Induced lactation: Can I breast-feed my adopted baby?

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Induced lactation: Can I breast-feed my adopted baby?

Question

I'm adopting a newborn, and I'd like to breast-feed the baby when I bring him home. Can I produce breast milk if I haven't been pregnant?

Tammy
Colorado

Answer

With considerable dedication and preparation, breast-feeding without pregnancy (induced lactation) may be possible.

Normally, the natural production of breast milk (lactation) is triggered by a complex interaction between the hormones estrogen, progesterone and prolactin during the final months of pregnancy. At delivery, levels of estrogen and progesterone fall dramatically — but levels of prolactin remain high. The result is lactation.

Similarly, induced lactation depends on the successful replication of this biological process. You may begin with nipple stimulation — ideally, pumping both breasts with a hospital-grade electric breast pump every three hours around the clock, beginning about two months before you expect to begin breast-feeding. This stimulation encourages the production and release of the hormone prolactin. Your health care provider may also prescribe hormonal therapy, such as supplemental estrogen or progesterone, to mimic the effects of pregnancy. In some cases, other medications may be prescribed as well. No drugs have been specifically approved to induce lactation, however, and potential side effects may be a concern.

Typically, hormone therapy for induced lactation is discontinued shortly before breast-feeding begins. At that point, the baby's suckling is thought to stimulate and maintain milk production. Your health care provider may recommend continued pumping to further stimulate milk production.

It's important to note that supplemental feedings with formula or donated milk from a human milk bank may be needed even if you're able to successfully induce lactation — especially during the initial weeks of breast-feeding, while you're establishing your milk supply. To encourage continued nipple stimulation, you may choose to use a supplemental feeding aide that delivers formula or donated breast milk through a device that attaches to your breast. Supplemental formula feedings can also be given with a traditional bottle.

To learn more about induced lactation and how to increase your chances of successful breast-feeding, contact a lactation consultant at a local hospital or clinic.

Last Updated: 2010-10-29
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