Whether you choose to nurse or not, you deserve support. Breastfeeding is a personal choice, and every mother’s breastfeeding journey looks different. One truth about breastfeeding (which can come as a surprise to some women) is that it’s not all-or-nothing—women can breastfeed exclusively, not at all, or part-time with supplementation from pumped milk, formula or other food.

And that versatility extends to breastfeeding after weaning, adoption or surrogacy. Inducing lactation is the process by which a woman can breastfeed after adoption or surrogacy. Relactation is the process by which a woman can jump-start nursing after not breastfeeding for a length of time.

When a woman is pregnant, she begins a process called lactogenesis in which her body prepares itself to start making milk. This usually starts around the twenty-week mark of pregnancy (halfway through). Then, when the baby is born, the second phase of lactogenesis occurs, and milk actually starts to fill the breasts.

All of this occurs in response to hormones. When women do not carry a pregnancy, but wish to breastfeed, they can induce lactation, where they replicate the same hormonal process that happens during pregnancy.

A woman who wants to induce lactation can work with a doctor or midwife, and start taking the hormones estrogen and progesterone (which grow breast tissue)—often in the form of birth control pills—along with a medication called domperidone (which increases milk production).

Several weeks before the baby will be born, the woman stops taking the birth control pill but continues to take the domperidone to simulate the hormonal changes that would happen in a pregnancy. She’ll also start pumping multiple times per day, and will likely add herbal supplements, like fenugreek and blessed thistle.

Women can also try to induce lactation without the hormones by using pumping and herbs—it may be harder, but some women feel more comfortable with that route.

La Leche League International suggests this method for restarting breast milk production after stopping breastfeeding, noting that you should consult with a lactation expert for help, especially before using any herbs or supplements to stimulate milk production.

  • Hand express or pump at least eight to twelve times per day for 20-30 minutes, including at night
  • Give pumped milk along with formula in a cup (rather than a bottle), or use an at-breast supplementer
  • If baby will latch on, put them to your breast before and after each feeding
  • Put baby to your breast for comfort between feedings as often as possible instead of using a pacifier to help build your supply

Inducing lactation takes a lot of dedication—but then again, so does everything related to being a mama. It’s a super personal decision, and not right for everyone.

The important thing to remember is that we need to support women and mothers through their entire journey, no matter what decisions they make about themselves and their families.