An in-depth interview about the nuances of inducing lactation, relationship dynamics when your nursing plan doesn’t go as expected and advice for parents considering inducing lactation.
In the first of our interviews this week, we (virtually) sat down with Jennifer to talk about her last year breastfeeding/pumping. She has such earnest answers and highlights some of the more challenging aspects of inducing lactation like birth-mom jealously and opinionated relative; and also highlights how thankful she is to have had the whole experience.
LM: Can you tell us a little more about your family and what role you play in the feeding mix?
Jennifer: My family unit consists of my wife, Meghan, my son Connor (6) and Edyth (1). Meghan and I have been together for 4 years, and we co-parent our son with my ex-wife. I gave birth to Connor in 2009, and Meghan gave birth to Edyth last year. They share the same unknown donor sperm that I had on ice at my RE’s office for 5 years after I successful got pregnant after 18 months of ttc. Meghan is the cook of the house, and amazing baker so I mainly fed Edyth and Meghan feeds the rest of the us. Meghan struggled with supply from the beginning, so my milk became the primary food source for our daughter, because thankfully, my induced lactation gave me a full supply, including a freezer stock.
LM: Before you and your wife conceived did you ever discuss breastfeeding? What about induced lactation or co-nursing?
Jennifer: While she was pregnant, we discussed the idea of me also helping to feed our baby. We had a plan in place to best serve us both; she would exclusively breastfeed for the first 8 weeks while she was on maternity leave and I would exclusively pump. My milk would be secondary and would be mainly used in a bottle because she was unsure of how she would feel about me nursing a child that she gave birth to. *this became a pretty big deal that I will discuss later* I knew that induced lactation existed, but I didn’t know much about it. I’m a researcher, my personally and profession, and I read everything I could find on the topic. I also had my annual Ob/Gyn appointment in April 2015, so I asked my doctor, who was baffled but not surprised that I knew more than she did. I wanted to co-nurse, but I knew that for my wife’s mental health and jealously issues, it wouldn’t happen and I have to accept that but still do what I could for our daughter.
LM: How did you come up with your plan – did you work with a LC or IBCLC? In the year I’ve been talking about co-nursing and induced lactation I’ve heard a lot of couples struggle with jealously and possessiveness. It’s refreshing to hear you talk about it so openly – so thanks you for that! I’d love to dig into this topic more – but let’s leave that for later in the interview!
Since my OB was unsure, she suggested I meet with the IBCLC in their practice. She prescribed a bc pill and I had already ordered the Dom, but thought I would cover all of my bases. I mainly followed the adoption protocol for Asklenore.info. Once I met with the LC, she was super impressed with my knowledge and excited to work with me because she had never had someone successfully induce lactation and follow through with a strict pumping schedule. She changed my bc pill to one with a higher progesterone and gave me my pump schedule to start–slow and steady. 5min pumps, 3x a day…and slowly increase to 15min a day for 5x a day (over 2-3 weeks) until my supply started to come in. I was pumping and freezing milk before my daughter was even born.
LM: How did you come to the decision that you would be the sole provider and to exclusively pump?
Jennifer: As I stated above, our plan was for me to pump to supplement her supply… the plan was always for me to be secondary. Nature intervened, and she could never produce more than an ounce or so at a time, so my milk became a necessary by the time our daughter was 5 days old, dropping too much birth weight and our doctor told us to supplement with formula. Thankfully, I was already producing quite a bit at this time and we started feeding Edyth a bottle after each nursing session to give her what she needed. By the time Edyth was 3 months old, my wife’s supply completely dried up but we were already feeding her 95% of her needs with my milk in bottles so we just keep that in place. I pumped 5 times a day and by this time, I had a full supply of around 30 ounces a day. I still pumped because it was quite an emotional battle between my wife’s desires to nurse successfully and reality. It was just too hard for her to process my supply and ease with her opposite experience. I won’t lie….we had some serious struggles during this time period and I nearly quit pumping because it wasn’t worth the fights, jealousy and tension between us but we wanted the best for our daughter and reality was that my milk would get her there, so we moved forward, worked on the resentment and the rest is history.
LM: Isn’t it funny how life just decides it’s going to do whatever it wants?! A 30-oz/day pumping supply is huge! Did you do anything to help you supply increase (other than what’s covered in the GF method? Was there anything specific that the two of you did to move past the emotional struggles you went through?
Jennifer: I didn’t do anything else except take Dom, topped at 120mg/daily (4 pills, 3x/day) and pump. Honestly, we just were honest with each other and talked it all out. I think being honest with feelings is so important (learned that the first time around!) and we both had to compromise. I didn’t regularly nurse although I wanted to, and she accepted that my milk was steady and available. And we moved forward.
LM: When you were pumping, what was your schedule like?
Jennifer: I work fulltime so to pump exclusively was a huge time commitment each day. We thankfully had two pumps (hers and mine, both supplied for free by our insurance….even as a non-gestational parent, I had an LC write a script for a pump and was able to get one!) so I had a permanent pumping station at home, and in my office. I would pump first thing when I woke up, around 5:45am, mid-morning around 10ish, after lunch around 1:30, once I got home from work around 5pm and right before I went to bed around 10pm. I was exhausting and mentally draining to be hooked up to a pump for approximately 2 hours a day, but I was determined and dedicated.
LM: Having two pumps is a great tip! Was there anything else you did while pumping to make the time go by faster?
Jennifer: I pumped mainly while watching TV, or Netflix on the computer at work. If I was using my phone to play a game I would pump one side at a time to keep a hand free. It took longer, but gave me more flexibility to work or do something other than pumping.
LM: Breastfeeding/pumping can definitely be a team sport – how do you work together to make a winning breastfeeding environment?
Jennifer: Pumping and our routine just became second nature. I wouldn’t say it was a team sport but it was just our reality. Our work schedules are different, so when I woke up, she would already be at work, so I pumped while the kids were still sleeping and woke up early to accommodate the time needed. Then, my next two pumps were at work, and I thankfully have a wonderfully supportive boss who encouraged the process and time. I would then pump in the evening while Meghan made dinner and my last pump of the day, the entire household would already be in bed. It was super time consuming for myself, but I just kept plugging forward.
LM: That’s so great to hear your work and boss were supportive! Any advice for parents who are inducing lactation and feeling overwhelmed about talking to their bosses/employers about it?
Jennifer: I would just be honest and also know that as a nursing parent, I don’t believe the laws state that you actually have to birth the child, you are legally allowed time and space to pump. Talk to your HR department about your rights. My boss even built me a WALL for my office so I had privacy. I know my situation isn’t normal, but I’m so thankful for the support.
LM: What differences (benefits/drawbacks) do you think you experience being a lesbian couple breastfeeding/pumping vs. a straight couple?
Jennifer: I think the obvious advantage to induction is that at the time of birth, we had a buffet of boobs for our daughter. As I was pumping in the labor room, we knew, no matter what, our daughter would get breast milk which was our goal. Not many straight couples have that amount of proof in front of them as the baby was being born. I think another advantage was that I had experience and I could help my wife as she struggled with supply. I already had an LC in place for myself, so I made an appointment for her when she was overwhelmed and discouraged. It ultimately didn’t work out for her, but I was her biggest support and cheerleader. I knew the literal pain she could experience, the emotional tie to production and what was at stake.
LM: Did you talk about inducing lactation with any medical professionals you were working with? How’d that go?
Jennifer: As I mentioned before, I spoke with my OB who is great, but not knowledgeable. I then had a couple appointments with an LC in the practice who was fantastic and so excited I was embarking on this journey. Being in the Midwest, I was a first for them both to embark on induction in a lesbian relationship. Once my wife was in labor, I still needed to pump regularly and all of the nurses were incredible–completely supportive, amazed at my body and even helped me store my bottles of pumped milk in the nursery fridge.
LM: How did you tell your friends, family, co-workers about your nursing? What were their reactions?
Jennifer: This is an interesting point in my experience. I had polar reactions to me doing this. My friends thought it was cool, amazing and inspiring. My heterosexual friends were jealous that there were two of us to provide breastmilk! Family….that is a longer story. The person who was most opposed was my mother-in-law and boy is that a long story. We finally had to decide to no longer discuss it because it wasn’t open for debate…..after 4-5mo of comments and judgment.
LM: What advice would you give to queer couples who are considering induced lactation or just starting out?
Jennifer: Go into it with an open mind. You don’t know what your supply will be like, nor do you know if it will be easy or hard to produce. Also, be kind to yourself and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. I am the queen of high expectations and putting myself last and this process was a huge time commitment, but also an emotional commitment that I didn’t anticipate. Keeping open communication and honestly with yourself and your spouse will only help the mental and emotional component.
LM: Thank you SO much for the interview – where can our readers find you?
People can find me at www.chunkandmommy.wordpress.com The majority of posts are password protected because my wife is unsure of the blogging world and our privacy, but if you email me at email@example.com, I will be happy to share the pw after introducing yourself!
LM: Jennifer – THANK YOU so much your time and thoughtfulness. There are tons of mommies out there who will be SO grateful for everything you’ve shared.