Women who breastfeed infants who are not their own or adopted is getting common because of death or illness of the birth-mother. This also happens when the birth-mother gave over or shared the care of her baby with another woman. At times, this surrogate mummy may already be breastfeeding another baby and this leads to an increase in her milk supply due to the additional demand to meet the needs of two (or more) babies.
With considerable dedication and preparation, breast-feeding without pregnancy (induced lactation) might be possible.
Understanding induced lactation
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Induced lactation is the action of ‘forcing’ milk supply in a woman by means other than childbirth. Induced lactation is basically the stimulation of the breast to produce milk.
Generations ago, allowing a baby to suck was the only means of stimulating the process. This usually was done when the infant was not hungry, but rather as a means of pacification for the baby.
Today, mothers in the adoption process begin stimulating their breasts months in advance using breast pumps. By pumping multiple times a day for several weeks, most adoptive mothers will find they are producing small amounts of milk by the time their baby arrives.
Doctors have also been known to prescribe hormones to raise a mother’s hormone levels to that of a term-pregnancy in an effort to raise the amount of milk being produced.
Why induce lactation?
The reasons behind inducing lactation when you are an adoptive mother are many. Some mothers want to provide the proven health benefits of breast milk to their child who was previously in an environment that was less than optimal. Others are adamant that the experience will create a deeper bond between them. And still others just crave the experience.
How to induce lactation?
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The technique for inducing lactation without being pregnant is exceptionally simple: physically stimulate the nipple and areola, and the body will respond by making milk! Forget about milk inducing drugs and exotic techniques: all it takes is stimulation! According to Breastfeeding Without Birthing, there are several steps to induce lactation.
Step 1: Prepare your breasts for making milk (optional)
Start the process of inducing lactation by preparing your breasts to make milk, just like how it would happen during a pregnancy. Physical techniques such as breast massage, nipple stimulation, or partner suckling can be done. Some women have also tried using medications, either pharmaceutical or herbal.
Step 2: Start making milk before your baby arrives
If you are able to start preparation a few months before, your doctor might prescribe hormone therapy — such as supplemental estrogen or progesterone — so as to mimic the effects of pregnancy. Hormone therapy can last six months or more.
About two months before you expect to start breast-feeding, you’ll likely stop hormone therapy and begin expressing milk.
The best and most reliable way to induce lactation is to have a nursing partner dry breastfeed for 20 minutes, eight times each day. Your partner should be latched on in the same manner as a nursing infant would latch onto its mother’s breast, and not just sucking on the nipple. Even when there is no milk in the beginning, just relax and breastfeed your partner, just like how it is as if your breasts were full of milk. Your brain will be sending signals to your body to start producing milk and in time, your body will respond to the suckling by actually producing milk.
If it’s not possible for you to schedule eight nursing sessions each day; you can reduce the number of sessions to what is more comfortable for you. Many mothers have successfully induced lactation with as little as two breastfeeding sessions each day; however, the sessions do need to be at least 20 minutes long. Do keep in mind that the closer to eight nursing sessions each day you are able to have, the better the results will be.
Image Source: iStock
What if your partner is not comfortable to breastfeed from you? If you do not have a willing or reliable nursing partner, you may substitute suckling with a hand massage of the breast, and finger stimulation of the nipple and areola. You may use a breast pump if you wish; however, hand expression will work just as well. Eight, 20-minute stimulation sessions each day is still optimum for inducing lactation, even without a reliable nursing partner. If your schedule will not permit eight sessions each day, you may reduce the number of sessions to what you can comfortably handle. But again, the closer to eight nursing sessions each day you are able to have, the better the results will be.
You can also use medications, either pharmaceutical or herbal, to help boost the output from pumping or hand expressing.
Step 3: Breastfeeding and making more milk
This is the wonderful, amazing point when you can start breastfeeding your baby, whether you are making a significant amount of milk, barely drops, or no milk at all. A good way to ensure that you can breastfeed as much as possible even if you might not be producing sufficient milk for your baby is to use an at-breast supplementer. And, as in Step 2, including pharmaceutical or herbal medications, can help some mothers make more milk. Some mothers will continue to pump or hand express after or between breastfeeding in order to stimulate more milk production.
Is induced lactation adequate?
How much milk a mother can produce through induced lactation varies from woman to woman and even baby to baby. There is no way to know ahead of time how much milk you will be able to provide for your baby, especially when you first begin expressing milk. It is important to keep in mind that even small amounts of your milk, tailor-made for your baby, will be of benefit.
The fact that exclusivity may not be achieved does not make the effort a waste of time. Even without exclusivity, it’s “a way to bond and nurture as well provide nutrition and immunological protection.” On this last point, at least one study has shown the composition of breast milk, whether induced or produced naturally, though at ten days postpartum, is the same.
WATCH: Breastfeeding your adopted baby
Need Help? Don’t fret!
When in doubt, please refer to a lactation consultant, who can offer you more personalised advice according to you and your baby’s situation.
theAsianparent also has a Singapore Breastfeeding Mums Support Group that you can join for mum-to-mum advice.