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Toddler Tips

Nursing an Adopted Baby

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 5, September-October 2006, pp.216-219

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I have a 20-month-old son who was exclusively breastfed and is still nursing. He nurses quite a bit -- about four times during the day and six to eight times at night. We are in the process of adopting a newborn and have been told that it can happen as soon as six to eight months from now. My son is still nursing and I have stopped my plans for night weaning in order to keep my supply up. Is the milk I make for my 20-month-old substantial enough to nurse a newborn?

Mother's Response

I nursed my daughter to whom I gave birth, and wanted to be able to nurse the baby boy we were planning to adopt. I was no longer nursing my daughter by that time, so I nursed our son using a supplementer at the breast. By the time he was about a year old, I continued to nurse him, but without the supplementer.

When he was 21 months old, we adopted his birth cousin who had just been born. I continued to nurse our first son without a supplementer and began nursing our youngest son with a supplementer for most of his feedings. I nursed him at night without a supplementer as my milk supply increased, and for occasional other feedings, and for comfort. I continued to tandem nurse (stopping the supplementer when the youngest was about one year old) until recently when the oldest, now four-and-a-half years old, weaned. I continue to nurse our three-year-old.

It is possible you may be able to produce enough milk to meet your new baby's needs, but there is no guarantee or way to know if the amount of milk you will be producing in six to eight months time will fully meet your newborn's needs. Another thing to consider is how you feel about tandem nursing while helping an adopted baby learn to breastfeed and adjust to a new family.

There are huge advantages to having a milk supply in place once your new baby arrives, however. It will be wonderful to be able to nurse your baby for comfort, or at night, or at some daytime feedings, without a supplementer.

You can fully meet your baby's needs at your breast by being prepared to use an at-breast nursing supplementer for at least some feedings, if it is necessary. This way your baby will get your milk and any additional supplement at the same time, while you get the necessary stimulation to increase your milk supply to better meet your baby's needs.

Some mothers use herbs or medications to help increase their supply, as well. That decision will be up to you once you have learned more about adoptive nursing.

It can be helpful to read more about adoptive nursing and prepare for possible supplementing. There are many resources available. You have a great advantage in that you understand the "normal course of breastfeeding" and can apply that knowledge to your new nursing situation. Jack Newman's The Ultimate Book of Breastfeeding Answers, Diana West's DEFINING YOUR OWN SUCCESS, and the upcoming LLLI book by Elizabeth Hohrmann, BREASTFEEDING AND ADOPTED BABY AND RELACTATION, should be very helpful. I wish you all the best in this great adventure!

Bonnie Roberts
Bowie MD USA

Mother's Response

First of all, congratulations! How wonderful for you and your family to have a new addition on the way. Nursing this new one will be icing on the cake!

As far as milk supply goes, there is no way to know if it will be substantial for your adopted baby. Continuing to nurse your toddler may keep your milk supply in abundance, especially if he continues to cooperate.

Teaching a new baby to nurse involves a lot of different variables, including the child's age at adoption, and whether or not the child has already gotten attached to being fed with a bottle.

Starting out with a specific goal in mind may help. For example, you might decide to breastfeed for two months. This way you give it your all and see what happens. It is possible that the new baby will take readily to nursing, and your milk supply will adjust accordingly.

It may also be necessary to supplement, in which case you can nurse and supplement at the breast using a nursing supplementer. These are devices that let the baby continue to nurse while getting expressed milk or formula at the same time. They are readily available or easily constructed.

Whatever the outcome, your love and concern for your new baby are already shining bright! Nursing your adoptive baby can be one of the best experiences of your life.

I would highly recommend finding another adoptive nursing mom to share support. There are many Web sites that may help. La Leche League has a mother-to-mother support forum ( and this would be a great place to start. Knowing what to expect ahead of time, and how realistic those expectations are, will help this be as smooth a process as possible.

Leocea McLanahan
Conowingo MD USA

Mother's Response

Your plans to keep up your milk supply to meet the needs of your adopted baby will be well worth it. You asked whether your milk will be suitable for a newborn. Most sources state that mothers who breastfeed an adopted baby don't have colostrum. However, the milk you make will be much better for your adopted baby than formula. Your baby will still benefit from immune factors in your milk, which will relate to your living environment, and the fact that it is easily digested.

More frequent expressing or feeding and, in particular, more complete drainage of the breasts will increase your milk supply. The best way to ensure your milk will meet the needs of your new baby and ensure optimum health for yourself will be to eat a varied and nutritious diet. Once you have increased your milk supply, you can then follow your baby's need to nurse, which should enable your baby to get the best possible nutrition from your milk.

Karen Butler
Coventry Great Britain

Mother's Response

How exciting that you will soon be adopting a baby and how wonderful that you will be nursing your new baby!

Having a nursing toddler may make it easier to produce an ample milk supply for your adopted baby. While your milk will be age specific for your toddler, it will certainly be appropriate for the new baby too. There is no cut off point to the immunological benefits of breastfeeding, they continue as long as you have a nursling, so your new baby will benefit from your milk immensely.

Your supply may increase to match the needs of the new baby. After all, wet nurses of old managed to nurse several children at once and of various ages.

Look at it this way, your milk is species specific and will always be better for the new baby than any alternative. And we all know that nursing is about much more than just nutrition!

I hope this helps a bit and you enjoy the many nursing moments to come with your new addition.

Doris O'Connor
Bedfordshire Great Britain

Mother's Response

While we were waiting for a child to be placed with us (a very open-ended situation in our case), I found it reassuring to think of myself as a long-term milk donor, producing a valuable commodity for whatever situation arose. I pumped to maintain my milk supply, saved some milk for a future baby, and occasionally donated milk to a human milk bank. There is a severe shortage of donor milk. The Human Milk Banking Association of North America can put you in touch with milk banks and their requirements for donations. (See resources for contact information.)

Always save some of your freshest milk in your deep freeze in case you get the call from the adoption agency unexpectedly and want a backup supply in addition to your daily production. Like my daughter, your toddler may also enjoy an occasional "popsicle" when your frozen milk stores build up.

Each mother's results are different with respect to pumping, galactagogues, and previous nursing experience. However, it is likely that you can provide all or a substantial fraction of your new baby's needs just by keeping your breasts empty, like the wet nurses of old did year after year.

In our case, my husband's employment situation changed and it became clear that we weren't meant to have a fifth child. But between donating my milk and supplying milk by cup or popsicle for our weaned but dairy-allergic preschooler, I never felt the pumping to be a waste of time.

Ruth Piatak
Friendswood TX USA

Sometimes parents worry that it may confuse or frustrate the adopted baby if he is offered the breast when the mother is not fully lactating. This question is never posed with regard to a pacifier or the baby's thumb. The baby doesn't expect milk from either of them. He sucks for the sheer delight of it and when he is hungry, he lets his mother know. He can just as well comfort himself at his mother's breast and it is even better because his mother, with all her soothing sounds and wonderful smells, is right there as he sucks. It is really much nicer that sucking his thumb or a pacifier somewhere away from her.

Even if you never produce a drop of milk, the baby who as learned to suck for comfort at your breast will not be disappointed. He doesn't expect it any more than the breastfeeding baby born to his mother expects her breasts to be overflowing with milk all the time. This baby also sucks for comfort when he is not interested in feeding.



Adoptive Breastfeeding on the LLLI Web site

Adoptive Breastfeeding Resource

Information about how this brand of nursing supplementer works, as well as frequently asked questions about adoptive breastfeeding and relactation.

Information about the Supplemental Nursing System, as well as frequently asked questions about breastfeeding. Includes an article about adoptive breastfeeding written by Barbara Wilson Clay.

The Human Milk Banking Association of North America
1500 Sunday Drive, Suite 102
Raleigh, NC 27607

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