Posted by: Admin | April 9, 2011

Breastfeeding in movies Part 3 – Could you really produce milk just by looking at a baby?

Have you ever heard about induced lactation? Or maybe I should ask: Have you ever seen a woman who had not been pregnant, breastfeed a baby? Induced lactation is just that: breastfeeding a child without having gone through the changes brought upon by pregnancy.

When you are developing in your mother’s womb, your breasts are already placing themselves. There is actually a “milk line” on both sides of the developing body of the fetus.Think of a dog or a cat: they have mammary glands that follow a line on both sides of their underbelly. The typical female dog has 10 mammary glands, five on each side of the midline, beginning on the chest and extending to the groin.The human fetus develops as any mammal does, with milk lines that extend from the axillary down to the groin area. As the fetus develops, the extra glands are reabsorbed and only 2 remain on the chest area: our typical female breasts (males have them also, but the glands are underdeveloped)!

Sometimes, though, some auxiliary tissue also remains. Some women will have extra milk glands or supernumerary nipples, which is why some mothers find a lump under their armpit in early postpartum. Rarely does this mammary gland have an output, and when it is not used the gland involutes – that is, it curls in on itself and becomes non-functional. More often, we see what we think is a skin tag under the breast and a revelation occurs when this tag leaks during early postpartum. The skin tag can actually be a nipple! If it does not swell up, that means the gland underneath is underdeveloped. And if it is not stimulated, it will also involute and stop secreting milk.

The 2 remaining “breasts” that we are born with are inactive throughout childhood, and in females they start to develop at puberty. With each menstrual period, the breasts develop a little more. It takes a good year after that first menstrual period before the milk gland can be mature enough to produce a good milk supply. This is why we should always find out the age at which a teenager had her first period if she becomes pregnant. Not enough periods before the pregnancy occurred could mean the teenager might not be able to produce enough milk to answer her baby’s needs.

When a woman becomes pregnant, and all throughout pregnancy, her breasts go through changes caused by hormones and, at 16 weeks, the glands will start to produce milk. Only once the placenta detaches will the full milk production be activated. However, if we stimulate a milk gland, wherever it is situated and at whatever period after puberty, it can produce milk. Naturally, the process is much easier when a woman has been pregnant because lactation is the natural order of things after a pregnancy. Still, a woman adopting a baby can stimulate her breast and be able to breastfeed that baby, even if she has never been pregnant!

There are many movies showing women inducing lactation. In the 1992 movie Like Water for Chocolate, a beautiful Spanish movie based on the novel by Laura Esquivel, a man marries the older sister of the woman he loves, just to be near her. They have a baby and his wife cannot seem to produce enough milk to feed him. The younger sister, the one the man loves, finds her breasts spontaneously fill with milk for the child, out of love and passion. This is very romantic, poetic, and sensual, but it is also an erroneous way of describing the process. In fact, a woman would need some stimulation to her breasts before she was able to produce enough milk to fully satisfy a baby’s needs. The 1992 movie The Hand that Rocks the Cradle portrays the process in a more realistic manner, but the movie is pretty scary! This thriller shows a vengeful woman wanting to take over the life of another. She uses a breastpump to relactate so she can breastfeed the other woman’s baby.

Relactation is a form of induced lactation but, in this case, the mother has delivered a baby and her milk production has started, but then it has stopped or decreased for whatever reason. To bring back her milk production, she is obliged to go through the same process as a woman wishing to induce lactation. It is a simple process but it takes determination and patience. The key is stimulation to the breast. A hospital-grade electric breastpump is usually the best choice for stimulating the breast regularly, at least 5 to 6 times per day for at least 3 weeks. Some mothers with adopted babies have found that taking a mix of hormones facilitates the process, but this is not absolutely needed. If you are interested, here is a web site that provides a protocol to follow for inducing lactation for an adopted baby:

You might wonder “Why bother?” Why not just give the baby some enriched artificial milk (aka baby formula)? The answer, of course, is that breastmilk is superior to baby formula. Science has been discovering new facts every day, and still we do not know a quarter of the benefits of breastmilk. Breastmilk is more than a food and more than a vaccine against a multitude of illnesses: it is the key to the survival of our species… And that’s why bother!  🙂

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