July 6, 2022

Breastfeeding an Adopted Baby

What you need to know to ensure you’re ready when your little one comes home.

Last week was National Adoption Week, issues around feeding and adoption are often overlooked and it’s not a topic we see a huge amount about, however many families across the country adopt a baby each year. If you’re in the process of adopting and you think you want to breastfeed (yes you can breastfeed!) then here’s what you need to know to ensure you’re ready when your little one comes home.

So you’ve decorated the nursery, built the cot and feel fully prepared! But have you thought about feeding, do you want to breastfeed or bottlefeed? You might still be deciding which route you want to go down. When you’re adopting a baby, breastfeeding is entirely possible – but it does take additional planning, but be sure that whichever route you decide to go down, your baby will be happy and healthy regardless of method of feeding.

Breastfeeding is recognised as the gold standard of infant feeding, as breastmilk contains lots of nutrients to help boost your baby’s immune system and brain development, it’s also easy to digest and very friendly on their tummy. If you’re adopting a baby it’s also a great way to bond and spend some one-to-one time with your baby. Some adoptive mums are very keen to breastfeed and decide to go down the route of induced lactation, there are a few ways to prompt your body to lactate.

The best way to induce lactation and the method most recommended by health professionals is through using a breast pump. First of all, you need to invest in a breast pump, a pump which allows you to switch between electric and manual pumping such as the MAM 2-in-1 so you is ideal so you can use both styles of pumping. Even for those mothers who have previously breastfed or used a breast pump, inducing lactation can take a toll on their nipples. So it’s important to start slowly with short pumping sessions of only around 5 minutes. You might also find it useful to set the pump to the lowest suction level at first. As your breasts and nipples become more used to the breast pump you’ll be able to increase the time and suction level.

2in1 Breast Pump in manual mode
2in1 Breast Pump in manual mode

Some mothers choose to use hand expression for the first few weeks to initiate milk production and then switch to the breast pump once they start to see some milk leaking during expression. Hand expression for the first few weeks can also be a little kinder to your nipples. Once you feel comfortable using a breast pump and you’re nipples are acclimated then find the setting which is most comfortable and provides the most milk in the shortest of time. Every mother responds differently to each setting, so there is no one setting or suction level for everyone, you will find over time the amount of milk your breasts produce will increase and you can then change the settings as necessary.

If you are still feeling uncomfortable and your nipples are feeling sore after a few weeks then you can use some form of lubrication. Many health professionals recommend 100% extra virgin olive oil or an over the counter nipple cream, these can provide both lubrication and assist with healing if you’re feeling sore.

The key to inducing lactation is to replicate the breastfeeding patterns of a baby when they are trying to establish a milk supply. A newborn baby breastfeeds around 8 to 12 times each day, so you need to pump at least 8 times each day to provide the same stimulation. It is also important that you pump at least once during the night, as babies also feed throughout the night so you’ll want your body to be used to this pattern.

For mothers who are pumping many times throughout the day, cleaning the pump and storing expressed breastmilk after each session is unneccesary. For mothers who are pumping very frequently, the pump and bottles can remain at room temperature for 4-6 hours, aim for 4 hours when the weather is warmer. After 4-6 hours, the expressed milk can be stored in the fridge or alternatively frozen for a later date, the pump parts are cleaned and sterilised and you’re ready to go for another 4-6 hours.

For most adoptive mothers, the pumping techniques described above will generate lactation. However, if you are finding it challenging or you’re not getting the amount of breastmilk you’re looking for there are other tips and techniques you can try.

If you’re not getting the volume of breastmilk you need you can use breast massage, this is a very effective method for increasing the amount of milk you express. Breast massage is known to increase the amount of milk expressed by 42%. Simply make a fist and massage your breast towards the nipple in a clockwise direction.

Some mothers find themselves feeling anxious whilst inducing lactation and spend a lot of time watching the pump to see how much milk is being expressed, this can have the reverse effect as stress can inhibit production. Sometimes it helps to throw a blanket over the pump so you can’t see the volume. Try to find a way to distract yourself, watch TV, read a book, talk on the phone or listen to music, anything which will take your mind off pumping. You could even try putting on a hypnosis CD, lighting a scented candle and even meditating. It can also help to visualise your milk flowing whilst pumping.

 2in1 Breast Pump in electric mode
2in1 Breast Pump in electric mode

Sensory stimulation is also known to help induce lactation and boost milk supply. When a baby breastfeeds, a mother receives sensory stimulation for the baby which helps stimulate let down and milk flow. For many mothers using some form of sensory stimulation that remind you of the baby will help when pumping, this could be a picture, a recording of your baby or a piece of clothing. If your baby hasn’t been born yet, then consider some sort of sensory stimulation that makes you think of the baby, this could be anything from pumping in the nursery, having a copy of the ultrasound picture next to you or even listening to lullabies.

Boosting the amount of the hormone oxytocin circulating around your body is a sure-fire way to help increase your milk supply. Oxytocin is the hormone which causes the milk ejection and let down. In addition to the sensory stimulation described above, you could also have your partner massage you whilst pumping, between the shoulder blades is best as this helps to release oxytocin. Laughter and feelings of romance also help to boost oxytocin, you might want to consider watching a comedy film or clips of your favourite comedian!

Finally, applying a warm compress to your breasts before pumping, so something such as a facecloth soaked in warm water and simply laid over your breasts can help to boost your supply. This helps by opening the milk ducts and assisting with the milk ejection reflex.

We hope these tips have been helpful to you and wish you luck on your adoption journey and lots of happiness with your new family member. Please do remember that whichever way you choose to feed your baby the most important aspect is that both you and your baby are happy and healthy. If you need additional support or have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out to Katie Hilton, MAM Midwife and Health Visitor at any time.