The special closeness fostered by breastfeeding is indeed possible between a mother and her adopted infant. Whether you have been pregnant before or not does not affect your ability to produce milk (except for colostrum, which is only produced by postpartum women for a few days after birth). Even a woman who has had a hysterectomy may lactate. Generally, all it takes is will, perseverance, and physical stimulation of the breasts.
During pregnancy, breasts are ordinarily prepared for lactation because of the influence of hormones including estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin. However, without pregnancy, you can start secreting prolactin simply through nipple stimulation. The basic principle in breastfeeding is supply-and-demand. That means that the more there is suckling on the breast (or stimulation with a breast pump), the more prolactin increases, the more oxytocin is released to signal the brain, and the more breast milk you will produce!
image from Cheyenne Regional Medical Center
Nipple stimulation: You may be able to induce lactation by using a breast pump every 2-3 hours, either before the baby comes or after. Some also use a device such as the Medela Supplemental Nursing System or the Lact-Aid Nurser Training System. These both enable you to feed your baby while he is at your breast. This way, your baby gets enough milk while stimulating your body to produce your own milk. The key to all this is that the more stimulation your breasts receive, either by pump or baby, the more likely milk will be produced.
Hormone Therapy: Sometimes doctors prescribe supplemental estrogen or progesterone to mimic the effects of pregnancy. In some cases, other medications may be prescribed, such as Domperidone, although no drugs have been specifically approved to induce lactation, and potential side effects may be a concern. (Jay L. Hoecker, M.D., Mayo Clinic) There’s even an approach called the Newman-Goldfarb Protocols, which uses birth control pills to simulate pregnancy in the body, followed by other deliberate steps to trigger lactation. Typically, hormone therapy is discontinued shortly before breast-feeding begins.
Herbs and Nutrition: There are several natural herbs that can help with milk production. According to Dr. Jack Newman, a pediatrician that specializes in breastfeeding issues, herbs can be taken without any harm to mother or baby when used as directed on his website. Increased food and water intake, proper rest, and avoiding sress can also help increase your milk supply, according to experienced mothers.
Breast Changes: Milk production typically begins between one to four weeks after initiating mechanical stimulation. At first, there may be only drops. During this time, you may notice changes in the color of the nipples and areolar tissue. Breasts may become tender and fuller. Some women report increased thirst and changes in their menstrual cycles or libidos.
If you want to induce lactation, you can get help and support from lactation consultants, such as at your local La Leche League. They’ll be able to provide information on the subject, connect you with other women who have induced lactation, and provide equipment (feeding tube devices, electric breast pumps) to help you get started.
Mothers who induce lactation vary widely in the amount of milk they are able to produce and in the amount of time required to produce milk. All agree that inducing lactation is a process that takes patience, commitment, diligence and education. A reasonable goal might be to try to provide some, or maybe most, of your new baby’s nutrition yourself, while fully enjoying the closeness and bonding that breastfeeding brings. This nurturing is by far more important than the actual volume of milk produced.