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Expert advice on breastfeeding your baby by adoption or surrogacy

Yes, it is possible to breastfeed a baby you did not give birth to. Breastfeeding a baby by adoption or surrogacy helps babies and their new mothers bond to one another, be healthy and heal from the losses they have experienced. It may involve producing milk or it may not. If may involve taking medications or it may not. There are many ways to successfully approach breastfeeding without birthing.

Each adoptive or intended mother can customize her approach to fit her individual priorities and circumstances. While breastfeeding is not as simple for these special mothers and babies, with good information and support, it is possible and extremely rewarding.


Do hire an international board-certified lactation consultant

Breastfeeding in adoption or surrogacy is a very special breastfeeding situation and, in order to be successful, most mothers will need the support of an expert. This expert should be an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), ideally one with experience working with adoptive or intended (through surrogacy) mothers. Look for the credentials, IBCLC, to be sure a breastfeeding expert has achieved this certification. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, IBCLCs are the only healthcare professionals certified in lactation care.

Do find a supportive community

Not only is the guidance of an IBCLC a critical component to success, community support can be equally important. Look for support among friends, family and most importantly, your partner, if you have one. Connecting with a breastfeeding community, either in person or online, also can be an invaluable resource. There are online breastfeeding communities specifically geared towards adoptive and intended mothers.

Do honor your baby’s first family

In adoption, your baby’s first family is her birth family and most importantly, her birthmother. Seeing you breastfed her biological baby may cause even more heartbreak for her than she is already experiencing. Your adoption professional can facilitate any discussion of your breastfeeding plans with your baby’s birthmother. In surrogacy, your baby’s first family is his/her surrogate mother. As part of the surrogacy arrangement, she may agree to breastfeed your baby during the hospital stay or express her milk for your baby for a specified amount of time.

Do consider various approaches to inducing lactation

Inducing lactation, or bringing in milk without pregnancy, can be achieved through a variety of approaches. Some involve putting in time before baby arrives, and some don’t. Some involve using an electric breast pump, and some don’t. Some involve the use of medication, and some don’t. Some involve the partner, and some don’t. This is where the guidance of an IBCLC comes in handy, as she can guide you through the options to find an approach that suits your circumstances and values.

It is also important to recognize that not every adoptive or intended mother who nurses her baby will choose to induce lactation. Some choose to “dry” nurse--using a bottle to feed their babies and nursing for comfort and connection.

Do think about using an at-breast supplementer

While a few mothers who induce lactation will be able to produce enough milk to meet their babies’ needs, most will need to provide nutrition from another source, besides their breasts. You may choose to do this extra feeding using a bottle. Or you may exclusively feed your baby at your breasts, regardless of how much milk you are making (or none at all). This is achieved with the use of an at-breast supplementer--a bag or bottle that hangs around the mother’s neck and delivers milk or formula to the baby via a tiny feeding tube at the mother’s nipple. The at-breast supplementer functions as a sort of external milk duct. The two commercial at-breast supplementers available in this country are the Lact-Aid and the Supplemental Nursing System (SNS).


Do not expect to bring in a full milk supply

Most mothers who induce lactation don’t make enough milk to meet all of their babies’ nutritional needs. They will typically produce somewhere between 25 and 75 percent of a full milk supply, some more and some less. Wherever you fall in this range is wonderful for you and your baby. Even mothers who produce only drops of milk often consider these few immunity-rich milliliters to be their babies’ daily shot of medicine.

Do not assume everyone will be supportive

While most people will be amazed and impressed that you are breastfeeding your baby by adoption or surrogacy, there will be some people who are very uncomfortable with the idea. It may seem inappropriate or unnatural to them. Surround yourself as much as possible with those who are supportive. For those naysayers, consider whether the person is making negative comments out of concern or out of malice. If the person is truly concerned about you or your baby, you may wish to reassure them that breastfeeding is the most healthy choice for both you and your baby. You also may wish to quote some experts, such as your doctor or the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). In their 2006 Policy Statement, the AAP recommended that pediatricians counsel adoptive mothers who wish to breastfeed.

Do not worry about having enough time to prepare

Some adoptive or intended mothers will begin preparing for breastfeeding many months before their baby arrives. But preparing ahead of time is not necessary. In fact, even if your beautiful baby has already arrived, it is not too late. You can latch your baby at the breast even if you are making little or no milk at all. Some mothers who are not making much or any milk will bottle-feed their babies for nutrition and put their baby to their breast for comfort and closeness. Other mothers who are not making much or any milk will feed their baby using an at-breast supplementer.

Do not skimp on a breast pump

One of the tools that many mothers use to help induce lactation, especially if they are preparing for their baby’s arrival, is a breast pump. If you have started looking into breast pumps, you probably already know that there are a mind-boggling number of breast pumps out there. Because you will be using the pump to bring in a milk supply, using a pump designed for this purpose is highly recommended. This type of pump is often called a hospital-grade, rental-grade or multi-user double electric breast pump. These are the type of breast pumps mothers typically rent. Your IBCLC can help you find the breast pump rental stations in your area.

Do not give up

Breastfeeding in adoption or surrogacy is not an easy undertaking, but it is worth the effort. If at any point breastfeeding seems overwhelming, rather than quitting, adjust your approach to make it more doable for you. Your IBCLC can work with you to modify your approach to a version that meets your needs. Breastfeeding is not an all-or-nothing endeavor, and any amount of milk you make for your baby or any amount of time nurturing your baby at your breast is valuable beyond compare.

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Congratulations on considering breastfeeding. You are in for an incredible journey--and so is your baby. Every mother and baby--no matter how a baby arrives in a mother’s arms--should have the opportunity to breastfeed. So get some excellent professional and community support, make some informed choices about your plan, hang in there and enjoy a beautiful breastfeeding relationship with your little one.

More expert advice about Adoption and Foster Care

Photo Credits: Mother & newborn sleeping by David J Laporte via Flickt; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Alyssa Schnell, MS, IBCLCInternational Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Author

Alyssa has been helping mothers and babies in the St. Louis area with breastfeeding for the past 12 years. She has been accredited as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) since 2009 and works in private practice. Her p...

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