Many people are surprised to learn that adoptive mothers can and do breastfeed. While pregnancy hormones are a help in producing a milk supply, what really starts the process of lactation is the action of the baby sucking on the nipples. Some adoptive mothers are able to totally breastfeed their children. Others whose milk supply is lower can still give their baby the unique nourishment in breast milk while supplementing with formula.
An adoptive mother wishing to breastfeed will need to prepare. In addition to learning everything she can about breastfeeding, she usually begins using a breast pump a few weeks in advance of the baby’s anticipated arrival. The action of the pump is not as efficient as a baby’s suckling, but can still help to stimulate milk production. A lactation consultant can help with this (consult your local La Leche League chapter for referrals).
If you have not had the chance to start early, you may still be able to produce some milk. A baby is born primed to nurse. If possible, ask to nurse your child immediately. Of course, this will have to be negotiated with the birthmother. Many mothers take advantage of herbs such as fenugreek and medications or hormones which can help induce lactation. Again a lactation consultant is your best resource. Another help most adoptive mothers use, at least in the beginning, is a Supplemental Nursing System. This helps to start the cycle of nursing going (milk is produced by the baby sucking; the baby will suck if rewarded with milk). The supplementer brings the baby formula
or pumped breast milk through a tube taped next to the mother’s nipple. In this way the baby is motivated to keep sucking and the nipple stimulation increases the mother’s own milk production.
A great book on this subject is Breastfeeding the Adopted Baby by Debra Stewart Peterson