Surrogacy and Breastmilk

Choosing how to feed your newborn is an important decision for every parent. Whether you hope to provide breastmilk for your newborn, or you’ve decided that formula is a better fit, there is no “right or wrong”. For parents through surrogacy and the surrogates who help them, the decision to receive and provide breastmilk must be made as a team. One that depends, in part, on a surrogate’s familiarity and comfort level with breastfeeding and/or pumping. At Growing Generations, we know there’s a lot to consider on the topic. That’s why we decided to get firsthand perspectives from a few of our experienced surrogates through a casual conversation about the decision-making process, helpful preparations, complications, and much more.

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Deciding Whether or Not to Pump

For some surrogates, the choice to pump for their intended parents was an easy one. Knowing how passionately they felt about wanting breastmilk for their own babies, they understood the personal desire their intended parents would potentially have. For others, they know that pumping breastmilk will not reasonably fit into their lifestyle, they experienced challenges when breast feeding their own children, or perhaps they aren’t sure but are willing to give it a try. Pumping takes up a lot of time, energy, and commitment, making it essential to think through the process and prepare for it in advance.

Preparing to Pump

So, you’ve decided to pump, how should you prepare? Kelly, a three-time surrogate with Growing Generations, made sure to have her breast shields, nursing bras, and a hospital-grade pump ready to go. Jodie, a two-time surrogate, did her best to load up on shields with different nipple sizes because she knew that nipple size can change after giving birth. These are wonderful ways to prepare for pumping after birth, but sometimes complications arise that a surrogate isn’t prepared for.

Although Jodie was thoroughly prepared for her pumping journey after giving birth, she, unfortunately, ended up developing mastitis (an infection of a clogged milk duct). This can cause a lot of pain and frustration when trying to pump, so her journey was not as smooth as she anticipated. Even though her doctor recommended she quit pumping during her first journey, it didn’t stop her from trying again (and succeeding) her second time around.

Connie, who is also a two-time surrogate with Growing Generations, experienced quite a lot of difficulty with one of her journeys. She had a difficult delivery and pumping right after giving birth seemed almost impossible. Instead, she did the best thing she could’ve possibly done in the given situation: she stayed patient with the complications and gave herself grace. She knew her milk would naturally come in a few days later without having to push her body too hard by attempting to pump right away, ultimately letting her body rest when it needed it the most.

To Latch or Not to Latch

Another decision that may be made between surrogates and intended parents, is whether the parents would like the baby to directly latch onto the breast to feed. This, of course, is another group decision. It is very important for both parties to be completely comfortable with the idea before proceeding. One common concern for surrogates and intended parents is that directly breastfeeding the baby could create a bond that was not felt during pregnancy. This was something Kelly considered in her first journey, but when she and her intended parents made the decision to try it out, she described the feeling as “feeding a friend’s kid,” and she felt no attachment. Although Kelly didn’t experience the feeling of a bond being formed while feeding, her feelings about the process were openly expressed.

Transitioning Home/Shipping Breastmilk

The length of time intended parents want to receive breastmilk for their baby varies. If all goes well, they will receive breastmilk for an agreed time period after the birth. If a surrogate does not live within driving distance to them, the delivery process consists of pumping, freezing the milk, storing the frozen bags in a cooler with a cooling agent, and placing that cooler in a box to ship to the parents’ location. Shipping shouldn’t take more than 48 hours to ensure the milk maintains the proper temperature. Surrogates receive weekly compensation for these efforts, regardless of the amount of milk, and they are reimbursed for their shipping supplies, all of which can be conveniently purchased online.

Kelly, Connie, and Jodie all agree that setting up a pumping schedule is key, especially when life starts to get back to its normal pace. Ensuring you have plenty of supplies on hand and a plan for shipping breastmilk to the intended parents are equally as important.
When it’s time for a surrogate to break up with her pump, it can be difficult to quit cold turkey. Instead, surrogates have found it to be much more beneficial to taper down on sessions. Whether that looks like skipping every other pumping session or pumping for less and less time, a slow transition can be a good way to wean off the pump.

Other Feeding Avenues

Sometimes a surrogate’s breastmilk is not a part of the journey, and that’s perfectly fine. There are many reasons why this may not be the preferred option and all are valid. It’s truly a personal choice and one that should be respected.

If a family wants to utilize breastmilk but the surrogate is not comfortable with the idea or is not able to produce breastmilk, intended parents have a few options. Women who have an excess supply of breastmilk sometimes choose to donate it to milk banks for other families. The best way to go about this option would be to contact a reputable, local milk bank to find out how their process works. It is also possible to find a surrogate whose intended parents are not interested in receiving breastmilk. If she wants to pump for a different family, we can connect them. Intended parents are also encouraged to share their desire to use breastmilk at the beginning of their surrogacy journey, that way it can be a goal to be matched with a surrogate who is open to providing it.

Some intended mothers would love to experience feeding their baby, to which we say go for it! Something incredible about the human body is that breasts have the ability to produce milk even if a pregnancy has never occurred. Inducing lactation can be achieved for some people through alternative means. The best way for someone to go about breastfeeding this way would be to talk to their doctor about how best to achieve lactation and whether the process is a healthy option for them.

You’ve Got This!

Growing Generations is here to help facilitate conversations around breastfeeding and breastmilk. We have a comprehensive help guide we can share with you and are here so your journey, whether as a surrogate or a parent, is never walked alone.

Kim Bergman, PhD, a licensed psychologist of 26 years, has specialized in the area of gay and lesbian parenting, parenting by choice and third party assisted reproduction for over two decades. Dr. Bergman has created a comprehensive psychological screening, support and monitoring process for intended parents, surrogates and donors. She is the co-owner of Growing Generations and is a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the American Psychological Association, the Los Angeles County Psychological Association, the Lesbian and Gay Psychotherapy Association, and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. She is on the national Emeritus board of the Family Equality Council. Dr. Bergman writes, teaches and speaks extensively on parenting by choice. Along with co-authors, she published “Gay Men Who Become Fathers via Surrogacy: The Transition to Parenthood” (Journal of GLBT Family Studies, April 2010). Dr. Bergman’s is the author of the book, Your Future Family: The Essential Guide to Assisted Reproduction (Conari Press 2019) as well as the children's book You Began as a Wish (Independent Press 2019). Dr. Bergman created her own family using third party assisted reproduction and she lives with her wife of 35 years. She has two adult daughters.