August is National Breastfeeding Month — 31 days dedicated to advancing advocacy, protection, and promotion of breastfeeding to ensure that all families have the opportunity to breastfeed. Many hopeful adoptive mothers wonder, “Can a woman produce milk without being pregnant?”
If you’re adopting a newborn, breastfeeding may seem out of reach to you. But don’t feel discouraged. Remarkably, with proper information, guidance, and lots of support, you can breastfeed your adopted baby.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding an adopted baby. It is even possible to breastfeed if you have never been pregnant or have reached menopause. Although breastfeeding an adopted baby is different from breastfeeding a baby after being pregnant, it can be achieved through induced lactation.
Breastfeeding your adopted baby takes time and effort, but can be very beneficial. Starting a milk supply takes time so you may need to give your baby supplemental milk for a period of time. However, you can make enough milk for your baby. Providing all of the milk your baby needs may not happen right away, but eventually you’ll get there.
How can a woman produce milk without being pregnant?
As an adoptive mother, it’s possible for you to produce milk without giving birth. Basically, you trick your body into producing milk using hormones, a supplemental nursing system (SNS), or regular breast stimulation with a breast pump. These methods will activate a natural reflex that releases a protein that causes your body to produce milk.
Of course, it’s not an overnight process. It takes determination and lots of patience on your part. Plus, every woman’s body is different. Some adoptive mothers have a full milk supply, while others may not have enough to sustain their baby. Don’t give up, because over time, you will produce some milk.
With dedication and preparation, breastfeeding without pregnancy (induced lactation) may be possible. Keep in mind that any amount of breastfeeding is good for your baby because it will build a bond between you and your baby.
How do you get started?
Your first step to getting started breastfeeding is to find a lactation professional to help you. Consider contacting a Breastfeeding Counselor or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant to work with you. These trained consultants have spent years helping women breastfeed. Your consultant can answer all your questions, give you information, and provide guidance throughout the breastfeeding process. Typically, there are three techniques for adoptive moms to start breastfeeding their babies:
- Stimulating your breast
- Supplemental nursing system (SNS)
Normally, lactation is generated by a complex interaction between three hormones during the final months of pregnancy— estrogen, progesterone, and human placental lactogen. The levels of estrogen and progesterone fall at delivery, allowing the hormone prolactin to start milk production.
Induced lactation revolves around the successful replication of this process. If you have months to prepare for breastfeeding, your doctor may prescribe hormone therapy to mimic the effects of pregnancy. Hormone therapy may last for months. Then, a couple of months before you expect to begin breastfeeding, you can stop hormone therapy and start pumping your breasts using a hospital-grade electric breast pump.
If you have just a short time to prepare for your adopted baby, hormone therapy may not be an option. Check with your health care provider, as he or she may be able to recommend other medications to help induce lactation.
Stimulating your breast
Several months before your baby joins your family, you can begin to stimulate your breasts. This technique involves gently massaging your breasts by hand or with a breast pump for ten to fifteen minutes several times every day.
Many women use an electric breast pump to get the best breast stimulation. You should do breast stimulation when you first get up, several times during the day, and right before going to bed. Typically, drops of milk will start to appear after a month or so of doing this technique, and your milk supply will gradually begin to build up.
A supplemental nursing system
If you don’t have time to prepare for your baby’s arrival, you may need to try another method. The Supplemental Nursing System is a device where donor milk or baby formula is fed through a thin feeding tube taped to your nipple. This gives the baby the sensation of nursing and stimulates your breast to build up your milk.
Foods That Increase Milk Supply
Eating certain foods or herbs called galactagogues which helps increase your milk supply. These include:
- Whole grains
- Dark, leafy greens
- Hummus (made from chickpeas)
- Nuts and seeds, especially almonds
- Brewer’s yeast
- Alcohol-free beers
- Blessed thistle
- Sesame seeds
- Tehina (made from sesame seeds)
How Do We Share Our Breastfeeding Plans?
“I plan on breastfeeding using hormone and herbal therapy to encourage lactation. How can we best bring the subject of adoptive breastfeeding up with our child’s birth mother? Have you ever heard of birth moms who have an issue if the adoptive mother wants to breastfeed at the hospital?” asks an adoptive-mother-in-waiting in Texas.
Lifetime Adoption has worked with a few adoptive mothers who chose to breastfeed after adopting. Approaching this with your baby’s birth mother will vary case by case. An important thing to remember is to be sensitive to the birth mother’s situation, the duration of her hospital stay, and her needs in the hospital.
Prepare to stay flexible because even if early on, while you’re matched, she’s okay with you breastfeeding, she may later decide she wants to feed her baby (bottle or nursing.) Or, the hospital may have policies that prevent you from nursing the baby immediately. Your Adoption Coordinator can help you determine how to best approach the topic of adoptive breastfeeding with your baby’s birth mother.
As you get to know your birth mother better, you’ll feel more comfortable talking about how things will go at the hospital, what she wants, and what you’d hope. Remember that it’s up to her how things go in the hospital; flexibility is crucial in those moments.
Many birth mothers will recognize the value in your plans to nurse their baby after you adopt. Lifetime Adoption is here to assist adoptive couples in navigating the topic with the birth mother they are matched with and getting to know her more once she has chosen to match with you.
If you are chosen to move forward in a last-minute adoption, you may not have time to take the therapies needed to induce lactation. You might simply bottle-feed your baby for a few days during the hospital stay and get your body prepared to nurse.
Some adoptive moms decided to wait until the adoption was irrevocable before nursing. Others decided to make plans to nurse the baby upon birth. It’s a personal choice about what you can handle.
Adoptive Breastfeeding: The Ultimate Guide
One helpful resource that answers the question, “Can a woman produce milk without being pregnant?” is Adoptive Breastfeeding: The Ultimate Guide. Many adoptive moms have found this a helpful tool for learning how to breastfeed their baby. This guide includes information about the benefits of breastfeeding and how to get started nursing your baby.
This guide was created by Mardie Caldwell, the Founder of Lifetime Adoption and a Certified Open Adoption Practitioner. As an adoptive mom herself, she successfully nursed her adoptive son. Because of her experience, she believes that all moms can breastfeed a baby, whether they carry a pregnancy or not.
Mardie shares, “Dedication is important when you are thinking about nursing your adopted baby, especially if you have never nursed a child before. This was my situation. I had been pregnant, but never carried a child to term. In fact, I’ve had seven miscarriages in all. Once I learned that adoptive breastfeeding was possible, I learned all I could. I felt that even if my body wasn’t working to complete a pregnancy, at least I could experience this wonderful bond with my child, whenever he or she came!”
Even though your adopted child won’t be born of your body, you can still form a strong bond through nursing. Info on adoptive breastfeeding can be hard to find, so we wanted to be sure that all adoptive moms know that it is possible, and that you can be successful! The tips and techniques shared in this guide will help you develop a plan as you prepare to welcome your baby home. Make a commitment today to take every opportunity you can to bond with your child — it is a commitment you will never regret.
In Adoptive Breastfeeding: The Ultimate Guide, you’ll find audio interviews with lactation consultants and adoptive moms, so you’ll have the help and support you need available 24 hours a day. This means that anytime you need reassurance, it is there for you.
The Benefits of Adoptive Breastfeeding
The physical connection that breastfeeding creates will benefit both mother and child. Breastfeeding allows you and your baby to have skin-to-skin contact. This contact is vital to your baby’s development and forming an attachment between you and your adopted baby. Some of the benefits of skin-to-skin contact for your baby include regulated heart rate, better organization of reflexes, and stable temperature.
Research has shown that breastfeeding provides positive psychological benefits for mothers as well. One study examined mothers’ moods when they breastfed and then when they bottle-fed their babies. Researchers found a connection between breastfeeding and a positive mood immediately after breastfeeding. They suggested that the higher levels of oxytocin released by breastfeeding may have contributed to the mothers’ positive attitude. In addition, the hormones released during breastfeeding can help with the bonding process.
Breastfeeding isn’t just for biological mothers. With proper preparation or hormones, plus lots of patience and professional support, you can successfully nurse your adopted baby and enjoy the closeness you share with your baby!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 11, 2021, and has since been updated.
As Vice President of Lifetime Adoption, Heather Featherston holds an MBA and is passionate about working with those facing adoption, pregnancy, and parenting issues. Heather has conducted training for birth parent advocates, spoken to professional groups, and has appeared on television and radio to discuss the multiple aspects of adoption. She has provided one-on-one support to women and hopeful adoptive parents working through adoption decisions.
Since 2002, she has been helping pregnant women and others in crisis to learn more about adoption. Heather also trains and speaks nationwide to pregnancy clinics to effectively meet the needs of women who want to explore adoption for their child. Today, she continues to address the concerns women have about adoption and supports the needs of women who choose adoption for their child.
As a published author of the book Called to Adoption, Featherston loves to see God’s hand at work every day as she helps children and families come together through adoption.