Yes, it is possible to produce breast milk without ever being pregnant or delivering a baby! If you are considering inducing lactation, talk with your healthcare provider and a lactation consultant about what the journey will look like for you. The process is hormonally driven, and therefore is possible in most post-pubescent people (even those who are biologically male).
Hormones are fascinating and complex, and integral to nearly all of our bodily processes. To begin understanding their role in lactation, let’s start at the beginning.
How does lactation happen?
Lactation is a biological process that begins naturally during pregnancy, when hormonal changes signal your body to begin making milk in preparation for birth. Inducing lactation involves using hormone therapy and/or
medications to stimulate and replicate this hormonal process. Once established, lactation continues as long as milk continues to be removed from the breast. This needs to be done under the care of a physician, and ideally, a lactation consultant. To learn more about how breast milk is made, watch our TikTok here.
How long does inducing lactation take?
This is highly individual. Depending how far ahead you plan, hormone therapy may be introduced first, followed by other medications and regular stimulation. If you have only a short time to prepare, hormone therapy may not be an option, but you may be able to initiate production through medications and stimulation after 4 weeks or so.
What is involved?
1) Hormone Therapy– if time allows, your healthcare provider might prescribe supplemental estrogen or progesterone to mimic the effects of pregnancy.
2) Galactogogues– These are herbs or medications that aid in milk production by interacting with dopamine receptors, and thereby increasing prolactin levels. Prolactin is the hormone responsible for milk production.
3) Stimulation– Pumping with a hospital-grade electric breast pump is imperative to encourage prolactin production and release. It typically takes 4-8 weeks to begin producing milk.
4) Diet & Hydration– Eat a healthy diet with plenty of calories to support milk production, and remember that hydration is key! Human milk is primarily water.
5) Avoid taking unnecessary medications, drugs, nicotine, or alcohol. These substances not only might transfer into your milk, they can cause a reduction in supply.
Special note about domperidone. If you’ve researched induced lactation, you’ve probably heard something about this drug. Although research has shown domperidone to be effective for improving milk supply, it has also been shown to be associated with cardiac arrhythmias and cardiac arrest in some patients. Due to the potential for these serious side effects, it is not approved by the FDA for breastfeeding purposes and is not prescribed in the United States.
Will I be able to produce a full supply?
Production level will depend on personal factors as well as the amount of time you have to dedicate to the effort. When you begin breastfeeding/chestfeeding the baby, you may need to continue pumping to help establish and maintain your supply. Supplementation with donor milk or formula might also be needed. It is important to work with a lactation consultant to identify factors that can impact milk production, such as certain medical conditions, past surgeries, use of drugs or alcohol, or trauma to the breasts or nipples. Your lactation consultant will help you determine how to maximize your milk production and increase your chances of establishing breastfeeding.
Remember, the breastfeeding/chestfeeding journey looks different for everyone, and there may be factors that cause hiccups or difficulties along the way. It is not always an easy road, even once established. Struggling is very common, but if this is something you want to do, lean on your support system and trusted resources to help guide you through. We are here to support you every step of the way, and wherever your journey takes you. Just reach out to start the conversation.