Embracing Inclusivity: Your Guide to Induced Lactation for All Families

by Brood

 

Welcome to the world of induced lactation, where the magic of nurturing and feeding your little one is not limited by physiology alone! Whether you’re an adoptive parent, a member of a  2SLGBTQIA+ family, or simply looking to share the feeding journey with your partner, induced lactation opens up a world of possibilities. Infant feeding does not look the same for every family, so we’re diving into the ins and outs of inducing lactation while ensuring that everyone feels seen and supported on their unique journey to parenthood. No matter your circumstances, there’s a path to nursing and feeding your baby – that’s right for you.

I realized how important it is to support families wanting to induce lactation, after I had clients come to me asking if I could help them because they couldn’t find anyone else. As someone who was able to provide milk to both her children, it broke my heart to learn that some families were having a hard time finding someone to support and guide them. It reminded me of when I first became a parent and was struggling needing the right support from the right person.

Human milk is a powerful food and every family that wants to provide it to their baby should have that option (check out our guide to navigating the world formula, should you be looking for other options!) no matter how their baby comes into this world. This is why more families should know that inducing lactation might be an option for them! 

Understanding Induced Lactation

So, what exactly is induced lactation? Simply put, it’s the process of stimulating milk production in someone who has not given birth. This can be achieved through a combination of hormonal therapy, medications, herbal supplements, chest stimulation, a little time, dedication and patience. This is often accomplished working with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, or IBCLC for short. 

An IBCLC is a healthcare professional who specializes in lactation and infant feeding. Earning this credential generally takes a few years it requires health science courses, lactation education and then hours of clinical practice working with nursing families. After all that, you then have to pass a globally administered board exam. It takes a lot of dedication and because of this, an IBCLC is the most knowledgeable person to support you at any stage of your lactation journey. 

How does it work?

The key to induced lactation lies in mimicking the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and childbirth. During pregnancy, levels of estrogen and progesterone rise and are maintained at these elevated levels until birth. After your baby is born, the amazing organ that was keeping them alive, the placenta, is born. It’s at this point that estrogen and progesterone levels start to fall and the milk making hormone, called prolactin, starts to increase to tell the body “the baby is here, let’s make more milk!”  

When someone is inducing lactation, herbal supplements, medications and/or hormonal therapies such as birth control pills can be used to mimic these changes. These are also combined with regular chest stimulation through pumping or nursing (depending on your goals and circumstances). The timing of all of these options depends on your baby’s arrival as well as your health history and your lactation goals. 

Tips for success, from hormones to pumping

When it comes to inducing lactation, consistency is key. Depending on how soon you need/want to be lactating, the different therapies mentioned above can be combined and made into a customized plan for your needs. Hormones or medications may not always need to be included in your inducing lactation plan. 

A very important factor in inducing lactation is regular pumping (click here for a personal essay about a parent who exclusively pumped for her baby). You need to establish a pumping schedule and stick to it as best you can, it will likely need to be adapted based on your life and work. Pumping should begin very gradually for short periods of time before increasing frequency and duration to mimic a newborn’s feeding pattern – this will likely be demanding, and require additional support from your community. For example, pumping throughout the night and day, will mean that having support at work (to have breaks to pump) and at night (due to potential sleep deprivation).

Why it’s essential to chat with healthcare pros.

If you can, don’t embark on your induced lactation journey alone! Consult with a healthcare provider who is knowledgeable about lactation and hormone therapy to ensure you’re taking the safest and most effective approach for your body. And how do you know if they’re knowledgeable? Ask them! Ask your doctor or primary care provider if they’ve ever supported patients with inducing lactation before or if they can recommend a colleague. You can also do a good old fashioned internet search for providers who work with families looking to induce lactation.

An IBCLC who understands the nuances of inducing lactation, and can be a valuable member of your healthcare team – while guiding you through the entire process including supporting your feeding relationship once your baby is here. 

Special considerations and challenges

While induced lactation is possible for many, it’s important to acknowledge that the journey may come with its own set of challenges. From hormonal fluctuations to logistical hurdles, to finding the right care team, navigating the road to induced lactation requires patience, perseverance, and a willingness to adapt.

For example, you may have a healthcare provider unfamiliar with inducing lactation and not willing to prescribe specific medications.This may mean a change in approach is needed. Or maybe you are a soon-to-be adoptive parent and don’t know when your baby will arrive so you’re not sure when to begin inducing lactation. 

Tailoring your approach to your unique needs

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to induced lactation because every person, their circumstances and their goals are different. Sometimes it means experimenting with different techniques or using different medications and supplements. And for others, it will mean changing or adding more support systems. It’s important to spend some time prenatally (if you have it) to find what works best for you and your family. Remember, every journey is unique, and there’s no right or wrong way to go about it.

How healthcare providers and doulas can offer the support you deserve

Lean on your primary healthcare provider as well as your lactation consultant and consider enlisting the support of doula. This combination of professionals can offer invaluable guidance, support, and encouragement as you navigate the ups and downs of your lactation journey. They can support you in finding the right providers and in doing some of the research to get there.

Having a postpartum doula to support you once your baby arrives can also make that transition into parenthood easier, and they can support you in your feeding journey, as well as with things like sleep, home tidying and upkeep and baby care.

The following groups and families will likely require additional support and guidance from their immediate and extended circle of care. Everyone deserves to parent the way they want to, and remember we are always here to answer any questions you may have and offer extra resources.

Queer and Trans Families

Induced lactation is a game-changer for queer and trans families, offering a way for non-birthing parents to participate in the feeding journey. There are options available to help you nourish your little one with human milk, and you deserve to be supported in this! Seeking providers and guidance from your community who are queer and trans competent is crucial for a supportive and understanding journey. Having gender-affirming healthcare can address the unique barriers trans and gender non-conforming parents face, such as navigating HRT and gender affirming procedures (such as top surgery) that may impact lactation. Accessing knowledgeable and empathetic professionals who understand these complexities is essential in overcoming hurdles and achieving your feeding goals – we know that learning in community is a key pillar of 2SLGBTQIA+ experiences, so don’t forget to reach out to local parents for support, guidance, and validation.

Families Using Surrogates

For families using surrogates, induced lactation offers a way for intended parents to bond with their baby from the very beginning. By inducing lactation, non-birthing parents can experience the joys of nursing and create a special connection with their little one.

Inducing lactation with a surrogate involves careful coordination and communication because the goal would be to have the intended parent lactating prior to their baby’s birth. From establishing a pumping schedule to arranging for milk transport (if needed) to transitioning to nursing, there are many logistical considerations to take into account. However, with some patience and lots of support, induced lactation can be a very rewarding experience. 

The Benefits of Induced Lactation:

One of the most beautiful aspects of induced lactation is the opportunity to bond with your baby through nursing/providing them your milk. This is of course just one of the many ways you can bond with your baby. Whether you’re bottle-feeding your expressed milk or nursing, these moments of closeness and connection are precious.

Having your baby at the chest is not only an opportunity to nurse but also an opportunity to be skin-to-skin together. Skin-to-skin contact releases the “love hormone” oxytocin, which helps bonding but it also regulates their breathing, temperature and heart rate. It’s an amazing opportunity for either parent but when a baby is with their lactating parent, this further supports the process of lactation.

While induced lactation is a wonderful way to share the feeding journey with your partner or surrogate, it’s important to address the emotional aspects of shared lactation. Discuss expectations, boundaries, and concerns openly and honestly to ensure that everyone feels respected and supported throughout the process.

Induced lactation opens up a world of possibilities for families of all shapes and sizes. Whether you’re an adoptive parent, a member of a 2SLGBTQIA+ family, or a parent using a surrogate, there’s a path to feed your baby, that’s right for you. With patience, perseverance, and support, you can embark on this beautiful journey of nurturing and bonding with your little one, one drop of milk at a time.

ABOUT THE CO – AUTHOR: 

Alex Wachelka is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and mother of two. She is the founder of Motherhood Blooms Lactation, a private practice in Ontario, Canada dedicated to helping new parents feel seen, heard and validated while helping them reach their infant feeding goals. She provides care with a non-judgmental, evidence-based and holistic approach. With the birth of her first child and her own challenges nursing for the first time, she found her passion for lactation support and education. She is dedicated to ensuring you feel well supported and confident in how you choose to feed your baby!

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