The Pros and Cons of Induced Lactation

Read about the pros and cons of induced lactation.

Induced lactation is the formation of lactation in a woman who hasn’t recently given birth. It is a go-to for adoptive mothers who want to nurse their new baby instead of relying on formula feedings. Induced lactation is possible because the hormones that control lactation come through the pituitary gland and not the ovaries, so your gynecological history doesn’t help or hinder the prospect. If you are in good health, have the time, money, and patience to endure the process, you should be able to nurse even if you haven’t given birth recently.

Why induce lactation?

Many mothers who adopt or foster infants find that breastfeeding them is a way to increase the intensity of bonding in addition to all the benefits that breastfeeding an infant provide anyway. Being able to nurse your infant can give you increased freedom as milk is always on tap, and can benefit your baby’s health and social well being.

There are many ways to induce lactation and they all come with their own sets of pros and cons so it’s important to research each one before going to your doctor so you’ll know what direction you want to take. Even though you will be the one dealing with most of the treatment plan to induce lactation it is advised to have a frank conversation with your partner about the steps you’ll be taking and how much effort you’ll need from them before beginning.

Whatever route you choose it could take several months to establish a supply so as soon as you decide to adopt a baby it is good to start working on inducing lactation. Even starting early you may have to supplement with formula for a while so set realistic expectations.

Induction through stimulation of the breasts

The body makes milk based on demand, so using a breast pump is a great way to stimulate your body to make milk. In the beginning, you may find it helpful to pump whenever a baby would feed to get your body in the routine of making enough milk. This can mean pumping 8-12 times a day in the beginning and even then building up an adequate amount of milk per feeding may feel like slow going. Remember that stress can affect your milk production so try to relax and be patient with the progress you are making. Any milk you produce is proof of concept and means your body can make milk, even if it’s just a little bit.

Many mothers use a supplemental nursing system (SNS) during the time they are still trying to establish enough of a supply to fully nurse their new baby. A supplemental nursing system allows your baby to latch on and eat while you’re still using a formula to supplement your milk supply. It is said to help avoid nipple confusion, and also enhance your skin to skin bond with baby while they are eating.

Induction through hormonal cocktails

Some women choose to take an additional step to add in hormones that simulate pregnancy in the body. While this method is sometimes faster than a just simulation of the nipples alone, it can still take a few months. It is also noteworthy that the hormone supplements may suppress lactation at first so it’s best to not go this route if you’ve already begun lactation and are nursing the baby.

Be aware that the symptoms of pregnancy can show up when you’re taking the various hormones that you will need for this process. Nausea, weight gain, the growth and increased sensitivity of your breasts are all normal side effects and may be tolerable or intolerable depending on your other health concerns, your lifestyle routines, and your stress levels.

Are there any drawbacks?

While the benefits of breastfeeding and the increased bonding are excellent reasons to try to induce lactation there are many situations in which it may not be as easy or even a good idea.

If the child is older than 4 months old, the process may take longer and the baby may not be as interested or able to nurse, especially if they have been bottle fed up until now, they may not have the strength in their suckle to pull milk from the breast. A good alternative here could be an SNS to simulate nursing when your own milk isn’t enough.

If the child didn’t breastfeed at birth or has not been on the breast for at least 2 months, there can be a learning curve for both of you that may become frustrating. Feelings of inadequacy for new mothers are normal across the board, but adding in the sometimes very difficult task of tricking the body into lactating may add more anxiety, stress, and contribute to depression.

During the time you are taking hormones to induce lactation you may experience, pain, anxiety, mood swings, and other symptoms that make life more stressful for you and your partner. When your family supports you but doesn’t fully understand your goals and the process it can lead to resentful feelings or even confusion and anger if they see you having a rough time but don’t understand why it is important to continue.

No matter what protocol you choose to pursue it is going to take an excessive amount of time that you may find hard to justify when still adjusting to a new baby and all the changes that come with that. Make sure you fully understand the commitment before you start or you may find out that you just don’t have enough schedule flexibility to make it happen and you may feel feelings of failure if you’re forced to give up.

Technology and our understanding of the human body increase daily and you may find a protocol that works with your body, schedule, and family needs. Whatever you decide, be confident in your decision and try to keep a positive attitude. Remember that you’re doing your very best and that whatever choice you make will be right for your family.

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