Induced Lactation

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What is induced lactation?

Induced lactation is when a mother who has never had her own biological children stimulates lactation in her breasts.  The term is also used when a mother, who is not currently breastfeeding, adopts a child and goes on to nurse the infant (adoptive breastfeeding).  It is different than relactation, which occurs when a mother’s milk supply is stimulated to nurse a baby she gave birth to but has been weaned.

How do you induce lactation?

There are many techniques that women use to help induce lactation, however the most important is frequent and effective breast stimulation (and milk removal once milk begins to flow).  Many women around the world have effectively induced lactation solely by regularly nursing a baby and/or through pumping/hand expression.1 Conversely, no amount of additional tools (galactagogues, hormonal stimulation, skin-to-skin, etc.) will effectively induce a milk supply without this first step.

Strategies for inducing milk supply

  1. Breast stimulation on both sides for at least 100+ minutes every 24 hours.  A woman may start with shorter sessions, say 5 minutes or so, and build up to expressing 15-20 on each side 8-12 times a day, including at least once at night.  The more frequently the breasts are stimulated, the quicker the milk supply will build. A newborn eats approximately every 2 hours, 10-12 times per day so expressing this often would be ideal.
  2. It is not essential to express on both sides at once, though this is a great way to save time.
  3. The milk ejection reflex can be trained so thinking of your baby, nursing or pumping in the same place, listening to relaxing music, hearing a baby cry, etc. can help to stimulate it.  Conversely, stress can inhibit hormones involved with milk ejection.
  4. If you already have your baby, and if he is willing to nurse at the breast, try nursing with an at-breast tube feeding device. This allows your milk supply to be stimulated by your child rather than pumping or hand expressing to stimulate your supply.  It reduces a step because while you are “pumping” you are also feeding your baby.  As you begin to develop a milk supply you can reduce the amount supplemented in the tube feeding device.  It is important to make sure your baby has a good latch in order to effectively stimulate your milk supply.
  5. When nursing at the breast (and at other times throughout the day and night as well) make sure to spend time skin-to-skin with your baby.  There are many tremendous benefits for both mother and baby, but this time together will help you bond and help maximize a mother’s breastfeeding hormones.
  6. Taking pharmacological and/or herbal galactagogues while expressing/breastfeeding can increase breast milk supply.  Domperidone is generally considered the safest pharmacological option and fenugreek and blessed thistle are common herbal options.  Eating oatmeal several times a week or even daily may also increase milk supply.
  7. Acupuncture may also increase a mother’s milk supply through enhancing the secretion of the hormone prolactin, which is necessary for milk production.2
  8. Having a support system around you cannot be overestimated!  Having family and friends that can support and encourage you as well as getting involved in a local mother-to-mother breastfeeding support group are essential.  There will be challenges you face with adoptive breastfeeding.  Having others to encourage you and share their experiences will help you tremendously.

If you have several months before getting your baby

If you are in the process of adopting but will have to wait weeks to months, there are medications you can take that mimic pregnancy hormones in your body.  By taking an oral birth control pill with estrogen and progesterone, and skipping the week of “sugar pills” each month, your body’s hormones will mimic those in pregnancy.

In addition to the oral birth control pill, a mother would take Domperidone which is used in lactation to increase breast milk supply.  After at least 30 days on this protocol, but longer (6 months) if possible, a mother would stop the birth control pill and begin pumping or breastfeeding.  She could also take Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle – 2 herbal galactagogues known to help increase milk supply.  Please read here for further details on how to implement the Newman Goldfarb Protocols for Induced Lactation.  Though the treatment protocols for inducing lactation have not been tested in clinical trials, women from around the world have successful adoptive breastfeeding stories by using these strategies.

There are many challenges that adoptive breastfeeding mothers may face.  Arming yourself with knowledge is half of the battle!

You may also be interested in reading adoptive breastfeeding and how to encourage your adopted baby to latch.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Auerbach, K.G. & Avery, J.L. (1979) Nursing the adopted infant: Report from a survey. Denver, CO:  Resources in Human Nurturing International. As cited in Core Curriculum for Lactation Consultant Practice, 3rd ed.
  2. Jenner, C. & Filshie, J. (2002) Galactorrhoea following acupuncture.  Acupuncture in Medicine, 20, 107-108.
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