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How I Was (Sort of) Able to Breastfeed

If breastfeeding had been easy in the past, adoptive breastfeeding couldn't be so different, or less rewarding, could it? Right (more or less).  by Julie Anderson

After successfully nursing my first three sons, I was confident that I could breastfeed my fourth. Sure, my first sons joined our family in the usual way: pregnancy followed by birth followed by a short drive home from the hospital. We planned to adopt this time around, but extensive research informed me that you can breastfeed an adopted baby.

Breastfeeding made me feel good on several levels. I loved the surge of happy hormones that came with milk letdown, and the feeling of snuggling in with a newborn baby and giving him what he wanted, which only I could provide. I patted myself on the back for delivering those magical, breast-milk-exclusive health benefits to my children. They'd be less likely to get asthma, allergies, cancer, ulcers, cavities, acne, sassy attitudes…you get the idea. I also appreciated the convenience: no packing or washing bottles or mixing formula. 

Our son's birthmother chose us in November. He was due to be born in late February, so I had plenty of time to prepare. I followed the Newman-Goldfarb protocol for induced lactation, first described in Dr. Jack Newman's Guide to Breastfeeding. It involves the drug domperidone, the herbs fenugreek and thistle, birth control pills, and a breast pump. 

How adoptive breastfeeding works

Domperidone stimulates the pituitary gland and, as a side effect, promotes milk production. I started with 10 mg of the prescription med four times per day for the first week, and then moved up to 20 mg four times a day. I also took an "active" birth control pill each day. The birth control pill provides necessary hormones to suppress milk supply and simulate pregnancy. In early January, I stopped the birth control pills, continued the domperidone, and began pumping.

I'll be honest with you. Pumping sucks. I've never been able to get much out of it (literally). But I was determined. My other sons had all gotten to breastfeed, and I wanted the same for my newest addition.

So I pumped, wincing, for the last month-and-a-half while waiting for my son. The swish, swish, swish noise of that hateful machine sounded like a windshield wiper scraping across a chalkboard. Still, prior to my son's birth, I was getting about two ounces of milk per pumping session, so I felt optimistic.

Nurse from the first meal on

My son's birthmother was on board with my plans to breastfeed, so I started as soon as Frank was born, with feedings every two hours. The hospital nurses were supportive, too, and encouraged me to nurse whenever I could, so that my milk supply would increase (theoretically, at least).

We had to wait for ICPC clearance before traveling home, so my son and I had plenty of time for feedings and skin-to-skin contact. During those two weeks, I nursed, pumped, drank special nursing teas, massaged my breasts, and took the herbs. I really wanted it to work.

My son had no problems latching on, but there wasn't a lot flowing. He was a big newborn (over nine pounds), hungry and unimpressed with his light meals. He wanted a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings, not a PB&J on white.

Introduce a nursing supplementer

To meet Frank's nutritional needs, I used the Medela Supplemental Nursing System, which enabled me to fill his stomach with formula via a soft, thin tube positioned at the corner of his mouth. The SNS is great because, while the baby is nursing (and, hopefully, increasing mama's milk supply), he is getting the additional milk or formula he needs from the tube.

The downside is that it's a pain to use. The long tubes have to be cleaned immediately after each use or the formula will dry in them. The mother has to be fully exposed from the waist up, so that the bottle can hang from her neck and the tube can fit into the baby's mouth. I'm not overly shy, but it was awkward to nurse around anyone other than my husband.

Another downside: The tubes are unobtrusive to baby, which is a good thing, but they slide right out of his mouth if his hand (or his mother's) snags them. When that happens, formula dribbles all over the place. You also have to remain upright, making snuggly nursing impossible.

Find your at-home routine

It was heaven to finally bring baby Frank home and be back with my big boys. But it was also a bummer, because the awkwardness of the SNS meant I had to sequester myself for the baby's frequent feedings.

After six weeks, we introduced bottles and, wow, Frank loved them. He'd suck them right down. My pediatrician assured me that nipple confusion wasn't a risk at that point, and I was growing weary of the SNS.

At about two-and-a-half months, I gave up on the SNS and informed my breasts that I was giving them one last shot. For the next couple of weeks, I nursed my hungry little babe on each side so that he could drain whatever milk he could extract, and then gave him a nice full bottle of formula. This strategy didn't increase my milk supply, but it was a lot easier than the SNS.

Is it for you?

If you are interested in pursuing adoptive breastfeeding, you should give it a try! It's always worthwhile to try something that could be of great benefit to your child. I suggest talking to your OB/GYN, reading Dr. Jack Newman's Guide to Breastfeeding, visiting for support and advice, and contacting your local La Leche League group ( 

My Adoption Nursing Recap

The Pros
+ Three months of breastfeeding and the health benefits my baby got from a diet that included some breast milk
+ A good start to mama-baby bonding
+ Knowing I gave it a good shot

Julie and son Frank

The Cons
+ Five months of pills that my insurance did not cover
+ Two months of the hated breast pump
+ Dealing with the Supplemental Nursing System, and the need for privacy while using it

Looking Back
I'm thrilled that I gave my son the health benefits of breast milk. It's hard to determine what role breastfeeding played in our successful bonding process, but I believe it helped us bond more closely and quickly than exclusive bottle-feeding would have done.

It's of no small importance that my husband cherished feeding Frank bottles of formula. As much as I loved being the sole food provider for my biological sons during their infancies, my husband loved getting to bottle-feed our fourth child. I know it's not breast milk, but formula is a great second choice and served our needs perfectly.

JULIE ANDERSON lives with her family in rural middle Tennessee. She is a stay-at-home mom, and a freelance writer and editor, who blogs at

Photos: Courtesy of the family; above: Julie with her husband and sons, including two-year-old Frank.

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I was thrilled to see this article as I am also an adoptive nursing mother. In my case, I had never breastfed before but knew that it is such an important experience for a newborn. I produced a very small amount of milk - but enough that my little one had trouble if I ate broccoli or cucumbers which would indicate that she was getting some good brain fats as well as antibodies (she never had a sniffle until 11 months old). I had to turn to an SNS and chose the Lact-aid system and a lactation consultant to help get me started. Although cumbersome at first, the SNS allows for snuggle nursing side-by-side and doesn't not require being without a top as was stated in the article. There are tips and tricks that we learned from the consultant that immediately had us nursing at home and in public like any other breastfeeding mom and baby. We also had the benefit of using some donated breast milk as well as the formula. The important thing I wanted to underscore, is that with adoptive nursing, the breast milk that you can provide your little one is a fantastic gift, however, the process isn't really about the milk. My little one nurses when she needs comfort, not just when she is hungry. The bond that we have is amazing and the ways that we have developed our communication through nursing is so very special for each of us. As our lactation consultant said, "It's not just about the food, it's the niceness of the restaurant." My little one is now 13 months and still nurses when she wants to nap or goes to sleep at night. It is still our special time together that we will forever cherish.

Posted by: Ronda B at 1:57pm May 17

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