When we think of breastfeeding we refer to women who have been pregnant and have given birth. Over the last fifteen years, the growth of new family models make children get to families in different ways, among these are adoption, subrogation, and in same-sex female partners. Induced breastfeeding or relactation by non-pregnant women, despite being unusual, is an unknown process for most health professionals such as midwives and obstetricians.
The Journal of Human Lactation published a study conducted by researchers of the University of Barcelona and University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia, on the process of breastfeeding induction in women who have not given birth or relactation in women who have breastfed in previous births. This is the first qualitative study based on in-depth interviews to about ten women in Spain who have undergone induction of lactation for adopted children, subrogation or same-sex female partners.
The main challenges that were identified in the study point out to difficulties and stress due a lack of information for the professionals to solve doubts and fears during the process. Another factor is the lack of support from the environment that questions this decision. At the end of breastfeeding, a lack of co-responsibility in same-sex couples and a loss of bond with the baby is detected.
The study concludes that, in a moment when the procreation models are plural, health professionals have to know about the relactation and induced breastfeeding so as to provide guidance and proper care. “Although it is not a common practice, the results of the study improve the knowledge on an unknown process, but which is growing in our society due the technological advances that enable maternity without undergoing a pregnancy and giving birth”, notes Gemma Cazorla-Ortiz, adjunct lecturer at the Nursing School of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of the UB. Cazorla Ortiz, who is carrying out a thesis on this topic as part of the doctoral program of Nursing and Health of the UB, notes: “This can support the improvement of the professional intervention strategies”, concludes Cazrola, who adds that “because of the physical difficulties of this process, external support is essential, and participants expected health professionals to provide information and relevant support”.
“There is a lack of research on the experience of women who undergo these processes”, notes Josefina Goberna, lecturer at the Nursing Department of Public Health, Mental Health and Perinatal Nursing of the UB. “There isn’t a standardized guide on the methods to induce breastfeeding in these cases”, she adds.
According to Paola Galbany-Estragués, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing at the University of Vic and co-author of the study, “women decide to breastfeed through induction and relactation to build a bond with their kids, and this empowers them to overcome a series of complex challenges”.
Through support groups for breasfeeding, they identified and interviewed nine women, three per each of the cases (adoption, subrogation and same-sex female partners), two of these breastfeeding tweens. The main motivation was to feed the feeling of closeness to their children. In the studied cases, the induction process lasted between one month and a half and four years. Participants said that during breastfeeding, the bond between the mother and the kid increased but it decreased after breastfeeding. The participants were 33 years old in average, the kids were 17 days old when breastfeeding started and the breastfeeding time lasted for 17 months.
Induction processes include a pharmacological treatment –hormone treatments simulating gestating conditions- apart from the stimulation. There are a few cases of induction of lactation in which there are only pharmacological methods, apart from stimulation, complemented with galactagogue herbs –which increase milk secretion- or dietary supplements.
G. Cazorla-Ortiz, P. Galbany-Estragués, N. Obregón-Gutiérrez, J. Goberna-Tricas. “Understanding the Challenges of Induction of Lactation and Relactation for Non-Gestating Spanish Mothers“. Journal of Human Lactation. Doi: 10.1177/0890334419852939