Is Adoptive Breastfeeding Freaky and Gross?

Dawn Davenport


Some object to adoptive mothers nursing their adopted child.

Some object to adoptive mothers nursing their adopted child.

Creating a Family has long had the most extensive resources available online for educating and supporting adoptive moms and moms through surrogacy who want to breastfeed. Yesterday’s Creating a Family show is a great addition to our library of resources. I interviewed Alyssa Schnell, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and author of the new book Breastfeeding Without Birthing: A Breastfeeding Guide for Mothers through Adoption, Surrogacy, and Other Special Circumstances. I really like the book and her calm, reassuring, and most of all practical approach to adoptive and surrogacy breastfeeding.



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Here’s the Freaky and Gross Part

As part of our resources we have two videos.

Breastfeeding the Adopted Child has been viewed about 61,000 times with 22 comments. While many of the comments on this video (and the 17 on the Breastfeeding the Internationally Adopted Child video) are from folks who think it’s a great idea, I’d say the majority are from people who view adoptive breastfeeding as, hummm, how to put this delicately… perverted. Let’s just say that the words “gross” and “freaky” feature heavily in the comments.

We all know that the anonymous nature of the Internet bring out the worst in some people, and from my experience, YouTube takes the level of civility down a notch. But even recognizing this, I think the comments reflect the feeling, if not the language, of quite a few people.

How Do Birth Mothers Feel about Adoptive Breastfeeding?

After reading these comments on the videos, I wondered if they reflected the thought of expectant woman considering adoption or birth mothers. I asked this question to a panel of birth mothers we had on a Creating a Family show. The majority thought that the idea was “kind of weird”, and would likely have turned them off to a potential adoptive family. I have no idea if this is reflective of the majority of expectant women considering adoption, but I suspect it is.

Why is Adoptive Breastfeeding Weird?

I’ve thought a lot about why adoptive breastfeeding draws such ire? I think it has to do with our society’s odd mix of obsession and discomfort with breasts in general. They are seen as sexual objects regardless of the context. Oh sure, a newborn nursing infant is viewed with almost Madonna-like awe, but the chorus of awwws quickly turns to ewwws as the baby grows. Heaven only knows what the chorus sounds like if the toddler isn’t genetically related to the mother. Oh wait, actually we do know since we’ve heard the chorus in the video comments. GGRROOSS!!!!

My Soap Box

I suppose I can live with the whole breast obsession and just chalk it up to poor child rearing, or strict potty training, or puritanical values, or something. But what really gets my goat is that I also think it reflects a deep-seated belief that adopted children don’t really belong to their adopted parents; that adopted kids are not as natural as children born to a mom, and thus not worthy of that degree of intimacy.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t think breastfeeding is necessary for attachment. Nor do I think it is a guarantee of a happy healthy life, smooth adolescence, or Harvard degree. Some adoptive mamas, however, really want to nurse their children, and there is certainly research to support that human milk is best for human babies. (This fact is so obvious that we shouldn’t need research to support it.) What could possibly be freaky or gross about that?!?

Why do you think many people are so uncomfortable with adoptive breastfeeding?

P.S. As part of our resources we have a FAQ page with Lenore Goldfarb, Ph.D., co-founder of the Goldfarb Breastfeeding Clinic and Program and co-developer of the Newman-Goldfarb protocol for Induced Lactation. Send us any questions you’d like to ask Dr. Goldfarb to info @

What We Talked About on the Show: Breastfeeding Without Birth

  • What are the four keys to successful breastfeeding without giving birth?
  • Where to find support for adoptive breastfeeding.
  • Babies under about 8 weeks are likely to be able to latch without much problems. What about a baby over that age that is accustomed to being bottle fed. How to help them latch?
  • Is there an upper limit on age that you would recommend trying to initiate breast feeding?
  • How do you know if you have an adequate supply of breast milk for your child?
  • How much breast milk should you be able to produce each day before you consider breastfeeding a child through adoption or surrogacy?
  • How soon prior to adopting should you initiate the preparation to induce lactation?
  • What “tools” would you recommend to prepare an adopted child to breastfeed?
  • How to make bottle feeding more like breast feeding in preparation for training your bottle fed baby to transition to breastfeeding?
  • How to make breast feeding more like bottle feeding to encourage bottle fed babies to nurse?
  • What type of bottle nipple is best training for switching to the breast?
  • How often should you offer the breast and breastfeed when trying to breastfeed an adopted child or child through surrogacy?
  • Why do moms who have not given birth have a lower breast storage capacity?
  • Let’s talk medications. What medications are recommended to induce lactation?
  • How do the lactation inducing drugs work?
  • How to you get these medications?
  • Are these medications safe for moms and for babies?
  • What research has been done on their safety?
  • Why are they not allowed in the US for lactation inducing purposes?
  • What protocol does Schnell recommend for successful breastfeeding by adoptive moms and moms via surrogacy?
  • How do you get them? What doctor prescribes them?
  • Any research specific to their safety to induce lactation for breastfeeding?
  • How to find a lactation consultant that knows about inducing lactation in women who have not given birth? has a list.


Image Credit: clogsilk

09/05/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 12 Comments

12 Responses to Is Adoptive Breastfeeding Freaky and Gross?

  1. Avatar marilynn says:

    God yes it is both freaky and gross. It’s just ten kinds of wrong.

  2. Avatar marilynn says:

    But then I delivered my own blood related child and was revolted at the idea that my breasts would not be mine. Something about a baby doing what guys do just freaks me out. Anyway I hated every second of it because it felt horrible and it hurt and I bled it was just miserable. Then she did not latch right and needed to have her frenulum cut to nurse without making me bleed and we did not want her to go under anesthesia as a new born. So I pumped which is the most demoralizing demeaning experience that a human being can have. Like a milk cow hooked up to a machine that horrible sound of the compressor and then having those little bottles with the numbers measuring so low. My husband was a jerk about it because I did not make enough milk and was angry the doctors told us to give her formula because she was loosing weight. Really I was thrilled. So I think people who breast feed are nutty anyway – it feels terrible. I know its natural but a baby on your body that way is just creepy to me. I know nobody but me feels that way. The idea of some strange woman putting her boob in someone else’s kids mouth is just beyond creepy but I know wet nurses have done it for centuries and it did not make them mother’s it made them wet nurses so it’s just my own hang up. But it does give me the willies.

  3. Avatar Marcia says:

    I have 2 biological children and 1 adopted child. Not being able to nurse our adopted child was the ONE thing I missed the most. I longed to be able to have that connection with her, especially when she would nuzzle in, wanting it too.

  4. Jennifer, I’m glad you were successful! And I agree with you that anyone in our culture who breastfeeds past a year is already considered “freaky”. Well, maybe not exactly freaky, but a little obsessive or weird.

  5. Avatar Cara says:

    I’d love to breast feed an adopted infant but since we are planning to adopt from foster care I think it will be highly unlikely.

  6. Avatar Jennifer says:

    I read through the comments and it seemed to me, that first there were only a few people on each video that commented negatively on it. Second, their negativism seemed more directed to adoption in general than to adoptive breastfeeding. I think these people just don’t like adoption and this is just another way to pick on it. Third, there are lots of negative comments to ANYONE who bf’s past a year, so adopting internationally will get the negative comments for because the child is older.

    I breastfed both of our daughters that we adopted. I never got any negative feedback from anyone around us. Most people were just amazed that it was possible and impressed that I made the effort. I bf each of my children a little longer (bio son 16 months, then daughters 18 months and 20 months). It was an amazing experience for me and I am glad I had the opportunity.

  7. Cara, you are probably right, sorry to say.

  8. Avatar RN says:

    I think that it is perfectly normal of a mom to want to breast feed her child and that is after all that what is happening. Does it matter that they aren’t blood? It shouldn’t. The mom is doing what she believes is best for the child. AND that is what true parenting is.

  9. Avatar Pat Johnston says:

    NO! It isn’t gross!
    1. For some women breastfeeding, every bit as much as being pregnant and giving birth, is one of the painful potential losses that comes with infertility. Being able to do this can help them retain what they felt they needed from this experience, and it cannot possibly harm the child.
    2. My own youngest daughter had been breastfeed for eight weeks by her still lactating first foster mother. Not enough to feed her (so she also used a bottle) but enough that she was using it as a non-portable-to-her-next-home pacifier! She was cold weaned from one day to the next and then spent two more weeks in a second foster placement. NOBODY GAVE US THIS INFORMATION! Had I known it, I would have bought a LactAid (they were available even then( and tried adoptive nursing immediately. Instead, my confused and attachment challenged baby suffered for many months!

  10. Avatar Angela says:

    Thank you so much, Dawn, for covering this topic. As someone who grew up watching her younger siblings nurse, and sitting next to my Mama and basking in the sweetness of stillness with her, not nursing a baby was the one thing I had to process the most when we began an adoption. After that adoption was not to be, and we spent more years trying to build a family, we conceived our son. As I nursed him the first time, I concurrently grieved the losses we’d endured and rejoiced at the great gift God had given us. As we look to grow our family again, we are contemplating infant adoption and nursing that baby. Nursing a biological child is “weird” the very first time, and the first weeks. I can understand how others would view adoptive nursing that way. Yet, as one who’s had the blessing, I can hardly imagine not nursing my child-whether biological or adopted. It is no longer weird. In fact I think it’s weird I thought it was weird. As you say about the degree of intimacy, I would want to share that with a child who’s joined our family through adoption. To me it’s a way of communicating to my child, “I love you, you are mine, we are a family.”

  11. Avatar Teresa says:

    I would be directing those YouTube commenters to the Wikipedia entry for wet nurse.

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