As we celebrate the diversity of family structures, it’s essential to recognize and embrace the unique experiences that individuals and couples go through during the postpartum period. If you were assigned female at birth and are having a baby, but aren’t the pregnant one, you may be interested in learning more about induced lactation. This is the process of having your body produce milk without being pregnant.
So, whether you’re embarking on this journey yourself or supporting a loved one, let’s explore the nuances of chest feeding.
Understanding Chest Feeding
To start, let’s address the term “chest feeding.” This inclusive phrase acknowledges that not all individuals who feed their babies identify as women, as breastfeeding traditionally implies. Chest feeding is a more encompassing term that respects the diverse identities of non-birthing parents.
It’s a celebration of the bond formed between parent and child, regardless of gender. Because of biology, only people who are assigned female at birth are able to pursue lactation.
The Emotional Landscape:
Embarking on the chest feeding journey can be an emotional roller coaster. For non-birthing parents, it’s an opportunity to foster a unique connection with their little one.
The intimacy of chest feeding goes beyond just providing nourishment—it’s a chance to hold, comfort, and build an unbreakable bond.
However, it’s crucial to acknowledge the potential emotional challenges. Society often places significant expectations on birthing parents, and non-birthing parents may face their own set of pressures.
Questions like “Am I doing this right?” or “Will I bond with my baby as strongly?” might surface.
The key here is to approach these feelings with patience, understanding, and a healthy dose of self-compassion.
Creating a Supportive Environment:
Support is paramount during the chest feeding journey. As a non-birthing parent, having a strong support system can make a world of difference.
This support can come from your partner, family, friends, or even online communities where you can connect with others sharing similar experiences.
Encourage open communication with your partner. Discuss your feelings, fears, and aspirations.
Creating a safe space for dialogue allows both partners to navigate this uncharted territory together.
Remember, you’re a team, and your shared commitment to your child’s well-being is what truly matters.
Starting the Induction Process
Now, let’s get into some of the nitty gritty for non-birthing parents engaging in chest feeding. Remember, every journey is unique, so adapt these suggestions to your individual circumstances with the guidance of your health care provider.
A body prepares for lactation during pregnancy and after birth when the placenta attaches, the body goes through a cascade of hormones that allow for milk production. For someone who is not pregnant, you may still be able to induce lactation. The best way to get started on this is with your primary care provider or knowledgeable medical provider.
An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) paired with an OB-GYN or Primary Care Physician with specialty in this area is your best bet. Inducing lactation involves nipple stimulation (with a breast pump) and sometimes medication.
If you have lactated before, then usually nipple stimulation is sufficient in order to induce lactation (Wahlert, 2013). There are several medications that can help and depending on your health history and the country you live, will affect what medication you could use.
Here’s what you can expect:
You will need to hand express or use a pump every 2-3 hours nearly around the clock. Here’s a good video on how to hand express.
For ease and efficiency, a pump is a good idea. This is how often a newborn feeds and you need to mimic that.
Providers will typically have you start taking an oral birth control, skipping the weeks that don’t have the hormones, when you would get your period.
The idea of this is that you will do this for a few months and then once you stop it will mimic some of the hormone changes that happen after birth.
It’s likely your provider will prescribe a medication like Domperidone, Metoclopramide, Sulpiride, Chlorpromazine, or Thyrotropin Releasing Hormone (TRH) (Bryant, 2006).
These medications have side effects and it is best to discuss your options with your provider based on your own medical history and the country you live in.
Knowledge is power. Equip yourself with information about chest feeding, including proper latch techniques, feeding positions, and potential challenges.
The more you understand, the more confident you’ll feel.
Embrace the power of skin-to-skin contact. This not only promotes bonding but also stimulates milk production. Get comfortable, snuggle up with your baby, and let the magic unfold.
Having nipple stimulation is an essential part of inducing lactation. Invest in a good-quality breast pump and establish a pumping routine that suits your lifestyle. Wearable pumps don’t typically provide a good enough suction power, so we would recommend going with a Spectra or Medela pump.
Chest feeding can be physically demanding, so prioritize self-care. Stay hydrated, nourished, and well-rested. You need to have calories and sufficient hydration in order to make milk. Listen to your body and take breaks when needed. A well-cared-for parent is better equipped to care for their little one.
The Importance of Flexibility
Flexibility is the unsung hero of the chest feeding journey. Plans may change, challenges may arise, and that’s perfectly okay. Non-birthing parents might not experience the same physiological changes as birthing parents, but the emotional and logistical adjustments are equally significant.
Be open to adapting your approach based on your baby’s needs and your own well-being. If direct chest feeding poses challenges, consider alternative feeding methods while maintaining the skin-to-skin connection. Inducing lactation doesn’t usually lead to a full milk supply, but it doesn’t mean that you aren’t able to nurse at all. Flexibility allows you to navigate this journey with resilience and grace.
Every chest feeding milestone is a triumph deserving of celebration. From the first latch to the successful establishment of a feeding routine, take the time to acknowledge and savor these moments. Document your journey through photos, journal entries, or whatever feels right for you. These milestones are not just about feeding; they mark the growth of your unique parent-child relationship.
As we conclude this exploration of chest feeding as the non-birthing parent, let’s embrace the beauty of diversity within family dynamics. The chest feeding journey is an opportunity for profound connection, personal growth, and shared joy. Approach it with an open heart, seek support when needed, and remember that your journey is uniquely yours.
To all the non-birthing parents embarking on this adventure, you are seen, you are valued, and you are an integral part of your child’s story. May your chest feeding journey be filled with love, understanding, and the magic of shared moments. Happy feeding!
Bryant, Cathay A. Nursing the Adopted Infant. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, July 2006, 9 (4) 374-379; DOI: 10.3122/jabfm.19.4.374
Schnell A. Successful Co-Lactation by a Queer Couple: A Case Study. J Hum Lact. 2022 Nov;38(4):644-650. doi: 10.1177/08903344221108733. Epub 2022 Jul 6. PMID: 35795891.
Wahlert, Lance and Fiester, Autumn. Induced Lactation for the Nongestating Mother in a Lesbian Couple. AMA Journal of Ethics. Sep 2013. https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/induced-lactation-nongestating-mother-lesbian-couple/2013-09