Give Up A Baby For Adoption vs. Place A Baby For Adoption: What’s The Difference And Why It Matters

Is there a difference between saying “give up a baby for adoption” and “place a baby for adoption”?

And if there is, why does it matter, and how does it change things if you’re facing an unplanned pregnancy and considering adoption?

Actually, It matters a lot. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Words matter. The language we use to describe a birthmother’s decision says a lot about how we think about her.

And it also influences the way that her child thinks about his adoption—and himself.


In the past, when referring to a birthmother’s choice, terms like “give up,” “give away,” or “put up” a baby for adoption were typically used.

In many cases, during the so-called “Baby Scoop” era, that was exactly what happened. It was a dark time, marked by secrecy and shame.

Often women who faced an unplanned pregnancy (or, to use another term popular at the time, gave birth to a baby “out of wedlock”) didn’t have a say in the matter or knew what became of their child.

They were forced to make a choice that in many cases was against their will and then told to forget about it and go on living their life if nothing had happened.

Not only was the identity of the adoptive parents kept from them. But worst of all, they had no idea about what happened to their child—whether she was happy or sad, or even dead or alive.

But times have changed, and thanks to a new era of openness and transparency, so have adoption practices.

As a result, the way we talk and think about the decision that women make when choosing adoption have changed too.

Like a lot of adoption websites, we use positive adoption language like  “placing a baby for adoption” or “creating an adoption plan” when describing a birthmother’s choice.

When you “give up” something, you cut it out of your life. For instance, you give up smoking or soda or sweets.

But today, where 95 percent of adoptions have some level of openness, birthmothers don’t “give up” their babies. They play an active role leading up to their placement, and often beyond.

As the terms “place for adoption” and “create an adoption plan” suggest, birthmothers go to great lengths to give their children a soft landing once they make the heart-wrenching decision that they’re unable to raise them.

Just because a baby isn’t planned doesn’t mean he is unwanted.

Placing a child for adoption is a voluntary decision that most birthmothers make willingly today, unlike their counterparts in the past or in the public adoption system where children are often removed from their home by the state due to abuse or neglect.

Faced with an agonizing choice, birthmothers will often pore over dozens, sometimes hundreds of profiles, until they find the family that they believe will be perfect for their child.

It’s a decision that no mother takes lightly and involves a lot of soul-searching and long and deep conversations with counselors, attorneys, other birthmothers and adopting parents.

Even though many of the women who choose to place know they would make great parents, they are mature and responsible enough to realize they are not ready to provide their child with the future they want her to have.

In some cases, they may be struggling to cope with their own needs and not in a position to take on another’s.

Placing a baby in an open adoption is a decision that requires tremendous strength and courage.

Nothing is harder for a mother than to place the child she carried for nine months into another woman’s arms, and then to go home empty handed.

The other problem with using the term “giving up”is that it plays into the stereotype about birthmothers being young and irresponsible, more interested in partying than parenting.

In fact today most birthmothers are in their 20s and 30s. They know what it takes to raise a child. And though they may not be ready to parent, they will do everything in their power to find a couple who is.

From the beginning of their pregnancy until the end, they have the option to call the shots, deciding who to place their baby with, when, and how.

They can speak to their child’s adoptive parents, meet  with them, and create an hospital birth plan.

They can also choose a name for their child and have an ongoing relationship with the adoptive family after the baby has gone home, whether it be through phone calls, photos, emails, texts or visits.

That’s not to say that placement is easy or that all adoption relationships are perfect. Adoption involves loss, plain and simple, often on both ends, and no amount of sugar-coating or positive adoption language can change that. 

As with any relationship, adoption relationships can be challenging and requires commitment, patience and hard work.

Both sides must be honest with the other one and treat them with compassion and respect. Even though they won’t always agree, they need to be willing to make compromises and go the extra mile in the interests of their child.

Because post-adoption contact agreements aren’t legally binding in many states, adoptive parents and birthparents need to trust each other and have faith that they will follow through on their promises.

We should add that just because we prefer the term “place a baby for adoption” doesn’t mean that we won’t use the term “give up” “put up” or “give away a baby” from time to time.

That’s because those are the terms that people new to adoption use when looking for information about creating an adoption plan or finding parents for their baby on search engines like Google.

We want to reach those people. But we also want them to know that there’s another way to think about a woman’s life-changing decision to choose adoption. It’s about giving more, not giving up.

And we think it’s time that the way we talk about that decision needs to change too.