Women choose to induce lactation for many reasons, and each journey is a truly personal one. Sometimes, they do this with the help of a loving and supportive partner, and other times, they do this alone. For Cheryl, the journey of self-inducing began quite by chance, when, after experiencing health issues, and researching alternative medicine, she discovered that stimulation of the breasts could lead to the production of milk.
I met this wonderful woman about a year ago, when she visited my original blog, and we have remained in constant contact ever since. Cheryl is a dear friend of mine, and her emotionally-moving personal story perfectly depicts the benefits of breastfeeding and the power of a woman.
Loving Milk Maid
Cheryl is a determined and vital 63-year-old woman who discovered the joy of adult nursing more than 30 years ago when she was breastfeeding her youngest of four sons. The experience, which continued for over a year, is one that Cheryl remembers fondly.
“I didn’t know anything about ANR back in the day,” she said. “I only knew that breastfeeding was something that my husband and I enjoyed very much. We nursed regularly until our son was weaned, and my milk dried up, but because we didn’t understand that dry nursing was a possibility, that part of our marriage faded away over time. To this day, though, I think of it as some of the warmest times we shared.”
Although she said she often thought of re-opening their nursing relationship, she was unsure of how to approach the subject, a decision that she regretted most after the unexpected loss of her husband 11 years ago.
“After being widowed, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, an experience that changes the way you think and feel. You begin to realize what is important in your life. I underwent radiation and chemotherapy, and was termed cancer-free about a year later.”
Unfortunately, Cheryl’s joy was short-lived. The cancer returned, and after deciding against undergoing a mastectomy, she underwent several more rounds of radiation and chemotherapy; while life-changing, Cheryl did not allow her illness to slow her down.
“The entire time I was battling, I was doing a lot of research on breast cancer, and found a lot of information from UC Berkeley. A great deal of research has been done on the benefits of breastfeeding, and it really motivated me. I was not in a position to actually breastfeed, but I could certainly pump, and I made up my mind to do so.”
Cheryl discussed the idea with her doctor, who was supportive of her decision, and while undergoing traditional forms of treatment, she began to stimulate her breasts twice a day, using a hospital-grade double electric pump. After some time, she was again declared cancer-free, but even afterwards, she continued to stimulate.
“What began as an additional form of treatment became something of a preventative measure,” said Cheryl. “I had to see my oncologist regularly, and each time I did, my scans and blood work came back clear. During one appointment, he said, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing, but whatever it is, keep doing it!’, and that was really all of the encouragement I needed.”
After almost a year of regularly pumping twice a day, once in the morning, and then again at bedtime, Cheryl noticed that her breasts were producing what she believed to be colostrum. To be sure, she scheduled an appointment with her doctor, who ordered tests, and when the results came back showing no signs of cancer, her prolactin levels were checked.
“They were elevated,” said Cheryl. “That made sense because, at the time, I had been pumping for almost a year and a half. Breast stimulation had become a very big part of my daily routine, and I was beginning to really like it. Producing colostrum brought back those days of breastfeeding and adult nursing, and I began to consider the idea of re-lactation.”
Because of her medical history, Cheryl, who is post-menopausal, chose not to undergo any form of hormone replacement therapy, and continued to stimulate, hoping to further encourage breast milk production. It was at that time that pumping became less about therapeutic treatment and more about the joy of the experience, which grew even stronger when, after a month, the colostrum she had been producing, turned into milk.
“At first, there were just a few drops, about the size of a pinpoint, but I was so pleased.”
To boost the lactation process, Cheryl began to look into the use of Fenugreek, but because it is a highly estrogenic herb, spoke with her doctor before including it into her daily re-lactation routine. Under his supervision, she now takes two capsules per day, and continues to pump her breasts twice daily.
“The drops have grown in number and size; I doubt I could fill even a half a teaspoon yet, but it is still exciting to see what my body is capable of, even after everything it has been through. The idea of a woman my age, a grandma, attempting to make breast milk would seem crazy to many people, I know, but there’s something comforting about the inducing process. It reminds me that, even though I’m doing this on my own, I’m a woman.”
Along with practicing a vegan lifestyle for the past five years, which Cheryl believes has played a role in both her overall continued good health and her ability to re-lactate, and her physician-approved Fenugreek supplements, she has now upgraded her original pump, purchasing a high-end Medela Symohony Plus system, which she says is very expensive, but offers hands-free double pumping and reduces operation time by increasing milk flow, and has added an additional afternoon inducing session to her regulated daily routine. Her long-term goal? To become fully lactated over time, but until that day comes, Cheryl is contentedly living her life to the fullest, enjoying time with her sons and grandchildren, and optimistic about her future.
“I would love to begin dating again. I feel ready to make that commitment. I would love to find a man to share my life with; I would love to have the chance to begin a long-term relationship, one that includes nursing. I know it’s difficult to find a willing partner, but I’m hopeful–and very open to many possibilities. Breastfeeding brings so much to a relationship. I’ve missed it. Being older really doesn’t keep you from new things. It’s the best time to begin, really. Experience teaches us so much.”
I would like to extend warm thanks and much gratitude to the lovely ladies who have shared their personal stories with others.
Names were used with permission.