Induced lactation is the practice of helping a woman who has not been pregnant produce milk. One of the most common reasons someone may want to do this is so that they can breastfeed an adoptive baby or baby born by gestational carrier (also known as a surrogate).
The most important thing to know about induced lactation is that it is important to set realistic goals. It would be ideal for a new mother to be able to develop a full milk supply to nourish her baby, but sometimes this is not possible. However, being able to supply any milk at all should be considered a success. Also, breastfeeding is more than just milk. The simple act of encouraging mother/infant bonding through the act of nursing and the physical closeness it achieves should be considered the main goal of induced lactation.
How a woman goes about inducing lactation depends on how much time she has to prepare. In a perfect world, a mother would have nine months to prepare her body to produce milk as this mimics the time a pregnant woman has to prepare her breasts and body for feeding a newborn. This may be possible in the case of a gestational carrier, but rarely do adoptive parents have this much time to plan ahead.
The good news is that different methods of preparing for nursing exist for women who have more time and women who have less. Protocols exist that try to mimic the hormone fluctuations that pregnant women experience that causes milk to be produced after a baby is born.
Only two things are required for successful breastfeeding: breasts and a functional pituitary gland that produces the hormones needed for breastfeeding. The medications and techniques used to induce lactation work on both of these.
Women who choose to use medications do what is known as a hormonal preparation. They will often use a combination of birth control pills and galactagogues (also known as drugs used to increase milk supply) to trick the body into a pregnancy-like state, followed by stopping the medications and beginning to pump as a way to simulate the hormonal conditions of giving birth.
The longer a woman has to do a hormonal prep often means the more successful she may be at producing a full milk supply, but remember that any milk is often better than none. Some of the most well-known protocols for these types of protocols exist on this website, which is the work of Drs. Jack Newman and Lenore Goldfarb.
Some women may not choose to use any hormonal medications (or may not be able to) and instead rely only on pumping and galactagogues to help stimulate milk production. These women may not produce as much milk, but they are able to reap the emotional benefits of breastfeeding.
It is important that any woman who plans to induce lactation talks to her doctor and her baby’s doctor first. A lactation consultant should also be involved. This will allow for appropriate counseling and screening, and the setting of realistic goals. Since many of these mothers may not have a full milk supply, it is important to plan ahead for supplementation whether that be by donor milk or formula, always keeping in mind that the goal is a healthy baby and a healthy mother-infant bond.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, March 2020
- Induced lactation is the practice of helping a woman who has not been pregnant produce milk.
- Women adopting a baby or having a baby via gestational carrier may want to do this.
- Different protocols exist to help a woman’s body prepare to make milk.
- A full milk supply may not always be possible.