How Breastfeeding an Adopted Baby is Possible: 6 Methods

Image of a mother and her adopted baby

Adopted baby breastfeeding is possible, and there are a tremendous number of benefits to support this practice.

Why Choose Adoptive Breastfeeding

In ancient times, infants were often nursed by a woman who was not their natural mother. Known as "milk mothers" or "wet nurses," these women gave sustenance to little ones whose own mothers could not give milk, or whose class or social status deemed it more appropriate to have their infants breastfed by another woman.

Today, breastfeeding remains highly beneficial for infants, but substitute wet nurses have become a rare practice in industrialized nations. For many adoptive mothers, the lack of human milk for their little one is of little concern -- formula feeding and close cuddling are satisfying alternatives to breastfeeding. For other women however, adoption means giving their child everything they would give a biological child, love nourishment, and yes, even breastfeeding.

Nursing advocates agree that breastfeeding an adopted baby an provide many benefits, including:

  • Optimal bonding
  • Promotes emotional attachment
  • Strengthened infant immune system
  • Helps protect against such conditions as eczema, allergies, asthma, and ear infections
  • Lower risk of obesity
  • Lower risk of SIDS
  • Lower risk of infant tooth decay
  • Health benefits for mother as well as infant
  • More environmentally friendly than formula

How Is Breastfeeding an Adopted Baby Possible?

Inducing Lactation

Adopted baby breastfeeding is often referred to as induced lactation. When a biological mother bears children, in most cases the woman's body produces breast milk. With adoptive mothers, the process of producing milk must be induced. Today's medical advances have allowed the means for lactation to be successfully induced in many cases to provide a rewarding breastfeeding experience for mother and baby.


Two medications commonly used to assist in inducing lactation are Domperidone, brand name Motilium and Metoclopramide hydrochloride, brand name Reglan. These medications can help the body develop and maintain breast milk. The medications are generally started at least two to three weeks in advance of when nursing is expected to begin. Side effects may include irritability and fatigue.

Herbal Methods

Herbal supplements are sometimes effective in assisting in production of breast milk for nursing an adopted baby. These include:

  • Fennel
  • Fenugreek
  • Milk thistle
  • Motherwort
  • Asparagus racemosus
  • Red raspberry
  • Chamomile

Just as with medication, herbal supplements can have serious side effects. Be sure to consult a lactation specialist, herbal professional, or D.O. to ensure you are taking the appropriate herbal remedies at the appropriate dosages.

Breast Pump Benefits

Two to three months before you expect to begin your adopted baby breastfeeding, a lactation specialist may recommend using a breast pump at intervals comparable to nursing periods -- generally ten minutes every two to three hours. Using a hospital grade electric double breast pump can help stimulate the physical and hormonal processes of the body to produce breast milk.

Other Ways to Increase Milk Supply

Other ways to increase milk supply include:

  • Longer, more frequent feedings
  • Avoiding pacifiers
  • Wake baby for feedings, remove clothing to keep s/he awake during feedings
  • Rest and relaxation for the mother
  • Continuing to breast pump between feedings

Latching On

Some babies have difficulty nursing due to problems latching on to the breast. Nursing the baby in the first moments after birth, either by the adoptive or biological mother, can help the baby recognize the nipple. Nurses and lactation consultants can also provide correct breastfeeding basics and assist in finding ways to help the baby latch on correctly. The proper latch and correct nursing positions can help increase milk supply as well.

Supplements and Other Alternatives


It's important to remember that adoptive breastfeeding may not provide the necessary milk supply for a growing infant. A device that can be used effectively is a simple SNS, or supplemental nutritional system (also known as a lactation aid).

A syringe filled with formula or expressed breast milk is held, taped to the breast, or hangs from the mother's neck. Tiny tubes are attached to the syringe and are placed in the infant's mouth along with the breast. This simultaneously helps to stimulate the breast while ensuring the baby is being provided with adequate nutrition.


The close, nurturing bond that comes from breastfeeding can be an extremely rewarding experience, even if the adoptive child needs additional nutritional supplementation.

You may choose to burse the baby for several feedings, and have the adoptive father or another family member give formula in a bottle for other feedings. Today's infant formulas are extremely advanced, and medical science strives to create chemical compounds in formula that are as close as possible to human breast milk.

Human Milk Banks

Another alternative for adopted baby breastfeeding is the use of a human milk bank. Women who have an abundant supply of milk may donate their healthy milk to a human milk bank. You can then use the human donor milk to feed your adoptive son or daughter with a bottle or SNS, giving her/him the benefits of breast milk.

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How Breastfeeding an Adopted Baby is Possible: 6 Methods