Did you know that you can still breastfeed your baby even if you did not give birth to them? Even if you were never pregnant? When it comes to matters including adoption or surrogacy, it’s important to know what your infant feeding options are so that you can make an informed choice.

Why Breastfeeding Matters

There is nothing in the world like snuggling up close with your little baby and feeling the warm rush of oxytocin (the glorious love hormone released while breastfeeding) while your child is nourished and comforted at your breast. The hormones and the closeness involved with breastfeeding facilitate bonding, and this enhanced bonding alone is enough of a reason for many parents to choose breastfeeding, especially in cases of adoption and surrogacy.

Most biological mothers in the U.S. choose to breastfeed, and for good reason. Not only is breastfeeding less expensive than formula feeding and better for the environment, but it offers significant health benefits for both you and your baby.

ALSO READ: Baby Shower That Adopted Baby!

Breastfeeding reduces baby’s risk for ear infections, respiratory tract infections, diarrhea, asthma, allergies, obesity, diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and leukemia, and other things, say experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Breastfed babies tend to get sick less often; and when they do get sick, they get better faster, and are less likely to require hospitalization and antibiotics. And Breastfeeding your adopted baby is recommended by the AAP.

Breastfeeding protects you too, mom! Women who breastfeed have a lower lifetime risk of heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, breast and ovarian cancers, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and diabetes. Again, breastfeeding can’t guarantee you will never get sick, but it does promote your overall health.

How to Induce Lactation

Inducing lactation involves using medications and hormones to mimic the complex interaction of three hormones: estrogen, progesterone and human placental lactogen, say experts at the Mayo Clinic. This is followed by frequent breast pumping with a high quality double electric breast pump and herbs (fenugreek and blessed thistle). You will need the support of your pregnancy care provider and a lactation specialist. Depending on how lactation is induced, it can typically take up to six months.

Supplementing Breastfed Babies

Not all women who induce lactation will be able to exclusively breastfeed; many will need to supplement their baby’s nutrition. That’s OK! The benefits of breastfeeding are dose-dependent. This means that the more the baby is breastfed, the better, and even a little breastmilk goes a long way. Each drop of your milk is loaded with antibodies to fight infection and perfectly proportioned nutrition to help your baby grow strong and healthy.

Some women supplement with donor breastmilk or infant formula. The World Health Organization’s Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding advises, “for those few health situations where infants cannot, or should not, be breastfed, the best alternative is expressed breast milk from an infant’s own mother, breast milk from a healthy wet-nurse or a human-milk bank, or a breast-milk substitute.”

In deciding whether to supplement your baby with donor breastmilk or formula, it’s important to consider the inherent risks in both choices, as well as your access to and the availability of donor milk. Both infant formula and donor milk can be contaminated with viruses or bacteria. Both can be contaminated with harmful chemicals. And the safety of both methods can be affected by poor hygiene practices.

Alternatively, some women are concerned about the prospect of milk sharing and donor milk because of the potential for transmission of viruses such as HIV. This is a very reasonable concern. Some women who participate in milk sharing perform at-home pasteurization to eliminate the risk of HIV transmission. Flash heating involves placing milk in a glass container that is then placed in water. The water is heated to a rolling boil before the jar is removed and allowed to cool. Flash heating has been found to inactivate any HIV present in breast milk while having only a small impact on the nutritional and immunologic properties of the milk, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the Australian Medical Journal.

An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) can be a valuable expert to help you navigate induced lactation and breastfeeding in partnership with your healthcare provider. Find a consultant at icla.org.

Further reading: How to Gain a Breast Pump & Supplies under the ACA
Breast Changes in Pregnancy
Nurse-Recommended Breastfeeding Positions


Paris Maloof-Bury, CNM, RNC-OB, IBCLC is a certified nurse-midwife and lactation consultant at Sutter Health in Davis, CA.

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