A same-sex couple has gone viral for sharing a photo of both of them breastfeeding their twin babies.
U.S. couple Jaclyn and Kelly Pfeiffer welcomed their children Jackson and Ella in May after trying to conceive for nearly three years. Despite the fact that Kelly carried the twins, wife Jaclyn is still able to breastfeed.
“Being able to breastfeed our children together is so surreal, and we love it,” Kelly told Yahoo! News.
“We had no idea what our options were for having a baby when we first started out.”
The photos were taken by photographer Melissa Benzel, who said she is happy the parents can share their journey “with as many people as possible.”
So how can both parents breastfeed their babies? Through something called induced lactation.
What is induced lactation?
Induced lactation is when a woman is able to make breast milk despite never being pregnant or giving birth, for example.
According to Joan Bordash, a registered nurse and certified lactation consultant at Markham Stouffville Hospital, induced lactation may be useful for women who adopt babies or have a baby born to a surrogate carrier.
“Also, some same-sex couples choose to induce lactation to share in the experience together,” Bordash told Global News. “It requires careful thought, gathering information and understanding it will take commitment and some ‘hard work.’”
How does induced lactation work?
When a woman is pregnant, the hormones prolactin, progesterone and estrogen prepare breasts to make milk. But prolactin on its own can create milk when the nipples are stimulated, the Australian Breastfeeding Association points out, as in the case of baby suckling.
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In other words, you don’t need to be a new mom in order to breastfeed.
“The more often a baby suckles at your breast, the more likely your breasts will make milk,” the association says.
But Bordash says induced lactation is sometimes not this simple.
“Encouraging the baby to accept [or] suckle at the breast is one thing; making milk is the other piece to the puzzle,” Bordash said.
Bordash says that a woman can also create breast milk through hormone therapy and the help of a doctor. This method requires more planning, and a woman needs several months to mimic the effects of pregnancy.
“Medications can be used (estrogen and progesterone) at least three or four months before the baby is due, [and] a birth control pill is often used,” Bordash said.
“Then, about two months before the baby is due, that therapy would be discontinued and [the woman] would be encouraged to use a hospital-grade double electric pump several times a day to stimulate the breasts.”
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Bordash says these techniques trick the body into thinking it is pregnant and help create a milk supply.
“Immediate and continued skin-to-skin [contact] right after birth is important — just as it is for any mother who has given birth,” she added.
What should women know about induced lactation?
Not everyone can produce a full milk supply, Bordash says, and it’s important to talk to health-care providers before trying to breastfeed through induced lactation.
“Her physician will deem that the woman’s health is appropriate for moving forward,” Bordash said. “Continued follow-up support should be provided by a breastfeeding clinic or her physician.”
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For women who benefit from induced lactation, it can be an incredible experience.
“This is a wonderful way to enjoy the special bond between a mother and baby,” Bordash said.
“Breastfeeding is about more than the food source; it’s love and connection and comfort.”