By Jaye Simpson, IBCLC, RLC
As a lesbian and mother myself, I take a special interest in working with LGBTQ families. I read with excitement that Sara Gilbert and her wife, Linda Perry, had a baby. Wait – what was that? Two women having a baby? Of course! Why not? One question I hear is, “How will they feed the baby?” I have that same question myself when I work with LGBTQ couples. Let’s take a quick look at breastfeeding and same-sex couples.
Unless there are challenges that would make lactation difficult, the parent carrying the baby (referred to as the “birth parent” or “gestational parent”) will naturally have a milk supply come in after the baby is born. This is just standard biology. Many people assume that the parent birthing the baby will breastfeed. However, with two females who are both able to lactate, there are many potential options available and couples may not be aware of these. Each has its own set of pros and cons.
Co-nursing is when both parents, including same-sex female couples or any LGBTQ couple, share in feeding the baby. This works well for many couples, and not so much for others. This looks a little different for every family:
- Both parents may be very interested in co-nursing and so the non-birth parent induces lactation.
- The birth parent may not wish to share breastfeeding but their partner may want to do so, or vice versa. In either case, this could be a challenge for the couple.
- There is also the possibility that the birth parent may not want to breastfeed directly. The birth parent may prefer to pump and provide the milk to the non-birth parent, who then feeds the baby with a supplementer at breast.
- Sometimes the parents decide that neither will breastfeed. Instead, they decide baby will be bottle fed (expressed breastmilk or formula or both) by both parents. This is often done in an effort to promote equal bonding between the baby and both parents.
- Another possible variation is that the birth parent will not breastfeed or pump and the non-birth parent will induce lactation and breastfeed the baby.
What does “inducing lactation” mean? Inducing lactation means making milk without ever being pregnant. The human body is amazing! A human (male or female, including transgender people) need not ever be pregnant to induce a milk supply. There are many ways to do this. One of the best websites on inducing lactation is Ask Lenore.
Other things to consider with co-nursing are the logistics. Pumping will be needed to maintain both parents’ supplies and to avoid engorgement due to lack of nursing, as baby can only nurse from one parent at a time. Baby may begin to prefer one parent over the other for nursing, which can lead to some challenges for the couple. Determining who will breastfeed and when can also be a challenge. Open and honest communication is important to work with these situations.
There are a myriad of reasons that parents will choose any of the above options; these different options work well for different couples in varying situations. We need to ask the parents what they feel most comfortable with and support them in doing what works best for them and their family. It is important that parents discuss the options thoroughly and openly, and, if possible, with an IBCLC who is familiar with co-nursing and working with LGBTQ families for extra support. Many potentially unexpected emotions can come in to play when a baby is brought into the family. Partners may be unprepared for the range of the emotions that can show up when a newborn comes into their relationship.
The most important thing for all LGBTQ couples to know is that the options are many and varied, and individual couples need to do what works for them and their baby. Ensuring support with a knowledgeable and LGBTQ-friendly IBCLC will help tremendously if options, logistics, pros, and cons need to be discussed.
For more information on LGBTQ families (and breastfeeding):
- Database of LGBTQ Friendly lactation professionals
- Offbeat Families – Co-Nursing
- Mothers’ Milk: Two-Parent Co-Nursing in Queer Families
- Gay Mom – Straight World
Jaye Simpson is a mother of three boys, a full-time private practice IBCLC (Lactation Consultant), lesbian, and married to her wonderful wife, Jo.