Author Alyssa Schnell teaches women who haven’t given birth how to breastfeed.
The lactation consultant breastfed her adopted daughter after learning the technique herself.
“It was absolutely wonderful. It really helped us to connect with each other and to heal the loss that comes with adoption,” she said.
“I took some medications and herbs, and I pumped for several weeks before she arrived. I was very fortunate – I was able to bring in a full supply of milk for her.”
When Schnell adopted her daughter, she had already given birth to two children and knew she wanted to breastfeed the third.
Alyssa Schnell and her family. Image supplied.
"I was a La Leche League Leader at the time and so I had access to a ton of information and resources and I researched very intensely to find everything I could about breastfeeding in adoption.
"Over time, with my own personal experience and the experiences of many other adoptive and intended (through surrogacy) parents, I have collected some guidelines for parents wishing to breastfeed-without-birthing," she said.
All you need is a nipple.
Adoptive mothers and mothers via surrogacy are her main clients but she says foster mothers, non-gestational lesbians, transfemale mothers also choose to breastfeed without birthing. She says even fathers can nurse their babies.
"I would say that if a parent has at least one nipple, they can nurse a baby, " Schnell said.
"I define 'breastfeeding' as any amount of suckling a baby at the breast/chest or providing of one's own milk for a baby. This is a pretty broad definition on purpose - I feel when we don't make breastfeeding all or nothing, then the doors open for so many families who wish to breastfeed."
The 50-year-old says breastfeeding isn't for everyone.
Schnell helped Chrissy breastfeed - who was a mother via surrogacy. Image supplied.
"As much as I am a fan of breastfeeding, it may not always be a good fit for every family for a variety of reasons. For example, [the] mother is receiving cancer treatment which makes breastfeeding unsafe for her baby. Or [a] mother has a history of sexual abuse and nursing is a trauma trigger for her. These are just a few examples among many."
Schnell says the first step in working with a non-birthing parent is being able to determine their motivations and reasons why they want to breastfeed.
Some women want to build a bond with their babies while others are motivated by the health benefits, she says. Then the pair will set out on a breastfeeding without birthing plan.
"The basic component of inducing lactation is regular stimulation of the nipples and breasts," she said.
"This stimulation can occur with a baby breastfeeding, a double electric breast pump, hand expression, and, or other manual techniques. Taking medications or herbs in addition to these physical techniques can help milk come in more quickly and more abundantly."
Her techniques and case studies are now documented in her book Breastfeeding Without Birthing.
"I have defined a 3-step process for inducing lactation.
In step 1, the mammary tissue is developed in preparation for lactation similar as to what might occur during a pregnancy.
In step 2, the mother begins to make milk before her baby arrives.
And in step 3, she begins nursing her baby and continuing to grow her milk production.
Steps 1 and 2 are optional. And the details of how each step might be carried out can vary from parent to parent. Working one on one with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant can be particularly helpful in ironing out the specific step by step details of a breastfeeding-without-birthing plan."
The results are varied, but most mothers Schnell works with are able to produce some milk for their babies however a full milk supply is "unusual".
In one example, one of her client's, Kelly, was having twins via surrogate and was able to produce enough milk so that each of her babies only required 80 millilitres of formula supplementation per day.
"Since - unlike a mother pregnant with twins - Kelly’s body did not know that she was expecting twins, these results were quite phenomenal," she said.
In another example, Rebecca was an adoptive mother who attempted to induce lactation, but found it wasn't going to work for her. Rebecca had some serious health issues, was busy with other children and did not prepare her body ahead of time.
"Rebecca periodically offered her son her breast after he was content in her arms after receiving his bottle, and one day he began to nurse from her non-lactating breast. At that moment, Rebecca became a nursing mother," said Schnell.
The supply line, or at-breast supplementer is another tool used to help a non-birthing mother breastfeed. It serves as an external milk duct carrying supplemental milk or formula to the baby as the mother breastfeeds.
Rachel (L) breastfeeds via a supply line and adoptive mother Hope feeds her baby (R). Image supplied.
"A supply line can be homemade or a commercial device. It basically consists of a bag or bottle filled with milk or formula that hangs around mother's neck or rests nearby with a tiny feeding tube leading to the mother's nipple. As the baby suckles at the breast, she draws milk or formula through the feeding tube while also drinking any milk the mother is producing from her breasts," she said.
"It is a wonderful tool not only because it allows mothers to exclusively feed at the breast, but the extra suckling at the breast actually helps to stimulate more milk production by the mother."
Amazingly the mother of three has only been a lactation consultant for six years, but she now helps people all over the world.
Despite the challenges of breastfeeding-without-birthing, the author says most women find it "immensely rewarding on many levels".
In her book she writes: "I believe that every mother and baby deserve the chance to breastfeed. Even if that baby did not grow in that mother’s uterus. Even if that baby is not a newborn. Even if that mother is not fertile. We are incredible, adaptive beings. Breastfeeding without birthing is one amazing example."
Rebecca Judd talks about breastfeeding backstage.