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 may cause very minor lactation.