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“Why my wife and I chose to co-breastfeed our baby”

Logan* and her wife Nina explored co-breastfeeding when they found out she might not be able to get pregnant. Here, they share their co-nursing experience, including what they learned along the way.

co-breastfeeding

The decision to breastfeed or chestfeed is a very personal one. Every baby is different, so it’s important to do what feels right for your body, your circumstances, and your family.

With your new baby feeding on average every one to three hours, breastfeeding can feel like a massive commitment. However, co-breastfeeding (also known as co-feeding or co-nursing) has allowed LGBTQ+ couples where both partners have the capacity to breastfeed or chestfeed to share in that. 

Nina, 34, became pregnant with her first child in 2020 following 12 months of intrauterine insemination (IUI) treatment. “Some people think they want to be an astronaut or a firefighter when they grow up, but I knew I wanted to have a baby,” she says. “It was always in my plan. When I met Logan in 2016, we talked about having a family from the very beginning. We just didn’t know how it would look for us.” 

Originally, Logan and Nina, who live in London, talked about carrying one child each. However, after a blood test to check her levels of follicle-stimulating hormone as well as a medical history assessment and ovarian reserve test, the clinic told Logan she may struggle to become pregnant. 

“My cycle has always been irregular, but up until that point, I didn’t think it would mean I’d struggle to get pregnant. I hadn’t thought about it until we started trying to conceive,” Logan says. “I felt really let down by my body. It took a long time for me to process that I wouldn’t be the one to carry a baby. I think that’s why, when our clinic gave us information about co-feeding, we jumped at it.” 

What is co-breastfeeding?

“Co-feeding is when the non-gestational parent induces lactation or re-lactates in order to feed the baby,” says Naya Weber, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. “The parent inducing lactation does not have to establish a full milk supply. Any human milk they make for the baby is beneficial.” 

This means that any LGBTQ+ couple where both parents have the capacity to breast- or chestfeed may be able to nurse their baby once they’re born. This is an option for both biological and adoptive parents and is actually a fairly old practice. 

The use of wet nurses or people who were employed to feed other people’s babies dates back to 2000 BC. They may have been used if a baby's parent died during birth or if they struggled to feed the baby themselves. These days, many people explore co-breastfeeding if they want to share the bonding benefits of nursing with their partner or to lighten the load. 

“When it became clear that I’d be the only one able to carry a baby, I was scared that Logan would feel shut out from the process,” says Nina. “Just the thought that she’d be able to feed Mason too really excited us.”

Logan agrees: “I had already mentally prepared myself to take the hormones and medication required for fertility treatment. So, when our doctors outlined what I’d need to do to induce lactation for the time that Mason was born, I was really open to it.” 

How does co-breastfeeding work?

As Nina and Logan started to look into co-feeding, they realized that there were few resources aimed at LGBTQ+ couples. 

Inducing lactation can be a really personal process as no two bodies are the same. However, Weber says that “a person who has never produced milk before can stimulate milk production using prescription drugs and breast stimulation.”

Timing is also important. “If a couple chooses to co-feed, it is important to start prior to the birth of the baby. It can take some time to induce lactation,” Weber says. “A couple should reach out to an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant or other qualified lactation support person [e.g., your OB-GYN or medical provider] to begin the process, which starts with a health history and establishing goals.” 

Once you’ve met with a specialist to speak about your medical history, they may then discuss the best treatment options for you. Being patient as your milk comes in can be a challenging part of the process. “While a person may see drops of milk between a few days and a month after starting, it can take three to four months for milk production to become established,” Weber says. 

Logan and Nina waited until they knew they were pregnant before seeing a lactation consultant to establish if co-feeding was an option for them. Their health care providers recommended a course of medication that impacted Logan’s hormones. She also took medication traditionally used to treat stomach problems. However, one of the side effects was that it increases prolactin, the hormone that increases milk production. If you’re interested in prescription medication to induce lactation, then it’s always crucial to speak to your health care provider. 

“The breast pump became my best friend, which, as someone who isn’t pregnant, can feel a bit odd,” says Logan. “But the more I pumped, the more I noticed that my milk supply was growing. By the time Mason was born, we were in a pretty good pattern. We took turns to either pump or feed and ensured that my pumping schedule matched his feeding. We were in a near-constant supply of milk, and it meant that we could almost take the feeding in shifts.” 

co-breastfeeding

What are the benefits of co-breastfeeding?

For Nina and Logan, there were two immediate benefits to co-feeding. “Inducing lactation was really hard. I don’t want to make light of what was quite a medical process, which could be time consuming and very frustrating,” says Logan. “However, we did it together. We prepared to be parents together, and we fed our baby together. Co-feeding has given me the joy of feeding my baby from my body — something I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do.” 

Practically speaking, co-feeding has also given the couple some scope of freedom. “Luckily, we are both freelance and have spent the last two years working at home. However, if I need to take a call, go out for a meeting, or attend an event, I know that Logan is good to go with Mason’s feeding schedule because she does it half of the time,” says Nina. “It’s really been a shared job for us.” 

The American Academy of Pediatrics outlines that breastfeeding is beneficial for babies under the age of one as it can provide them with all of the key nutrients they need to grow and develop. Now seems the perfect time to say that if co-feeding doesn’t feel right or work for you, skin-to-skin contact in the form of hugs is also excellent for baby bonding. 

Research published in the journal Pediatrics also found that the skin-to-skin contact that happens during feeding may have emotional benefits for both parents and their little ones. Breastfeeding can also soothe your baby. Findings published by Sanford Health state that newborn babies’ cortisol levels (stress hormones) are noticeably lower after 20 minutes of skin-to-skin contact. Skin-to-skin contact had similar effects on parents as it increased their oxytocin levels, reducing stress levels and blood pressure.  

A study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health showed that cognitive development in infants is improved by breastfeeding. 

“Couples may choose to co-feed to help share the experience of feeding their baby or as a way to improve bonding between baby and non-gestational parent,” Weber explains. “When both parents are providing human milk to the baby, it may be easier to create a stash of milk for a return to work or future separation of parents and baby. Twice the amount of human milk also means twice the amount of antibodies for the baby’s developing immune system.” 

Co-breastfeeding: The takeaway

“Co-feeding was as much of a journey for our family as fertility treatment was,” Logan says. “It’s no small undertaking, and we recognize that we are incredibly lucky to be sitting here today with a son we have both had the opportunity to feed. 

“However, we couldn’t have done it without medical professionals who were LGBTQ+ allies and understood our needs as a lesbian couple. It’s an intensely emotional time, so our main thing was to feel understood and supported entirely.” 

Weber agrees that if you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community and would like to explore co-feeding, then it can be really beneficial to speak to an LGBTQ+-inclusive doctor. “There is certain terminology that may be preferred by the parents and things to take into consideration, such as the body dysmorphia that can occur with inducing lactation,” she says. “It would also be beneficial for the couple to have a team of professionals that can provide gender-affirming care throughout the pregnancy, birth, and postpartum period.” While inducing lactation, you may also experience feelings of gender dysphoria; having a health care provider who understands this and can support you is key. 

Once Mason’s feeding schedule started to change, Logan decided to stop breastfeeding him. “As we moved him onto more solid foods, we ended up pumping far more than we needed,” she says. “It was a lot of maintenance for me to continue making milk, so I stopped. It’s funny because, in a way, I do miss it, but I know I will always have that experience.” 

Weber highlights that no matter how you choose to feed and bond with your baby, what’s most important is to find what feels right for you and your family. “Co-feeding doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” she says. “If the non-gestational parent is not able to establish a full milk supply, any amount of milk they can provide the baby is beneficial.” 

*Name has been changed

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