There were a few physical things that I really desired when we were trying to have a baby. I really wanted to be pregnant, go through labor and delivery and exclusively breastfeed. When we couldn’t conceive I had to process through never being able to experience those. The first two are out of the questions, unless a miracle happens. Exclusively breast feeding is probably impossible but I knew breast feeding at all might not be a total loss. From my CLC training I knew that adoptive moms could possibly induce lactation. What did that mean and how the heck could I get there? Well that was what I was going to find out.
I love, LOVE the realm of breast feeding and so I really wanted to try. However after so many failures in infertility treatment, I didn’t know if my heart could handle another physical failure. After months of processing through our infertility and inability to conceive, I realized I can’t let my pride get in the way. I have to at least attempt this. I knew after we got our baby I would regret it if I never even tried.
Emotionally, I entered this differently than with infertility treatment. I was almost positive we would get pregnant. I was about 95% sure I wouldn’t be able to produce a drop of breastmilk. I told myself I would pump for 6 months and then if there was nothing, well I gave it my best and knew there was nothing else I could do.
I did lots of research and found a super helpful website called Ask Lenore. This was where I found the bulk of my information and this is actually the protocol I ended up using (her accelerated protocol.) I wanted to make sure it was okay under a doctor and it was really important for me to find a professional who had actually helped someone do this before! I did NOT want to be the expert. I met with my physician. She had no experience and couldn’t recommend someone to help. I talked to my ob/gyn. He also had never helped anyone and didn’t know any guidance. However he suggested I speak to the lactation consultant at Atrium. I had already talked to another one who offered some tips and had helped someone relactate but not actually induce lactation. At this point I was feeling frustrated and just wanted a doctor to tell me if the medicine I wanted to take was safe! I called my trusty old fertility doctor. He had actually helped someone who went through surrogacy induce lactation! She used the medication I wanted to use but she was in a different country and he didn’t know if it worked. Still- he had some inkling and could give me the info for the medication. Sold! I then met with the lactation consultant who was AMAZING!! She had done this a handful of times and used the exact same protocol I was looking at! She was a huge help and I really appreciated her.
From then on, I got my medications and started getting everything in line. It took me longer than I thought to do everything (see above) so it was the end of December by the time I was ready. The protocols have you take birth control (active pills only) and another medication for a while then you stop the birth control (to simulate labor’s quick change in hormones) and begin pumping! I was wishfully thinking for a baby in the spring so would only be able to be on the bcp/ med for about 6 weeks. I know the accelerated protocol gives less milk but I knew it may take a while to bring in a supply and I didn’t want to wait to start until we got a baby.
So after those 6 weeks I started pumping. I was pumping 8-10 times a day for 5-15 minutes a time. I was pumping at 3am, 5am and 7am and then every 2-4 hours in the day; usually twice at work and as much as i could in the evenings. In the last couple months before my baby was born when I could have been sleeping through the night I set alarms for the middle of the night. The only thing worse than waking up in the night is actually setting ALARMS! It was hard. I was so sleepy. My pumping schedule dictated my life. I pumped in the car, at friends houses, at work, just about everywhere I went.
I had my realistic expectations but was also growing hopeful. As luck would have it I started producing drops only FOUR days after I started! I couldn’t believe it! I started tearing up out of joy. And it was actually the morning after we got matched the first time- how perfect was that? It was emotionally harder than I thought it would be to pump and get absolutely nothing so I was thrilled when I got drops. It made me even more motivated– this might actually be possible!!
The first couple weeks I barely produced. Drops here, a little in the bottle there. But slowly and surely I started making more. By the end of the month I was making about 1/4 of an ounce every other day (all pumps combined for 2 days.) Not much, but enough to freeze for my baby to be!!
Then, we got the call our match fell through. I was devastated. We got the call at about 6pm. I didn’t pump all that evening and couldn’t bring myself to pump that night. I thought to myself “What for?”
But that next morning, I got out my pump. It was a huge act of faith for me to continue… to trust even though this match didn’t work out we would actually get a baby sometime- and sometime soon! And I didn’t want to throw away all my hard work just because I was so disappointed. Good thing I didn’t! Our little one was born on on Sunday and we found out about him
I continued to pump in the hospital although it was hard to tear myself away from my little man to go to the pumping rooms. The crazy thing is- my pumping almost quadrupled once he was here! I was only pumping about 3-4 ml per day before. The first time I held him and pumped I got 10 ml! In one time! Breast feeding is so amazing. You make more milk once your body knows there is a baby you need to feed. Incredible.
Since he wasn’t officially ours for the first 3 days in the hospital they had fed him formula with bottles. He wanted to suck constantly so the pacifier was his best friend. After his birthparents signed the papers, we got to feed him the first bottle of my pumped milk!! It was so amazing. We also got to switch him to donor milk! Yay for having exclusive breastmilk for a month! I tried to latch him on but after just a few days he was already such a bottle baby. I used a supplemental nursing system a few times and the SNS with a nipple shield. He would take that sometimes but it was such a hassle and he would often go from completely asleep to starving so he would be screaming for 10 minutes while I set it up. Not great. And a few times he would seem like he was eating but just have milk going all down the back of his shirt. Being in an open room in the hospital wasn’t great for trying either because I would either have to get screens up (and find them!) or ask a nurse to go into this one private room (if it was available.) My original dreams were to feed him at breast then give him a bottle to finish eating. It didn’t look like that would happen so I changed my goals! I decided once we came home I would try at breast a little more and best case scenario he could snack or comfort nurse. We came home and I tried a handful of times. He didn’t have a great latch and I never even knew if he was getting much. Sometimes it would make him madder- I’m assuming because he would get just a little and he wanted more! I changed my goals again and said if he is ever at breast- amazing- but I aim to pump for 6 months so he can keep getting fresh breastmilk (and re-evaluate then!)
I began working hard on my supply (upped my meds a bit and power pumped a few times) and by about 3 months I was making 2-3 ounces a day! I was feeding him a 4-5 ounce bottle of my breastmilk every other day.
When he was 4-5 months, I was making 3-4 ounces a day! He was getting a 4 ounce bottle of my milk daily! Such a blessing! Since my most recent goal was pumping until 6 months, at 5 months I thought through if I wanted to stop. There were definite perks to stop pumping – the biggest being the 1.5-2 hours a day I would free up. However I just wasn’t comfortable with it. I didn’t feel ready. I LOVE feeding him a bottle of my milk and know it has huge benefits even if it’s just a little bit. So I said I would go throughout the calendar year! Nine months seemed like a great stopping point for me.
I started weaning down my medication and pumping sessions the last couple weeks of November. My supply dropped rapidly and emotionally I was getting ready to be done. I ended up pumping for 9.25 months and giving my baby breastmilk for a little more than 8 months! Stopping is definitely bittersweet. I’m looking forward to not having to pump throughout the day but am a little sad to be done giving my baby my milk. But overall? I’m thrilled. I never knew if I would produce a single drop much less give him milk for 8 months!!
No it wasn’t the exclusive breastfeeding, the beautiful at breast relationship or extended term breastfeeding I had originally hoped for. But for us? It was a gift. I’m so beyond grateful I got to experience this with my son.
Interested in inducing lactation yourself? Here are some tips and things I found useful:) Hope it helps!
Practical Things You Need:
- An IBCLC to partner with, support you and help you. Call your local hospital.
- Medication needed for your protocol if you go that route. A doctor who will monitor you and answer questions as needed.
- A good, double electric breast pump. You can often rent them from hospitals. I rented one and also borrowed one from a friend to be portable. The borrowed one seemed to bring in more milk for me and so I returned the hospital grade one.
- Pumpin pals! SO much more comfortable than the ones that come with pumps.
- Freezer bags or small colostrum bottles to freeze milk if you get some before your baby comes.
- Nursing bras or tanks and breast pads. I loved these cloth ones! Also it’s nice to have nipple cream on hand. I used this.
The Other Important Things to Know in Order to Succeed:
- Be patient. It could take a LONG time. And pumping with absolutely no result is kind of demoralizing. Hang in there. Know it could be a long road.
- Know inducing lactation is really hard work. It takes a lot of drive to stay with the protocols.
- Continually reframe your idea of success if necessary. Don’t be afraid of failure. Of goals changing. Of screwing up and falling behind for a bit. Of uncomfortable looks from people. If your baby latches on once or you can give your baby one drop of your fresh breastmilk that is a HUGE success. If you decide to stop- that’s ok!
If you’ve made it to the end, I salute you! Thanks for reading my story!!