The Biology of Induced Lactation in a Nutshell

It is not necessary to have been pregnant in order to breastfeed

During pregnancy a woman’s body produces increasing amounts of progesterone, estrogen (via the placenta), and prolactin (via the pituitary). These hormones ready the breasts for breastfeeding. Once the pregnancy is completed, progesterone and estrogen levels drop and prolactin levels increase resulting in lactation 2. The protocols outlined in this section are designed to mimic what happens during and after pregnancy. See the Introduction to the Protocols for more information about hormones.

Once the milk supply is established, it works on a "supply and demand" basis under the baby’s control if the mother is breastfeeding and under the mother’s control if she is pumping. The more often and the more efficiently the baby withdraws milk from the breast (or the mother pumps), the more milk will be produced by the breast. As the baby suckles at the breast (or the suction from the pump begins), a signal is sent to the brain from the breast to release oxytocin which initiates the milk ejection or let down reflex (MER) and causes the milk to flow.

The release of oxytocin coupled with the draining of milk from the breast causes the breast to produce more milk 3. This is one of the reasons for the use of the hospital grade double electric breast pump during the protocols. Stimulation by the double pump further increases prolactin and oxytocin levels, thus increasing milk supply.

Should the medical practitioner be concerned about the quality or composition of the mother’s breastmilk, the MICAM test may be performed to assess the various stages of the mother’s milk 4. Testing of the composition of the mother’s breastmilk may be done at a local laboratory. Studies have shown that if the breastmilk of a mother who has induced lactation is compared to that of a birth mother’s breastmilk at 10 days postpartum, there is virtually no difference 5.

2. Newman J, 2000 p 252

3. Riordan J and Auerbach K, 1998, pp 103-105

4. Riordan J and Auerbach K, 1998 p 149

5. Riordan J, 1991, p278