Many people are unaware that it is actually relatively easy to induce lactation, even if you are not pregnant. People induce lactation for a number of reasons, including to breastfeed adopted infants, to breastfeed children born extremely prematurely, and simply if the body’s natural lactation doesn’t kick in.
There are a few different ways to induce lactation, some of which use traditional methods which have been used for thousands of years, and others of which use modern techniques, such as hormonal therapy, to induce lactation. Both have their pros and cons, and deciding which method to induce lactation by is something only the new mother can decide.
For thousands of years women have induced lactation in order to feed adopted children, or the children of other mothers who for whatever reason could not feed their own children. The term wet nurse is often used to describe a woman who looks after another woman’s child, and also breastfeeds them. Although often a wet nurse was a woman who had recently given birth herself, and so was already lactating, some wet nurses would induce lactation to breastfeed a child.
During a pregnancy, a woman’s body undergoes many hormonal changes. A number of these hormones, most notably progesterone, estrogen, and prolactin, all increase fairly drastically. One result of this hormonal increase is the swelling of the breasts, and an increase in the actual size of the breasts’ ducts. After giving birth, both the estrogen and progesterone hormones begin to decrease, while the prolactin continues to increase. This new imbalance causes natural lactation.
The generation of prolactin can be stimulated without pregnancy, however, simply by stimulating the nipples regularly. The most common way to induce lactation traditionally was simply to allow an infant to nurse. Although milk would not initially be generated, over time lactation will begin. Since infants can become very frustrated if they are continually trying to feed and there is no milk, many people begin to induce lactation using a breast pump initially. After the generation of milk has begun, then they will switch over to the infant.
The drug domperidone is also sometimes used as a chemical method to induce lactation. Domperidone stops dopamine from being produced as readily, and dopamine in turn prevents the production of prolactin. So taking domperidone increases the amount of prolactin produced, which in turn can induce lactation. Some people undergo an even more intense chemical process, by strategically using birth control pills to fool the body into thinking it is pregnant. Although this may be effective, there is the very real danger of side-effects, and a doctor should be consulted before attempting anything using pharmaceuticals to try to induce lactation.
Some herbs are also recommended to help increase the volume and flow of milk. Blessed thistle, fenugreek, and red raspberry leaf are all thought to help with milk production, although no extensive trials have been done to prove this clinically.
At its most basic, the principle of inducing lactation is simple: if there is a demand for milk, milk will be supplied. In fact, there are even cases of some men lactating after taking drugs that increase the levels of prolactin in the body, and there is some evidence that extended nipple stimulation in men.
What Are the Side Effects of Inducing Lactation?
Lactation-inducing drugs such as Domperidone successfully trigger milk production by activating a complex interaction between lactogen, estrogen, and progesterone. However, like most medications, the lactation-inducing drugs may trigger some side effects in mothers who take them.
These side effects rarely occur and are not severe since they disappear after a while when they surface.
In most cases, women may only experience sore nipples due to the increased amount of milk in their breasts caused by the hormone therapy inducing lactation. Nonetheless, in some cases, they may experience other side effects of the treatment, such as mild headaches that go away when their doses are reduced, dry mouth, and cramps in the abdominal area.
The side effects are reactions to the hormonal changes triggered by the lactation therapies.
There are no reported side effects of lactation induction to the baby consuming the produced milk. The milk is as authentic as naturally produced milk as it contains similar nutrients. While small doses of the lactation-inducing medication may find their way into the milk, it is not enough to affect the child or trigger any adverse effects.
What Factors Can Inhibit Lactation?
Most mothers start lactating as a natural response to giving birth. As the placenta is delivered, they experience hormonal changes that induce milk production and physiological changes that favor breastfeeding. In most cases, the breasts become sensitive, tough, and warm due to these changes.
However, in some instances, new mothers may fail to lactate, thus necessitating induction of the process. Various factors interfere with breastmilk production, ranging from physiological issues to lifestyle choices.
If you experience problems lactating, you should understand these factors to take appropriate steps to induce breast milk production. Some factors that may inhibit lactation and reduce or delay breast milk production include:
Physiological and Psychological Conditions
Health, your body's condition, and your state of mind tremendously affect breast milk production. Untreated medical conditions, exhaustion, and stress may inhibit lactation since the body may not have enough energy to focus on milk production. Other physiological conditions such as obesity and hormonal imbalance may also inhibit lactation.
What you ingest has a direct effect on breast milk production. Meals with excessive herbs and spices are linked to lactation inhibition. Similarly, you may experience reduced breast milk production if you do not drink enough fluids during the day.
Some prescription drugs are known to inhibit milk production. For instance, lactation suppressing medicines and birth control pills may interfere with your hormonal balance and curb breast milk production. Therefore, always consult a physician before taking any prescription drugs while breastfeeding.
Some lifestyle choices you make during pregnancy and after childbirth may inhibit lactation. Typically, indulgences such as caffeine consumption, smoking cigarettes, and drinking alcohol may lead to hormonal imbalances and physiological changes that inhibit lactation.
If you experience problems lactating, consult your health practitioner to ascertain the cause and make the necessary adjustments.
How To Boost Milk Production
Apart from inducing lactation, new mothers can boost milk production in various ways. If you are experiencing reduced milk production, here are a few steps to take and ensure your infant is appropriately fed.
- Breastfeed constantly: Breast milk production works on the concept of supply and demand. Therefore, milk production depends on the frequency of breastfeeding. Ensure you don’t skip a breastfeeding session to boost your milk production.
- Use prescription drugs cautiously: Some medications have components that interfere with hormonal balance and inhibit milk production. Therefore, consult your doctor before taking any prescription drug when breastfeeding.
- Quit drinking and smoking: Alcohol and nicotine intake decreases milk production. Therefore, you can boost lactation tremendously by avoiding the substances.
What Diet Should I Take During Lactation?
Watching your diet is essential during lactation since it determines the quantity and quality of milk produced. What you eat determines the nutrients your baby intakes, which generally affects their health and growth. New mothers should know about breastfeeding nutrition.
The main focus of lactating mothers’ diets should be foods that boost milk production. Your diet should comprise protein-rich foods. Animal proteins such as lean meat and seafood and plant proteins such as lentils, peas, and beans are excellent sources of these needed nutrients to increase milk production. It is also essential to take a glass of water regularly and after each breastfeeding session to maintain milk production.
Similarly, you should boost your calorie intake to ensure you have enough energy for milk production. You can get the extra calories from whole foods such as whole-grain pasta, cheese, nuts, and full-fat yogurt.
You should also ensure that your baby gets all the necessary nutrients by incorporating vitamins into your diet. Take fruits and vegetables in every meal. You may also supplement your intake by taking multivitamins and mineral supplements. These nutrients produce quality breastmilk to build your infant's immune system.