Induced Lactation: What Is It?


Breastfeeding is for all mamas. Whether you’re planning to adopt a little one, want to share the breastfeeding experience with your partner or are using a surrogate, you might be surprised to learn that you can still breastfeed.


It happens through a process called induced lactation, which simply means giving your body cues that signal milk production. And although induced lactation takes some support and planning, it is possible.


What Is Induced Lactation?


Induced lactation is the production of breastmilk without being pregnant. The process involves “stimulating” your body to make breast milk through various signals.


According to the Mayo Clinic, breast milk is typically triggered by the presence of estrogen, progesterone and lactogen within your body. This occurs during the last few months of your pregnancy to help prepare for your baby. At the delivery of the baby, the levels of estrogen and progesterone fall rapidly, allowing prolactin to increase which jumpstarts your milk.


Induced lactation means replicating this process, so your body understands it’s time to produce breast milk. It’s important to note that all mamas experience induced lactation differently. While some may produce enough milk to fully feed their babies, others may need to supplement with formula. 


Remember: any amount of breast milk is great for your baby. Whether you only make a few drops at a time or a few ounces, this liquid gold goes a long way.


Reasons for Induced Lactation


There are many reasons why mamas might choose to induce lactation. Most commonly, non-gestational parents induce lactation to prepare for the birth of their adopted babies or those being born through surrogacy. Other times, mamas wish to share the caregiving role with their partners, so both can enjoy the breastfeeding experience.


Breastfeeding is a great way to help you and your baby form a secure attachment to one another. This is especially important for moms who are non-gestational parents. It’s also a great next step for moms struggling through the pain of previous loss or infertility.


Breast milk, in any amount, also offers a wide range of health benefits for your baby and for mom. For example, breastfed babies typically have stronger immune systems and lower rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  Mothers who breastfeed experience a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancers and less osteoporosis with age. 


What Triggers Lactation?


As we mentioned earlier, lactation is typically triggered by the release of estrogen, progesterone and lactogen hormones within your body during the final weeks of pregnancy. After your baby is born, breast milk is triggered through the suckling of your baby or pumping.


Breast milk is then produced based on supply and demand. The more your baby drinks or the more milk you pump, the more milk your body will be signaled to make. This means that you’ll need to allow your baby to feed often from the breast or pump often to ensure you have enough supply.


How Is Breast Milk Made?


According to WIC, breast milk is made inside of the alveoli or grape-like clusters that hold milk inside your breasts. After it’s made, the milk is then sent through your milk ducts which carry the milk through your breast towards the nipple.


When your baby suckles at your breast or when you pump, your brain receives a signal that it’s “go time.” Oxytocin and prolactin are released, which then signals the alveoli to make milk. The oxytocin signals the muscles inside your breast to squeeze out the milk through the ducts to release it, a process known as letdown.


How to Induce Lactation


The process of inducing lactation will differ between moms. For example, some moms may choose to try and induce lactation on their own, while others may choose to reach out to a doctor for support through medication. So, while each path is different, the steps to inducing lactation are similar.


1. Signaling the Breasts to Make Milk


You’ll need to prepare your breasts for making milk. As this is done during pregnancy, you’ll need to take steps to prepare manually. According to Alyssa Schnell, a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, this is about growing the breast tissue necessary for lactation. 


To achieve this, most consultants or doctors will recommend hormone therapy to simulate pregnancy. Of course, this is optional. Be sure to reach out to your doctor before trying any kind of hormone treatment.


2. Making & Storing Milk Before the Birth of Your Baby


This step involves building a milk supply before the birth of your baby. According to Alyssa, it can take approximately a month to prepare your breasts through hormone therapy. In some cases, it can take longer. 


This is why you’ll want to start this process months ahead of time. As soon as you notice your first few drops of milk, you’ll want to start pumping frequently to stimulate milk production. You can then store the milk you pump inside storage bags and place it into your freezer for later use.


3. Establishing Milk Supply With Your Baby


Congratulations! Your sweet bundle is finally here! You can now introduce the breast and allow your baby to breastfeed. Most new babies will eat every 2-3 hours or 8-12 times a day. Once you establish breastfeeding with your new baby, which generally takes about four weeks, you can then introduce a bottle if you wish and start using that freezer stash of milk.


What to Know Before Breastfeeding Without Birthing


Breastfeeding without birthing is more than possible, mama. And we know you’ll make the best decision for you and your baby. To help ensure you’re as informed as possible, here are a few key things to know before getting started.


1. Reach Out for Support


The best first step is speaking to your doctor, OB/GYN or a lactation consultant about your desire to induce lactation. They’ll be able to lead you towards the best course of action to take, whether that means hormone therapy or something else. 


You’ll also need support during your breastfeeding journey, so getting established now will ensure you have encouragement when you need it most.


2. Plan Far in Advance of Your Baby’s Due Date


You’ll want to start the induction process months ahead of your baby’s due date. While some moms may be able to induce lactation quickly, others may require weeks or months to complete the process. Give yourself ample time, so you can start building a supply before baby comes.


3. Watch for Symptoms of Low Milk Supply


After your baby is born and you begin breastfeeding, you’ll want to watch out for symptoms of low milk supply from your baby. For example, your baby might be fussy after feeding or may only be producing a couple of wet diapers a day. If you believe your supply is low, it’s best to reach out to your baby’s doctor to determine your next steps.


4. Consider Other Options


Are you concerned about the lactation induction process? Have you tried to induce lactation without success? Don’t fret. There are other options. For example, you could consider using a supplemental nursing system. These tools allow you to supplement formula or extra breast milk using a tube attached to the breast.


Supplemental nursing systems allow you to bond with your baby in the same way as breastfeeding, without the need to make breast milk. This is also a great option for your partner.


5. Stay Patient & Positive


Inducing lactation is a process that will take time. Just because you’ve been trying for a couple of weeks doesn’t mean it’s not going to work. Stay patient, keep trying and don’t forget to reach out for support. There might be additional steps you can take to make your breastfeeding dream a reality.


You’ll Need a Breast Pump, Mom.


For the best induced lactation experience, you’ll need a breast pump. And since your hands will be full, why not try a hands-free wearable breast pump? Check out the Willow pump today.


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