YES!!! It’s possible!
Even if you have never given birth.
Even if you have never been pregnant.
Even if you can’t get pregnant.
You can breastfeed a baby!
How it works…
Lactation does not actually start with the mammary glands.
It starts with the pituitary gland, a pea-sized gland located at the base of the brain.
The pituitary gland produces a hormone called prolactin in response to suckling (or pumping) at the breasts. Prolactin then stimulates milk production.
How You Can Use It To Your Advantage…
You can induce lactation through pumping at any point in the adoption process- before or after your new baby comes home. The most ideal situation is that you have a specific timeframe when the baby will be coming home and you can start pumping and stockpiling a couple of months in advance. (You can keep milk in the freezer for about three months if it’s stored properly.)
However, even if you have short notice, have to travel a long distance or even if your baby is older when she arrives home, you can still get going. Older babies who have never been breastfed may take a little more patience and time to get used to breastfeeding, but it can be done. (Skin-to-skin contact can help.) Even with a later start, you can still get going and make milk.
There are herbs and medications that can be used to help the process along, but pumping is the key component. Without suckling/pumping, the body will stop producing high levels of prolactin and the milk starts to dry up. Lactation teas and cookies may help boost your supply a little, but they can’t take actually induce or sustain a milk supply.
How Much Milk Can You Make?
This is hard to predict. Most moms who induce lactation do need to partially supplement with formula. But this is where I think we as Americans need to get away from the “all-or-nothing” breastfeeding mindset. For many diseases like childhood leukemia and pre-menopausal breast cancer, any amount of breastfeeding offers some protection. Your milk also provides immune protection against particular antigens in your local environment- something that formula can’t do. For feedings where you need to supplement with formula, you can use a supplementary nursing system to help your baby feed at the breast.
Where To Go For More Info…
An awesome book on breastfeeding and adoption is Breastfeeding the Adopted Baby by Debra Stewart Peterson. Debra breastfed all three of her children who came into their family through adoption. She was a WIC breastfeeding counselor for several years too.
The La Leche League has some stories from moms on how they navigated breastfeeding through many different types of adoptions.
I have a breastfeeding class available on breastfeeding and adoption. You can find it here.