Welcome to Part Two of our “Awkward Questions” series. In these posts we dig into some common questions that LGBTQ parents have, but often feel awkward asking.
If you missed it, you can read Part One here. As always, in cases where I’m quoting people from Facebook groups that I’m a part of, I have spoken with the original poster and received their permission to share their posts here.
Today we’re going to look into co-nursing and being pregnant when you don’t identify as feminine or female. So let’s dive in!
Has anyone tried co-nursing? Would you recommend it?
I’ll be honest, until our midwife asked Kathryn whether she planned to co-nurse (I carried our child), I hadn’t even known co-nursing was a thing. So for those of you who are equally in the dark, here’s a short primer.
Co-nursing is when a non-gestational woman induces lactation in order to breastfeed.
There are protocols a woman will follow to achieve this, for example, the Newman-Goldfarb protocol. Here’s how parenting.com describes it:
The protocol combines pumping with taking birth control pills and the drug Domperidone, which boosts a woman’s milk supply by releasing the prolactin hormone. The Food and Drug Administration has questioned the use of Domperidone for allegedly causing cardiac problems and unknown risks for infants, but it’s commonly prescribed in Europe and Canada. Some U.S. lactation coaches and physicians encourage its use, although many refuse to prescribe it.
While Kathryn and I were initially intrigued by the idea, we quickly ruled it out once we learned what it involved. Taking the hormones just wasn’t for us. That said, supporters of co-nursing point out several benefits. For example Medela Moments cites:
More time with baby is a plus for any parent, and having the ability to nurse and participate directly in feedings means more one-on-one (and skin-to-skin) time for the non-gestational mom.
Shared responsibilities are important for any couple to have. It can be a big benefit for both moms to be so closely involved with baby’s care – especially in those early days and weeks when sleep is at a premium and there is so much to do and keep track of. But, inducing lactation can be a very time-consuming process, so be prepared for the commitment and be gentle on yourself if things don’t work out as planned.
More milk! When both moms are producing milk, one or both may have the ability to pump and store a surplus of milk in the fridge or freezer. This may also make it possible to donate breast milk to moms and babies in need.
Breastfeeding is more than just breast milk, so even if the mom inducing lactation has trouble establishing her supply, she can still nurse baby for comfort.
Below are a couple additional perspectives from folks in the Pride and Joy Project Family Network Facebook Group. Amy shares both the challenges and the benefits their family experienced, and Caitlin shares a non-hormone option for people looking to try co-nursing.
My wife carried our first baby. I identify as nonbinary and attempted to induce lactation without following the protocol. I used herbs and supplements and pumped (but started too late). Unfortunately I didn’t make any milk, but I did comfort nurse our baby for the first several months. He’s still nursing with my wife but no longer interested in nursing with me. For the first 5 months of his life he had a tongue tie and nursing was so painful for my partner. He wanted nothing more than to be sucking all day long and having me as a secondary pacifier (he didn’t want actual pacifiers/soothers) was such a big help. It was complicated for me both emotionally and physically, but for us it was worth it.
One option is to use a ‘supplemental nursing system’ where you fill a little bag with pumped milk from the GP and it comes out a tiny soft tube you tape above your nipple. The bonding of nursing without the hormones. That worked well for my wife.
UPDATE: After posting this, Alex from Aeroflow Breastpumps reached out to me to share a Q&A they recently published on their blog with a woman named Glenis who is beginning the journey of co-nursing. It was great to read Glenis’ perspective. She’s candid, accessible, and absolutely thrilled to be on this journey.
My wife and I are planning to co-nurse, and I have been in the process of Inducing Lactation since January. We are currently 25 weeks pregnant! I am getting ready to start pumping every 3 hours starting July 1!
I am passionate and soooooo excited to be doing this that I created an Instagram page to detail every single step of my journey. I wanted a safe and open environment where I could share all my milestones. I also am an advocate for breastfeeding and I wanted to use this platform to do just that. I am already able to hand express 1 oz a day!
You can follow her progress on her Instagram.
Have any of you tried co-nursing? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments!
What’s it like to be pregnant as someone who doesn’t identify as feminine or female?
While I do identify as female, I’m definitely way masculine-of-center. And I’ve got to say, being pregnant — while very special and magical and circle of life and whatnot — honestly did mess with my mind and sense of self. Even to this day I have a complicated relationship with my memory of it.
On the one hand, I am infinitely grateful that I was able to be pregnant. The most obvious and biggest reason for this is the existence of our child. But it’s not just that. Being pregnant — as miserable as it was on a daily basis for me — was an experience that I’m grateful to have had.
But it was not fun. In addition to the usual, objective discomfort associated with being pregnant (nausea, back pain, hemorrhoids, heartburn, getting kicked in the rib cage every single time you’re about to fall asleep, peeing always, headaches, etc.) I just felt… depressed. My body didn’t feel like my body. I couldn’t find clothes that didn’t have, like, frills on the sleeves and stupid cut necklines. Every time I tried to go for a run I felt nauseous for days afterward. I just… didn’t feel like me.
Pretty early on I stopped doing the things I normally love (running, coding, having sex with my wife) and started just… sitting. I spent a lot of time sitting. Mostly on the couch. I tried to read sometimes, but usually I’d stop reading and go back to just sitting. Kathryn would rub my back. That part was nice. But the rest of it was… long. And devoid of me..
On the other hand, I got to build a human being inside me. I followed along to Baby Center’s weekly updates telling me what size fruit our embryo was. I genuinely delighted every time I felt G move inside me (honestly, I didn’t even really mind the nighttime jabs in the ribcage that much. It’s not like I was sleeping anyway…). And while I expected to hate nursing (I told Kathryn before G was born that I’d force myself to nurse for the first 6 months because I knew that was good for the baby, but that after that we’d do formula), in reality I seriously loved and cherished nursing, and kept it up until G was over a year old.
So for me it was a mixed bag. Now let’s hear some other folks’ perspectives.
First off, a lot of people have recommended Pregnant Butch: Nine Long Months Spent in Drag
So if you’re looking for another perspective, you might want to check that out.
And here are a couple other stories:
This is so real. I’m okay with she/her (I’m a cisgender woman but feel like my gender is tied to my queerness if that makes sense) but still felt burdened by the heteronormative and extremely gendered nature of pregnancy. If I’m being honest, it was a struggle. I didn’t feel a lot of kinship with cis-het pregnant women in my community. So I went out on a limb and found other queer folk to be my community. Where I am, we have a robust parenting (okay, mostly moms) forum. I posted there to see if anyone else was feeling unmoored in the sea of pregnant straight women and ended up finding my people. About ten families showed up to meet, and we continued meeting throughout our pregnancies and into infant-hood. Now the group has grown and we meet more sporadically. But meeting these people saved my sanity in a world where I had my mother and sister asking me why I didn’t just wear leggings and a tunic when I voiced concern about the super femme maternity clothing selection.
All this to say that I hear you, and I recognize that this might be really hard. And my best advice is to try and find people with whom you have kinship and support, even if they’re online since you live in a remote area. Good luck, and we’re here for ya.
Laura Bradley Rede
I’ve never been pregnant (our first child joined us by adoption and my partner birthed our other two). It would have made a lot of sense financially for me to be the one to carry our kids, but the thought of being pregnant put my dysphoria through the roof–and this was before I was even out to myself or anyone else as nonbinary/genderqueer (I was still identifying as lesbian because I didn’t have the language to describe my gender). My point is just to offer solidarity. Dysphoria around pregnancy is real. I am confident you can get through it with support, but just want to affirm that you are not alone in feeling that way.
Do you have a question you’d like us to cover in this Awkward Questions series? Leave a comment or email me at lgbtqparenting at gmail.com.
And if you have any experience with the topics discussed today, please share in the comment section!
Also, if you haven’t already, check out Awkward Questions Part One.