Can a mother who wasn’t pregnant and didn’t give birth to her baby still breastfeed? Believe it or not, it’s possible through a process called induced lactation.
Breastfeeding your adopted baby or surrogate baby is an option that will require endless dedication and hard work. But it may very well also be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do, making it all worthwhile.
It’s important to realise that breastfeeding is not just about the breast milk. It’s also about emotional comfort for baby, the health and well-being of both mom and baby, and bonding between mom and baby. Mothers who opt for adoption or surrogacy have often walked a very long and painful road. Breastfeeding can bring healing and a sense of closure over all the other things that you lost.
There is a whole spectrum of options between exclusively breastfeeding from the breast, and not breastfeeding at all. Finding the option that works best for you and your baby is the ultimate goal.
Factors influencing your body’s ability to produce milk
There are many things influencing how successfully your body will be able to produce breast milk.
- First and foremost, how much time is left before baby’s birth. If a mother starts preparing at least 6 months before her baby arrives, she may be able to produce between 50 and 100% of the milk that her baby requires. If she has less time at hand, she can still produce between 25 and 50% of the milk.
- Most mothers will produce milk more easily if they have been pregnant and have breastfed before.
- Certain female medical conditions like an underactive thyroid or polycystic ovarian syndrome can reduce your production, as can certain medication.
- Previous surgery to your breasts may reduce your capacity.
- You will definitely benefit from seeing an experienced lactation consultant to help you on this journey.
- You will also need a prescription from a doctor for the medication that you would need to take. Many doctors are not up to date on these treatment protocols and you may struggle to find what you need. Usually lactation consultants have doctors that they work with. Alternatively ask your doctor to read the protocols of Dr Jack Newman which explains exactly what you will need and why.
Step 1: Preparing your breasts for breastfeeding
Usually pregnancy hormones help to prepare your breasts for producing milk. The placenta produces large amounts of oestrogen and progesterone which develops the milk glands and ducts. The body also makes prolactin, a milk producing hormone.
After delivery of the placenta, the oestrogen and progesterone levels drop suddenly and prolactin levels increase.
When bringing on a milk supply the first step is to copy this hormonal rise and drop through the use of medication. A doctor will prescribe an oral contraceptive that contains both oestrogen and progesterone, which you will take until 6 weeks before baby’s birth, skipping the placebo pills every month. At the same time, you will need to take Domperidone, an anti-nausea drug that increases prolactin levels.
Some doctors are worried about prescribing hormonal treatment. Remember that the hormone levels in these medications are not nearly as high as it is during pregnancy. If there are medical reasons why you should not take oestrogen the protocol makes provision for progesterone-only alternatives, although these are not as effective.
You will need to stop the oral contraceptive 6 weeks before baby is born, and simply continue with the Domperidone. This mimics the birth and the delivery of the placenta, with the subsequent drop in oestrogen and progesterone levels. It is now time for step 2 of the process.
Step 2: Stimulate your milk supply
You now need to start expressing breastmilk, every 3 hours during the day and at least once or twice at night. This will mimic baby drinking from the breast, and if all goes well, a milk supply will ‘come in.’ This can happen anything within a few days to 2-3 weeks into the process.
Any milk produced will start with a few clear drops, which will become more as time goes along. You will need a good quality breast pump to give you the best chance at successful expressing.
When you start pumping you can start taking the herbs Blessed Thistle and Fenugreek. The latter has some side-effects, so discuss the use with your doctor or lactation consultant first. Be sure to eat lots of oatmeal (which many mothers believe helps) and to drink enough fluids.
Step 3: Establishing breastfeeding
From here onwards the process will be much the same as for any other baby. Baby needs to latch and suck on the breast, and to feed on demand. Be sure to do lots of skin-to-skin contact as this will boost your hormone levels and your milk supply. Until your supply is well established it would be a good idea to still express for 10-15 minutes after a feed for extra stimulation.
Find a lactation consultant for this part of the process as you will need to monitor your milk supply and your baby’s intake to ensure he or she is getting enough milk.
Lastly, remember that each drop is worth gold, so whether you are supplying enough to fulfil all baby’s needs, or simply a bottle or two a day, you will deserve a golden medal!
Christine Klynhans is a nursing sister and South African Certified Lactation Consultant (SACLC). She currently works at Parentwood Baby and Family Wellness Centre in Pretoria as a well-baby clinic sister and antenatal teacher. She also has a breastfeeding practice and a Breast Pump Demo Centre. She is passionate about supporting parents on the journey of pregnancy, breastfeeding and the early childhood years. Learn more about Christine Klynhans.