WOMAN OF INSTINCT.
We chat to breastfeeding trailblazer Alyssa about how women can stimulate lactation without pregnancy, her personal experience breastfeeding both biological and adopted children and the role of breastfeeding in driving attachment, nutrition and healing.
Alyssa Schnell is a mother of three, an Internationally Certified Lactation Consultant and author of the book Breastfeeding Without Birthing. She breastfed her own adopted child, and is passionate about supporting mothers to breastfeed outside of typical situations.
First of all this is amazing, most of us are not aware that women can breastfeed without birthing - can you talk us through it?
A woman can bring in milk without pregnancy - called inducing lactation - by regularly stimulating the nipples/breasts using manual techniques, an electric breast pump, or a baby suckling. She can also take medications or herbs to enhance the effectiveness of these physical techniques.
Most mothers who induce lactation make some milk, yet not a full supply. But not all breastfeeding-without-birthing mothers induce lactation.
Some will nurse for comfort and bottle feed for nutrition, and others will exclusively provide donor milk or formula via a tiny feeding tube at the breast, called an at-breast supplementer.
Is it difficult to stimulate breastmilk production? Do you need to take hormonal medication?
Taking herbal or pharmaceutical medications is optional, although most mothers will make more milk if they do use herbs or meds.
I want to emphasize that the pharmaceutical medications are not necessarily hormonal medications. There are no artificial hormones in the milk of a mother who has induced lactation.
How soon do women need to start preparing to be able to induce lactation?
Many women will begin the process of inducing lactation weeks, months, or even a year before their baby arrives because the process of bringing in milk without pregnancy and birth is a very gradual one. However, a woman can start anytime - even after her baby has arrived. With adoption, we often don't know when baby will arrive so it can be difficult to plan!
You have two biological children and one adopted child, what has your personal breastfeeding journey been like and how did you become inspired to write Breastfeeding Without Birthing?
Yes, my first two children arrived by birth and my third arrived by adoption. I became very interested in breastfeeding with the birth of my first child. But I became passionate about breastfeeding with the arrival of the third child!
Like many first-time mothers, I had some big challenges breastfeeding my first baby. With some wonderful help from La Leche League, my first son and I went on the have a long and happy breastfeeding relationship.
After my second son was born, I became a volunteer La Leche League Leader so that I could give back after receiving so much.
After the truly amazing experience of breastfeeding my daughter by adoption, I wanted to take it to the next level and become a professional.
So I became an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in 2009.
I wanted to use my personal and professional experience to help others in an area where I felt breastfeeding knowledge and support was lacking. I felt writing a book for adoptive and intended (through surrogacy) mothers - and their breastfeeding professionals - was an excellent way to do that.
Why is it valuable for women that adopt or use surrogates to breastfeed?
Of course, breastfeeding in situations of adoption or surrogacy is important for all the same reasons as breastfeeding in any situation. But now that I have personally experienced it, worked with other adoptive and intended mothers, and done extensive research, I believe that breastfeeding in adoption and surrogacy may be even more important than breastfeeding in a typical situation.
The most important reason to breastfeed in adoption or surrogacy is, in my opinion, attachment.
Research has shown that babies begin to attach to their mothers in utero; therefore, any baby who experiences adoption or surrogacy experiences a break in attachment. Breastfeeding can help baby attach to the new mother.
The nutrition and immunities from human milk may be extra important in adoption because these babies are more likely to have poor prenatal care including drug, alcohol, and nicotine exposure in utero - research has shown they are more prone to illness. And, finally, many adoptive and intended mothers find that breastfeeding can help heal the heartache of infertility.
Why do you love what you do?
I felt that breastfeeding was the start of a lifelong connection with my children. It taught me how to listen to my children even when they didn't have the words to tell me what they needed.
It [breastfeeding] showed me a gentle approach to parenting. It taught me to trust my instincts as a mother. It demonstrated the power of my own body. If this is a gift I can help other families to achieve, I can't imagine anything more rewarding than that.
What does the future hold for you, do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
Yes, I've got some really exciting things coming up!
I have teamed up with a partner, Hope Lien, and we will be using podcasts, webinars and Facebook to extend our support to parents breastfeeding outside typical situations.
Breastfeeding Outside the Box will reach beyond adoption and surrogacy to also include relactating mothers, gender and sexual minorities, mothers with low milk production, exclusively pumping mothers, and more.