children even if they haven’t given birth recently. So if you are adopting a baby that is still at the breastfeeding age, how should you go about breastfeeding them? Helen Gray of Lactose Consultants of Great Britain explains that “The basics of milk supply are always supply and demand.” Gray continues, “Expressing is the main component of bringing in [an induced] milk supply.”
Expressing in this context refers to using a breast pump and/or manual stimulation to induce lactation. Gray recommends attempting this up to eight times a day (about how often the baby will need to feed) and starting six weeks before adoption.
While it’s possible to breastfeed your adopted baby, expressing can be a little challenging, especially if you’re a first-time mom. There’s no need to worry, though, because Dr. Nathaniel DeNicola of Johns Hopkins Medicine highlights that physicians can now implement programs for expectant mothers through digital platforms. These digital programs even provide extra perks, so it’s no surprise that 75% of expectant mothers were very satisfied with their telehealth consults.
To illustrate, the accessibility of care is already one big benefit that adopting mothers will benefit from. But, on top of that, telehealth platform Wheel shows how virtual care physicians offer services such as remote patient monitoring. This will allow mothers to get in contact with those specializing in lactation support from the comfort of their own home. Physicians can conduct virtual diagnosis, treatment, and even remote patient monitoring through telehealth platforms, allowing first-time moms to get comprehensive medical assistance on breastfeeding right at home. So if you need a bit of help breastfeeding your baby, your trusted doctor can help you right away through telehealth platforms
Breast Milk Health Benefits For You and Your Adopted Baby
The primary reason to go about the process to induce lactation is to ensure your adopted baby reaps the associated health benefits. Breastfed babies tend to have stronger protection against both long- and short-term illnesses such as asthma, obesity, diabetes, and ear infections.
But breastfeeding isn’t only good for the baby, the process also has psychological benefits for the mother. As noted by Frontiers in Global Women’s Health, studies show that mothers receive an increase in oxytocin, the hormone related to maternal bonding. Additionally, both mother and child show improved sleep and wake patterns during the breastfeeding period.
What To Do If It Doesn’t Work
Unfortunately, breastfeeding isn’t always possible. A number of factors can interfere, including (but not limited to) latching and suckling problems, medications the mother has to take, and occasional struggles inducing lactation. So in the event that you’re unable to breastfeed your adopted baby, what other options do you have?
Donor milk is a wonderful alternative for families that prefer breast milk to formula, but cannot, for whatever reason, actively breastfeed. In this case, breast milk is collected from healthy, lactating women who are currently producing too much milk for their own needs and would like to give back to the community. Once the donor passes a rigorous screening process, the milk is collected, bottled, pasteurized, tested for bacteria, and then stored in a milk bank, where it awaits families in need. In many cases, this milk is specifically designated for fragile or sick infants, though here at The New York Milk Bank we do provide milk for full-term, healthy infants as well.
We hope this has been a helpful overview! As the mother of an adopted baby, it’s important to know that you may well be able to breastfeed your child. In the event that this is not possible, however, there are still healthy ways of providing nutrition.
By Raine Juliet
The New York Milk Bank is the first comprehensive nonprofit milk bank based in New York State. We collect milk from carefully screened donors, pasteurize it and distribute it to infants in need. Please contribute if you can!