Chrissy’s Story: My Experience With Induced Lactation
Chrissy Fleishman, Maryland
Even though I did not carry or birth my child, I decided to induce lactation in order to breastfeed him. Yes it’s possible, and more and more people are doing it! Parents through surrogacy and adoption, as well as co-parents and transfeminine individuals, are seeing the benefit of breastfeeding a child they may not have birthed.
Many people have a misconception that to induce lactation you have to pump your body full of artificial hormones or that the milk isn’t the “same” or as good. That isn’t the case at all. There are several protocols you can follow, or you can create your own, but at most the only hormone you would take is a typical birth control pill for a short period before you are even producing milk or breastfeeding. The only known difference to the milk is that colostrum is produced from the placenta, so without birthing you would produce “first milk” (which is often thick and yellow) instead of colostrum in the beginning. Otherwise, once your baby is here and you are nursing, they communicate with your body and you make the perfect milk for your baby, just like birthing parents.
The first reason I wanted to embark on this journey was as a way to bond with a child I did not birth. Most people can see and understand the amazing bond that breastfeeding can provide in any family, but for someone in my situation it was even more of a desire. I was born without a uterus or cervix, a condition called MRKH that affects roughly 1 in 4,500 women and does not yet have a known cause. I was diagnosed as a teenager since I had not yet started my menstrual cycle. So I knew from a young age I would need to become a parent through an alternative path. For us that was using a gestational carrier with my husband and my genetic embryo.
Parents that breastfeed have a lower risk for breast and other cancers, and breastfeeding may lower the risk of postpartum depression (PPD) (yes, you can have PPD even without birthing). I also saw from friends and family around me how breastfeeding could be an essential parenting tool, a literal cry-cure all from infancy through weaning and I was interested in having that style of parenting.
I followed the very common Newman Goldfarb Protocol, which was medications for five months, followed by nine weeks of pumping every two hours around the clock before he was born. That sounds like a lot of work—and it was—but I treated it like my own pregnancy, which often comes with sacrifices and inconveniences. Thankfully my employer was supportive as I had to pump three to four times at work each day. I was so excited when I pumped for the first time and got drops, and by the time my son was born I was producing up to 11 ounces a day.
The first latch after his birth was magical for me and, I think, for all of us in the room, but even more so for my son. We had our fair share of nursing challenges early on, including a tongue tie, flat nipples, nipple shield, and supplementing (most people who have never birthed and induce lactation produce 25-75% of their child’s nutritional needs, but it’s common for parents to need to supplement some) but we continued on and nursed until he was three years old.
What I didn’t plan for or even know was possible was the incredible healing effect that breastfeeding had for me. In the past I had felt that my body had failed me not being able to grow a child inside of me, but with breastfeeding I was able to help him grow outside of me, but still from my body. It was empowering and incredibly healing.
Editor’s Note: Chrissy has also shared her story on a podcast hosted by Alyssa Schnell, author of Breastfeeding Without Birthing. You can listen to Chrissy’s story in episodes 13 and 41. The podcast, Breastfeeding Outside of the Box, talks about inducing lactation as well as many other atypical nursing relationships.
You can listen to the podcast and find more information about induced lactation and relactation on Alyssa’s blog at sweetpeabreastfeeding.com/index.html.
The relationships between postpartum depression and breastfeeding: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22978082.
The Risks of Not Breastfeeding for Mothers and Infants: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2812877/.
Please send your story ideas to Amy at [email protected].
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