Induced Lactation and Relactation
Are you an adoptive parent looking to nurse your child? Are you a parent who wishes to co-nurse with your partner? Do you wish to breastfeed your baby born via gestational surrogate? Are you a breastfeeding mom who weaned and would like to get baby back to the breast? It is possible to nurse your child whether or not you birthed them. It is also possible to nurse whether you have breastfed before or not.
Induced lactation is defined as breastfeeding without pregnancy.
Relactation is defined as the process of resuming breastfeeding after a period of no breastfeeding or very little breastfeeding.
It is possible to establish milk production for an adopted baby or baby born via gestational surrogate, even if you have never been pregnant or given birth. The amount of milk you may produce depends on many factors. Most people are able to produce at least a little milk. You might be able to induce lactation (start to produce milk), and then build up your milk supply by putting your baby to your breast often and/or expressing frequently.
Some adoptive and non-gestational parents stimulate milk production by using a breast pump every 2-3 hours, before the baby comes. It can take anything from a few days to a few weeks to start to produce drops of milk. The more stimulation your breasts get, the more milk you will produce. If you produce any milk before your baby comes you can store it to use later.
Even if your baby does not breastfeed, you can still hold them for all their feedings (and lots of holding in between!) and foster the same kind of attachment that nurturing through breastfeeding brings.
Some parents find they can produce enough milk to be able to give up donor milk or formula supplements completely. While there is no guarantee that you will be able to meet all of your baby’s needs, you can maximize the amount of human milk your baby has. Any amount of breastmilk is beneficial. Even if you haven’t managed to cut out supplements totally by the time your baby is over six months old, solid foods can gradually start to replace any donor milk/formula supplements.
Many adoptive and other non-gestational parents use the Newman-Goldfarb protocol to stimulate their milk supply or connect with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) for a personalized plan.
A simple plan outlined by Alyssa Schnell, IBCLC goes as follows:
Step 1: Preparing the Breasts for Lactation
This step mimics the hormonal and breast changes that occur during pregnancy. This step is not about making milk; it is about growing and developing the glandular breast tissue in preparation for making milk. Many parents will take hormone therapy for a period of time to achieve this. However, this step is optional.
Step 2: Starting to Make Milk Before Baby Arrives
Milk is often produced very, very slowly when lactation is induced compared with the sudden increase in milk supply between days 3-5 following birth. In order to have a milk supply by the time baby arrives, parents will often start the process of growing their milk production several weeks or months before. The main component of Step 2 for many parents is frequent pumping. Ideally, parents will express their milk as frequently as a baby nurses—just like for birthing parents, frequent breast drainage “places the order” for healthy milk production. Parents can store any milk they produce for use when baby arrives.
Step 3: Feeding Baby and Continuing to Grow Milk Production
This is the big payoff! Baby is here and the parent can begin feeding baby their milk. This step generally involves putting baby to breast.
Not every parent’s protocol will use all three steps. Each parent’s needs and circumstances determine which steps will be appropriate for them. For most parents with adequate information and support, milk production begins within 6-8 weeks of beginning the process of inducing lactation.
Read more at Breastfeeding Without Giving Birth, Alyssa Schnell, IBCLC for LLLI.
Relactation- Trying Again
Leaders often hear from families who tried to breastfeed initially but stopped for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, breastfeeding seemed too hard or painful, and formula was seen as an easier option. Other times, there may have been a medical emergency that led to unintentional weaning. Or perhaps you are adopting a child after birthing and nursing your own children prior. For all these situations, relactation may be attempted.
Relactation requires time, patience, determination, and a cooperative baby! Whether you stopped breastfeeding due a medical procedure, separation from baby, or simply bad advice, many families find they can rebuild a milk supply very successfully.
Sometimes, relactation produces enough breastmilk to supply all of baby’s needs. Other times, supplementation may still be needed. The following strategies for relactation and induced lactation to stimulate milk production:
- Putting baby to breast to suck at each feeding and for comfort between feedings as often as possible.
- Using hand expression or a breast pump.
- Using a nursing supplementer to provide expressed milk at the breast while baby sucks at the breast.
- Taking herbs/medication that increase milk supply. If you do use herbs or medications to increase your supply, be sure to consult a lactation-focused health care professional about your specific medical history as well as your breastfeeding goals.
Using a Nursing Supplementer
If your baby needs a supplement of expressed milk or formula you might want to consider using a nursing supplementer. Doing this can give your baby that extra milk while they are nursing. Supplementers can help parents have an at-breast or at-chest relationship with their baby whether or not they are able to produce milk. Supplementers may also be called by the brandnames Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) or Lact-Aid Nursing Training System. There are also many low cost, do-it-yourself options that are just as effective.
Read about a transgender dad’s experience of using a supplementer here.
Read a mother’s story about the long term use of a supplementer here.
Some transgender and non-binary parents use milk banks to acquire human milk for their babies. LLL USA fully supports the use of human milk for babies; we cannot facilitate or set up milk sharing networks, though your local LLL Leader can help you with contact information for non-profit human milk banks, other regulated collection centers, and peer-to-peer milk sharing networks.
Read more about Milk Sharing.
Breastfeeding Without Giving Birth, Alyssa Schnell, IBCLC for LLLI
Breastfeeding Without Birthing, Breastfeeding Outside the Box
Breastfeeding with a Lactation Aid, LLL USA blog
Chrissy’s Story: My Experience With Induced Lactation, LLL USA blog
My Relactation Story, LLLI blog
Looking Back: Sisters (An Adoptive Nursing Story), LLL USA blog
IS YOUR CONCERN OR QUESTION NOT COVERED HERE?
Please contact a local LLL Leader with your specific questions.
Medical questions and legal questions should be directed to appropriate health care and legal professionals.
Page updated January 2020
Resource partially adapted from LLLI materials.