Today, Kim Kardashian West announced that her surrogate gave birth to a baby girl. If you've been paying attention to Kim's social media, you may have noticed that she's been been in full nesting mode for a while now. Last week, for example, Kim posted a Snapchat video of her favourite products that she uses for nursing. The haul included a nightlight that tells time when you're "up feeding in the middle of the night," and a breastfeeding pillow that she says she "literally gets multiples of" to have in every room of the house.
One observant fan asked: "You're going to breastfeed your new baby? Your milk production is coming how??? Wont the surrogate be the one that will produce the milk???" While only Kim can weigh in on her own personal experience, they do bring up a good point: Can you breastfeed if you used a surrogate?
The short answer is "absolutely," according to Jennifer Thomas, MD, IBCLC, a paediatrician and member of the executive board on breastfeeding for the American Academy of Paediatrics. Often, people will choose to breastfeed if they used a surrogate, or if they adopted a baby right after birth, Dr. Thomas says. It's entirely possible to breastfeed in these scenarios, but it requires more preparation, she says.
Typically, during pregnancy and the early stages of lactation, the amount of milk ducts and glandular cells in a person's breast increase to make more milk. Once the baby is out and on the person's breast, hormones signal for the breast to make even more milk, and send it through the nipples. But what if, like Kim, the person wasn't pregnant? Well, doctors can induce lactation.
Most of the time, inducing lactation involves taking certain hormones, herbs, or medications that trick your body into thinking it's pregnant, Dr. Thomas says. Pumping can also be helpful, because breastmilk is produced on a "demand and supply" basis (meaning: the more you extract, the more is produced), Lauren Levine, MD, told Refinery29 in 2017. According to Dr. Thomas, "Once the intended parent has a good milk supply, the maintenance of her milk supply is no different than trying to maintain it in any other circumstance."
The key is, parents using a surrogate have to decide early on that they're going to try to breastfeed the baby, and usually this is sorted out when drafting the surrogate's contract, Dr. Thomas says. It can take two to three weeks to build milk supply, according to the protocol that physicians use when inducing lactation. All of this tends to be easier if the breastfeeding person has given birth before, but it isn't impossible if they've never given birth, Dr. Thomas says.
Of course, breastfeeding a baby born via surrogate is certainly not without its challenges, and sometimes it simply doesn't work. "Some of the same reasons that mothers cannot conceive — as in hormone imbalances — overlap with reasons that moms have difficulty breastfeeding," Dr. Thomas says.
Who knows how it'll go for Kim (and if she's planning on breastfeeding at all), but we can only assume we'll get an update via Snapchat.