Approximately 18,000 newborns are adopted each year in the United States. While adoption is generally a happy time for most parents, it sometimes comes on the heels of grief. From the difficulty of a long and arduous adoption process to the pain of infertility, most adoptive parents understand loss.
One such loss that some adoptive parents experience is the inability to carry a pregnancy and the subsequent biological processes that follow, such as breastfeeding. However, more and more adoptive mothers are choosing to induce lactation to breastfeed their new baby. In fact, breastfeeding an adopted baby is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
What Is Induced Lactation?
As a general rule, a woman must be pregnant to produce milk. However, this is not always the case. Induced Lactation, previously referred to as adoptive breastfeeding, is a term given to describe a mother who breastfeeds a baby that she did not give birth to herself. It is typically practiced by women who adopt a baby or for those who have had a baby via a gestational carrier.
Why Would Someone Decide to Induce Lactation?
The health benefits of breast milk are innumerable and well-documented. As such, many mothers choose to breastfeed their new babies so that they are provided with the essential nutrients that are simply not available in formula.
Additionally, there are many psychological benefits of breastfeeding. Studies have shown that breastfeeding enhances the mother-child bond. As adoptive mothers are unable to experience a pregnancy with their new baby, many express feeling a loss over not being able to carry the baby in their womb. Breastfeeding, for some, eases that sense of loss by enhancing their bond through physical skin-to-skin contact.
Some adoptive parents express that they feel that their baby has experienced a loss or trauma in being separated from their biological mother. For these new mothers, breastfeeding is one tool to comfort and help their babies to heal.
What Does the Process of Induced Breastfeeding Look Like?
During pregnancy, a women’s body experiences several hormonal shifts that help to prepare her breasts for lactation. As a pregnancy progresses, women increase their production of progesterone, estrogen, and prolactin. However, once the infant is born, a drastic decrease in progesterone and estrogen, and an increase in prolactin, causes the body to make milk. As baby nurses at the breast, the suckling and skin-to-skin contact cause the release of oxytocin, which helps the milk to “let down.”
Various techniques have been used to induce lactation induction. Choosing a method will depend on several factors such as how much time the woman has before the child is born, if she has breastfed before, and what choices she wants to make around medications.
The primary way that women induce lactation is to physically stimulate the nipple and areola of the breast on a regular basis, as often as eight to ten times a day. There are many suggested mechanisms for doing this, ranging from having a partner suckle at the breast every 2-3 hours to using a breast pump. Many women have success utilizing a combination of hand expression and a breast pump.
Some women decide to explore taking medications to induce lactation. One such protocol is the Newman-Goldfarb protocol. Protocols such as this one require that a woman take birth control pills to mimic the pregnancy and help prepare the body for lactation. Following birth control, some women choose to take medications that stimulate milk production. Others choose a more holistic route, utilizing herbs.
How Successful Is Induced Lactation?
Just as all breastfeeding experiences vary, so does induced breastfeeding. Some women report great success, although the majority of women do need to supplement with donor milk or formula so that they may meet the nutritional needs of their new baby. Some mothers choose to use an at-breast supplementer, a device that allows the infant to receive extra milk at the breast as opposed to using a bottle. While the baby receives the additional needed nutrition, the mother’s breast continues to be stimulated, which in turn will hopefully produce more milk.
Some women who have not been particularly successful in producing milk still report positive psychological benefits of bringing their infants to the breast for comfort.
Unfortunately, induced lactation has been a topic that has been understudied. As a result, there is little scientific information to make recommendations reliably. However, as an increasing number of adoptive mothers are choosing this route, the hope is that additional studies will follow.