I dedicate this blog post to my tribal sisters, the wonderful women who long to be held and suckled.
I hope this information also helps to impart a greater understanding to the wonderful gentlemen who pursue our softness and makes the effort required to induce lactation better understood, supported and appreciated. It aint easy guys!
One of the first questions a woman is asked, by both men and women, if she is on an ABF/ANR affiliated website or blog, is “Are you lactating?”
Other women want to know so they can compare notes and find golden nuggets of wisdom regarding pumps, herbs, foods or share anecdotal escapades they have experienced. Women need each other, they need to not feel alone, their sisterhood brings strength. Support is vital to get through the inevitable challenging times on this ABF/ANR lifestyle journey.
Men that are suffering from breast milk fever desire to know so their imagination can bask in your milky goodness as they eternally hold hope of hearing your pumps as you visit and dream of the day they will latch and suckle at your breast.
Now all women’s breasts are worthy of fondling, suckling and being adored regardless of their size, shape, age or wet vs dry. A woman who is not lactating is definitely not less of a woman, in fact there are times on my journey when I felt they chose a more rational position, waiting for their partner to be physically present and share in their lactation accomplishment if desired and pursued. They also appreciate the amount of time and money tied to tricking their biology into producing milk. Milk does not come cheap! However they are just as deeply connected and committed to their desire to have an ABF/ANR relationship and cherish the bond created. They don’t want their partner to miss out on the feeling of accomplishment, kind of like winning the three legged race at the county fair. “We’ve got this babe!”
As always I hope to give an insider’s perspective by sharing my personal experience and my understanding of the nuts and bolts. I am a woman whose identity is directly associated with lactation. It is part of my essence.
This information is not intended to be medical advice and is intended for entertainment purposes only. You should consult with your medical provider if you choose to induce lactation. (Yes this is a disclaimer.)
Lactation is an essential function of anatomy for survival and occurs naturally by changes created during pregnancy and the hormone changes that occur after birth. Inducing lactation without pregnancy and birth is possible and not tied directly to a woman’s reproductive system but instead occurs in the pituitary gland located in the brain. A woman can produce milk without a uterus or ovaries. She may have never given birth and may have never breastfed a baby. The study of inducing lactation and increasing milk supply has evolved due to women’s desires to breast feed adopted babies and the need to have enough milk to sustain a baby for naturally born infants. The majority of information I am sharing has been around for hundreds of years. Modern health care providers continue to add to our understanding of the lactation process.
Inducing lactation by tricking nature’s biology begins by stimulating the nipples, someone out there needs to be fed, this sends a signal to the pituitary gland in the brain to release the hormone prolactin. Prolactin is the hormone that tells the breasts to make milk. Stimulation should last at least 15 minutes, 20 minutes are recommended, on each breast for the best result. After 15 minutes the pituitary gland turns off its reception to the stimulation. A 10 minute break is required to allow the pituitary gland to become receptive to stimulation again; this is what power pumping is about and why it helps increase prolactin. Pump for 20, wait for 10, pump for 10. So the first step is to create prolactin. The more prolactin the more milk.
There is a second hormone involved in the process of lactation. Oxytocin is an essential part and directly connected to the emotional aspects of lactation. It is responsible for the letdown reflex that squeezes the round muscle tissue in the breast and forces the milk into the ducts. Without oxytocin you will not be able to get all of the milk expressed. Massage is helpful in the process, releasing milk into the ducts and stimulating oxytocin. Lactation needs to be a positive experience and something you look forward to doing if you are going to have a successful outcome. You need to have your head and heart in the game to succeed.
Once milk is being produced the second part of the process comes into play. Milk needs to be removed from the breasts to send the signal to make more milk. Supply and demand, no demand, no supply.
At this point I am sure you are beginning to see that lactation is a time demanding around the clock process and we haven’t even talked about diet and supplements, you can appreciate commitment is required. So, onto the first step.
Nipple stimulation can occur several ways. The most effective way is suckling. After all, that is what babies do, a lot, they suckle at the breast frequently and around the clock. As babies grow they need more milk and they suckle more frequently. Stimulation is a language the body understands and responds to. If you are in an ABF/ANR relationship or have a suckle buddy, your partner will enjoy suckling to stimulate the nipples to elevate prolactin levels, however, stimulation needs to occur at regular, consistent times and intervals during the day, most effective is every three hours which averages to 7 times a day. The nipples and pituitary gland will create a biological clock that constantly needs winding to keep the rhythm and production of prolactin working. Realistically this schedule creates its own challenges and that is why and where other methods to stimulate the nipples have been incorporated to meet the demands when inducing and maintaining lactation. “I love you babe, but I need to go to work.”
Next best option is hand expressing/stimulating. No batteries required and it is skin to skin. Learning to hand express is a skill you will need to practice to get the best results. I advise all women to become comfortable with hand expressing, it is there for you in a pinch and eventually you will find a time when you will be glad you know how. I prefer hand expressing over pumping, however it is challenging to maintain for 15 minutes. I find short periods of stimulation can help with prolactin stimulation but also find it gives comfort and relief to breasts that want or need some attention and you may not be in a situation where you are able to suckle or pump. Hand expressing is the same if inducing or lactating. The difference lies in if there is a need to get milk out. Remember demand directly affects supply. A quick trip into a public restroom is all that is needed to spend some time hand expressing. I relied on this while waiting for a flight in the airport. I carry a milk catch in my purse for these times; anything capable of holding liquid will work to express your milk into. I love Rose’s shared experience of expressing into a glass and giving it to her gentleman friend at the restaurant once finished. Way to go Rose!!
The next option for nipple stimulation is pumps. A hot topic in the ABF/ANR community. Let’s not forget the nuts and bolts. The purpose of a pump is to stimulate the breasts during induction and get milk out during lactation. When you are inducing it is best to use a pump that has a stimulation or massage setting. There is not milk to remove at this point and stimulation is needed to increase prolactin levels. Breast tissue is sensitive and needs to be handled gently, especially in the beginning as the tissue becomes accustomed to the demands. Just like learning to play a guitar in the beginning your fingertips become very sore until they build up tolerance to the strings. Nipple butter is essential and highly recommended to use prior to pumping to reduce any friction and after suckling to prevent dryness and cracking. Start slow and increase suction as needed. Pump choices vary widely and different types and models are available for different needs. I prefer a portable pump with long battery life, massage options and strong suction when needed. I will not take the time now to review pumps, flanges, nipple sizes, portable versus stationary or which phone app for my pump I prefer, but please talk with some of the very experienced women here for input and advice. The right pump is out there for you.
The last option for nipple stimulation I have used is a TENS unit. Although it is absolutely delightful to use it is my least favorite due to the possibility of health risks. While inducing women are willing to go to the extent of electrical stimulation of their nipples to bring about the long desired increase of prolactin for lactation, I no longer use a TENS unit and advise anyone who does to proceed carefully and exercise caution. TENS units use very low electrical current to stimulate muscle contraction. They are used frequently by physical therapists to aid in recovery from injuries. While widely used and applauded, their application with induction is not their intended use. All of my TENS units came with warnings not to apply to the chest, why, because the current has the ability to affect the heart rhythm. Multiple women here have shared that they experienced irregular heart rhythms and were diagnosed with V-fib after TENS use. I did some looking around and read an article where a cardiologist was consulted about using a TENS unit on the nipples for stimulation to induce lactation he advised a unit that has identified polarity was essential for the safest outcome. The lead wires coming from the unit need to be marked by color if they are positive or negative. When attaching the electrodes you need to place the negative red lead to the inside of the breast and the positive lead to the outside of the breast. This does not remove all risk but is the only recommended safest use I could find. Another hazard can be burns. After a friend experienced an episode of arcing with her pads she had burn marks on her breasts where her pads had been placed. After searching google I found multiple instances of people experiencing burns with TENS unit use. Although TENS does feel delightful and on multiple occasions relaxed me to the point I fell asleep, they do provide ease of use, are silent and discreet, but I no longer support their use.
Onto the next step to support lactation. What you eat. Several foods have been reported over the centuries to aid in production of milk and support volume. The term commonly use is galactagogues. The key focus is to increase your plant source protein and general good nutrition. The most reported and incorporated foods are usually found in protein powder blends that usually contain herbs for breast feeding mothers. I recommend when starting out that you first try single foods and single herbs to see what may be helping but especially to be able to tell if you are having an adverse reaction or decrease in your milk supply or lactation efforts to be able to identify what herb or food is causing the problem. Almonds, oatmeal, flaxseed and brewer’s yeast are the most commonly reported galactagogue foods and the main ingredients used in smoothies or lactation treats. I boost my smoothies by adding fruit, yogurt and chia seeds.
Herbs are another approach used to aid in induction and lactation. The following list is the most common herbs but as mentioned above it is always best to try herbs one at a time for at least a week before adding an additional herb.
Shatavari is adaptogenic meaning it will balance hormones by increasing or decreasing their levels to meet the body’s needs. It is a core herb in ayurvedic health care and routinely used in para-menopausal and post- menopausal women. It is known to increase prolactin levels and increase mammary gland growth. It also is a diuretic.
Moringa is nutrient dense, high in protein and all vitamins to support your energy level. It is known to boost prolactin levels within days of taking it, one study showed a milk supply increase as high as 176%. It also is reported to aid in reducing blood pressure.
Milk Thistle is most known for helping the liver. The liver is involved in hormone regulation and beneficial in people that have high estrogen levels.
Blessed Thistle is found frequently in herbal blends promoting lactation. While recommended by lactation specialists I could not find any scientific studies to support its use. It is reported to help balance hormones, enrich milk and increase milk flow.
Goat’s Rue is reported to increase your ability to store more milk in your breasts. It is helpful for people that do not have much breast glandular tissue and takes about 2-3 weeks to notice a difference.
Alfalfa is known to increase the signal to your pituitary gland to release prolactin. It will also boost the quality of your milk and increase its fat content.
Fennel seed is most commonly known as an herb to aid in digestion. Its most powerful action is reported to be as a dopamine receptor antagonist. This is the same action the medication Domperidone is used for to increase lactation. Dopamine can block the production and action of prolactin. When the dopamine action is blocked by fennel seed then you may have an increase in prolactin and your milk production. Fennel is also reported to aid in milk letdown.
Fenugreek is commonly found in lactation blends. Its effectiveness is controversial at best. Fenugreek has been reported to reduce volume by many women and is not recommended to be used during induction and at least two weeks after full lactation.
Water is essential in lactation. Breast milk is mostly water. It is recommended to drink 16 oz 30 minutes prior to nursing or pumping and 8 oz after. Keep this in mind if you are struggling with volume.
I hope this information helps you along your journey as well as encourages you to reach out for support when needed. We are blessed to be together in such an active community. I wish all of you peace, joy and fingers crossed the one you are seeking.
Love you all
20 thoughts on “The Milky Way”
Great post, NB. Those of us that are the beneficiaries of this miracle can have a difficult time grasping the work needed for it to occur. It’s not like turning on a tap. Thank you ladies for all that you do. You rock!!🤗😘🤗😘
Grog your support and encouragement is deeply appreciated. 🤗😘
Thank you so very much for educating all of us on here with your posts and Sunday chats! You give us a safe place to ask questions and talk about challenges! You never make us feel silly for things our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, women in our life never passed on! Thank you for sharing the wisdom
Sarah your presence in the sisterhood strengthens us and always brings laughter and smiles. Thank you! ❤️❤️❤️
Great info. I am not sure why, but I read everything I can regarding induced lactation. Thanks!
You are welcome fix it man. Knowledge is helpful in all situations and relationships. Grateful I can contribute in this amazing community.
Wonderful post! Thank you for taking your time & energy putting this together! 🤗
Jessa, thank you for all your support and encouragement. Your presence here is deeply appreciated and felt in the community.
Wonderful step by step compilation! I have to resound Sarah’s comment, not all of us grew up in a maternally supportive environment and much information about lactation and breastfeeding was something Infamil did. Breasts were just a part of the ordinary anatomy.
Learning about the lactation process through your instruction, opinions, and guidance has made learning about induced lactation so much more comfortable and enjoyable.
Thank you for all your efforts, I look forward to your next blog.
TT you are such an amazing woman, thank you for holding space for the community.
I have to admit yesterday morning when I saw that there was a new blog I was so excited! Nb, you do a fantastic job helping those of us that are wanting to lactate with the information needed. You also help the men understand the process in an encouraging manner. They have such an important role!
I am going to further investigate the herbs that you discussed above and try to find out if they have any adverse effects on kidney function.
Thank you for your support and encouragement! 😍😘
Beth you are the reason I find such joy in sharing knowledge. I am grateful we have this amazing site to connect, share and feel safe.
Thank you for this awesome write up. I absolutely cherish your inclusivity and warmth.
TY Rose! So glad to see you!🤗❤️
Hi and thank you for the wonderful info. I’m Steve and it is a pleasure to meet you
Hi Steve! You are very welcome and nice to meet you too!
Thank you, NB, for this article. Very helpful synopsis of a lot of information, and I appreciate your very supportive and encouraging words for everyone on this journey!
Thank you Yogi! I agree lots of moving parts with induction and lactation.
You didn’t just hit this one out of the park, it achieved orbit!
A classic NB post.
Thank you Latch On, so glad it hit the mark, your encouragement and support is deeply appreciated.