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If you’re a parent, you’ll no doubt have seen various posts on social media, parenting forums, and news channels about Breastfeeding Awareness Week. The aim of the week is to remind us of the science-backed benefits of natural breastfeeding.
But what if you didn’t carry your child yourself, and are unable to breastfeed? What if you had your baby via surrogacy or adoption? What if you’re a two-Dad family?
We’re willing to bet the messaging of Breastfeeding Awareness week has left you with a mixture of emotions - perhaps including confusion, exclusion, or even helplessness in the face of a decision you’re not biologically able to make yourself.
Breastfeeding after a surrogate birth
If you’ve conceived your baby via a surrogate, you may be able to have a discussion with your surrogate about ongoing breastfeeding. Some surrogates are prepared to breastfeed for a certain amount of time after the birth.
The main point of consideration for this situation is bonding. As the intended parent/parents, you’ll want to bond with your baby in as close and natural a way as “traditional” families do. You might not be comfortable with the idea of a surrogate being part of your baby’s life on an ongoing basis, and in such an intimate role.
In this instance, you might prefer to discuss non-direct breastfeeding, where your surrogate donates her milk in bottles. If your surrogate isn’t prepared to feed or donate, you can also look into donor milk banks.
Alternatively, with a lot of dedication and preparation if you’re female you may be able to induce lactation to breast feed yourself. You can find out more about the science behind it here. If this is something you hope to achieve and you have months to prepare, please let your healthcare provider know and you may be prescribed hormone therapy to prepare the breasts for producing milk. If you don’t have months to prepare, don’t worry as hormone therapy isn’t essential. Around two months before you expect to start breastfeeding, you are likely to stop the hormone therapy and start pumping with a hospital-grade electric pump. The process is encouraged with the use of breast pumps to drain the breasts, encouraging the production of new milk. When the baby arrives, milk production will naturally increase, and you can breastfeed just like any “traditional” parent.
Naturally, formula is always an option - see our ‘What are the solutions?’ section for more on integrating formula into your feeding routine.
Breastfeeding for lesbian couples
Within two-Mum couples, one partner may choose to carry the baby in a “conventional” pregnancy, for example via sperm donation. In this case, breastfeeding will be a natural option.
But when deciding which partner should carry the baby (if you are able to choose), the focus of your discussions should take into account the bodily implications following the pregnancy as well as during. Will the carrying partner want to breastfeed? How long do you both wish for the baby to breastfeed for? And how will the non-carrying partner support the other if she decides not to breastfeed after birth, or has difficulties with lactation or latching? Or like intended parents for children born through gestational surrogacy, the non-carrying partner could opt to induce lactation to help with breastfeeding.
Breast milk for male couples and adopted babies
Of course, the situation is very different for male gay couples, and for couples who adopt. But feeding your baby with breast milk is possible via a donor. This might be something you discuss with your surrogate, if you used one. If you adopt, or if your surrogate isn’t prepared to breastfeed, you can look into donor milk.
You can also reproduce many of the benefits of breastfeeding by using skin-to-skin contact while bottle feeding.
Adopting mothers can also look into induced feeding as above.
Breastfeeding after donor egg conception
When we use donor eggs in conceiving a baby, the baby might not biologically be ours. But he or she will be ours in every other sense of the word. As you will be going through a pregnancy just like any traditionally conceiving couple, you’ll have the option to breastfeed your little one, if you choose to do so.
Breastfeeding is an amazing way to bond with your baby even if you don’t share genetics. It can create an unbreakable and everlasting bond. Remember though - you should never feel pressured to breastfeed. It’s every parent’s right to choose, even if they’re biologically able to feed “naturally”.
So what are the solutions?
Fortunately, there are several options non-traditional families can explore in the early days of caring for their new baby.
Formula. The obvious alternative to breast milk that’s used by many traditional and non-traditional families, formula is a proven, totally acceptable way to feed your baby if you’re unable to breastfeed. We may often hear ‘breast is best’, but fed is better!
Combination feeding. This is where you’ll use both breastmilk and formula. Also a popular option for parents who conceived conventionally, adding formula to your feeding routine can be especially helpful for those struggling to produce enough milk, or to get the baby to latch.
Paced feeding. Paced feeding mimics the way a baby would feed if breastfeeding. It involves holding the baby more upright, keeping the bottle horizontal rather than vertical, maintaining skin-to-skin contact, and watching your baby for visual cues. Essentially, the goal is to slow down your baby’s consumption, encouraging them to set their own pace and drink in a naturally responsive way.
Induced feeding. Usually, a combination of hormone therapy and hospital-grade breast pumps can help non-carrying mothers produce milk for their baby. You can start preparing for this as soon as your baby is conceived, and for most milk production begins within 6-8 weeks of beginning the process so you may wish to factor this in to your planning.
Whichever route you choose, you can still replicate some of the most important benefits of breastfeeding, by:
Although non-traditional families sometimes deal with stigma and prejudice, the breastfeeding debate is something all parents face.
Same sex parents and those who conceived conventionally face equal judgement from opinionated people if they choose not to breastfeed. It’s an unfortunate part of life, but it’s something that all parents are in together.
There will always be someone ready to criticise your parenting decisions - all that matters is you do what’s best for your baby while protecting your own mental and physical wellbeing.
If you’ve gone through the journey to bring your child into the world through donors, surrogacy, or IVF, you’ve already done everything in your power to plan and provide for your children. Remember: Breast may be best, but fed is better.