A gorgeous photo of a couple nursing their newborn twins has gone viral — and the story behind it is so powerful. In the image, new moms Jaclyn and Kelly Pfeiffer gaze into each other’s eyes and hold hands as they each breastfeed one of their twins.
The story behind the images is so sweet: One of the twins is biologically Kelly’s; the other is biologically Jaclyn’s. Jaclyn originally underwent years of in vitro fertilization (IVF) with no success, and the couple decided to try the procedure one last time with Kelly, Benzel told HuffPost Canada.
The couple has had a rocky road to parenthood. They made headlines back in 2015 after being fired from the Methodist daycare where they worked because they were gay.
“Most people plan for a long time about how to come out and who is safe to come out to. We had a few short hours to prepare to come out to thousands — if not millions — of people at once,” they later wrote on their blog, Rainbows and Babies. “This included our families, our friends and the rest of the United States. No big deal, right?” The couple married in 2016 but struggled with infertility for three years.
After the couple decided to try IVF once more with Kelly, the mom-to-be decided to surprise her wife by having the fertility clinic transfer Jaclyn’s embryo, a boy, along with Kelly’s embryo, a girl. A few weeks later, their pregnancy was confirmed and their babies Jackson and Ella were born on May 14, according to Romper.
Jaclyn took hormone medication and started “pumping around the clock” so she would be able to nurse her babies, too. She was even able to breastfeed right after the babies were born, Benzel said.
The story sounds like something out of a movie. But it also raises a huge question: How could Jaclyn breastfeed when she didn’t give birth herself?
To understand how this works, it’s important to go over how your body produces milk.
“In pregnant women, milk production is triggered by the interaction of estrogen, progesterone and lactogen, which is produced by the placenta,” explains women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D. “When the baby is delivered, estrogen and progesterone levels decline, which allows the hormone prolactin to increase and cause milk production.”
While this happens automatically when you carry a child, there’s also something called induced lactation, which basically creates the same effect in your body through the use of hormones, explains Leigh Anne O’Connor, a board-certified lactation consultant and La Leche League leader. Induced lactation is commonly used with same-sex couples, adoptions and surrogacies, she says.
There are different ways to induce lactation, but often a woman will pump before the baby arrives and may take a form of daily hormonal birth control to mimic the effects of pregnancy, along with domperidone, a drug that helps your body produce prolactin, O’Connor explains.
Often, the birth control starts several months before a baby is born and is stopped roughly six to eight weeks before baby’s due date, Dr. Wider explains. Then, the woman would start pumping. “This will trigger the release of the hormone prolactin and milk production,” Dr. Wider says. It’s generally recommended that a woman pumps for at least 15 minutes every two to three hours in order to get a consistent milk supply going, she adds.
This works to “varying degrees” for people, O’Connor says. “Some can get a full supply while others may only see drops,” she adds. However, O’Connor has also seen women produce milk without hormone therapy. She once worked with a same sex couple where the non-birthing mother let her baby latch on to soothe her while her wife was asleep. “A few hours later she found milk stains on her shirt. She had done nothing except for that one moment of soothing,” O’Connor said.
“It is easier to get a full milk supply if you have been pregnant and/or breastfed previously,” says Diane L. Spatz, Ph.D., director of the Lactation Program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Even if the non-birth mother cannot make a full milk supply, it’s still a great experience for bonding.”
Overall, induced lactation “won’t work for everyone, but there is a good success rate in women who are healthy with no underlying hormonal or endocrine abnormalities,” Dr. Wider says. If you want to try it, talk to your doctor or midwife for more information.