Can a Woman Produce Breast Milk Without Being Pregnant?

Many women wonder if it’s possible to lactate and produce breast milk without being pregnant or recently giving birth. The answer is yes – with the right hormone stimulation, non-pregnant and non-postpartum women can start making milk. This phenomenon is known as induced lactation.

While not common, induced lactation can serve important purposes. Adoptive mothers may want to breastfeed their adopted infants, lesbian couples may both want to nurse their baby, and some women simply want the experience of breastfeeding. With dedication and effort, it is possible for a woman who has never been pregnant to produce her own milk.

How Does Milk Production Work Normally?

Breast milk production is controlled by a complex interaction of hormones. High levels of estrogen during pregnancy cause the breasts to grow and expand the milk duct system. Progesterone supports the growth of milk-producing cells.

As estrogen and progesterone drop sharply at delivery, levels of prolactin (the main milk-production hormone) rise. This prolactin surge triggers the breasts to start producing colostrum, the first early breastmilk.

Removing milk from the breast through nursing or pumping leads to continued prolactin release. Oxytocin is also released during nursing, causing milk to be “let down” and ejected from the breasts.

This hormonal process means that regular removal of milk from the breasts is essential to maintain milk supply. The more milk removed, the more prolactin released, signalling the breasts to produce more milk.

How Is Milk Production Induced Without Pregnancy?

To induce lactation without pregnancy, the same principles are used to mimic normal milk production. Estrogen and progesterone are first given to promote breast tissue growth.

Once this development occurs, the estrogen/progesterone therapy is stopped. Prolactin levels can then be increased using prescription drugs or herbs to signal the breasts to start making milk.

Finally, the breasts must be stimulated frequently – at least every 2-3 hours – via pumping or nursing. This is to remove milk and maintain the prolactin signalling. Over time, increasing milk volumes are typically produced.

The process takes dedication and consistent effort. Herbal or prescription regimens are continued for months to keep prolactin elevated until milk production is well established. Nursing/pumping sessions are frequent. Most induced lactation protocols take 3-6 months from start to full milk supply.

Prescription Medications Used

The most common prescription drug used for induced lactation is domperidone. Domperidone increases prolactin release indirectly by altering dopamine levels in the brain. Studies show domperidone effectively increases milk production in both pregnant and non-pregnant women.

In Canada and internationally, domperidone is widely prescribed off-label by physicians to stimulate lactation. However, domperidone is not FDA approved for lactation in the United States.

Alternatives like sulpiride or chlorpromazine may also be prescribed. These antipsychotic medications can elevate prolactin as a side effect. However, they carry more risks than domperidone and require close physician monitoring.

Metoclopramide is another prescription medication used to increase milk supply by stimulating prolactin. However, it also has side effects that limit its use. None of these prescription options are approved by the FDA for inducing lactation.

Herbal Supplements

Many herbs and natural supplements can be safely used to increase milk production for induced lactation. These include:

  • Fenugreek: The most popular herbal galactagogue, or milk-producing supplement. Fenugreek contains compounds that stimulate prolactin. Dosages of up to 9 grams daily are often used.
  • Blessed Thistle: Also stimulates prolactin release. Effective when combined with fenugreek. Usual dosage is 3-5 grams per day.
  • Goat’s Rue: Increases prolactin while lowering prolactin inhibitors. Often used with fenugreek. Goat’s rue dosing ranges from 1-4 grams daily.
  • Moringa: Thought to have hormonal effects similar to estrogen plus contains lactose which may boost milk levels. Used at doses around 4 grams daily.
  • Shatavari: An Ayurvedic herb used traditionally to increase breastmilk production. Believed to have estrogen-like effects on the breasts and prolactin activity. Typical dosage is 1-6 grams per day.

These herbs can be taken alone or combined into formulas specific for induced lactation. It’s ideal to consult a lactation specialist or herbalist on the best approach. Monitoring hormone levels may help determine appropriate dosages.

Birth Control Considerations

Since estrogen promotes breast tissue growth in early lactation protocols, many adopt the combined oral contraceptive pill for at least the first several weeks to months. The estrogen in birth control pills helps expand breast ductal tissue in preparation for making milk.

Progestin-only birth control pills are not recommended, since progestins can inhibit breast development and milk production. Using an estrogen-based contraceptive allows both the benefits of estrogen priming and effective birth control during the process.

Once milk production is well established, a woman can switch to non-hormonal contraceptive methods if desired. Lactational amenorrhea can provide natural child spacing while exclusively breastfeeding as well.

Protocols for Inducing Lactation

There are several common protocols used for inducing lactation without pregnancy:

  • Newman-Goldfarb Protocol: One of the most researched regimens used by adoptive mothers and women wanting to induce lactation. Started as early as 16 weeks before “due date.” Involves estrogen, progesterone, galactagogues, and pumping.
  • Dom Protocol: Developed by Canadian physician Dr. Jack Newman. Uses high-dose domperidone and frequent pumping sessions. Can induce substantial milk production in as little as 3-4 weeks.
  • West Protocol: Developed by lactation consultant Lactation Education Resources. Uses birth control pills for breast stimulation, domperidone, herbs, and pumping. Timeline is 3-4 months.
  • Accelerating Milk Production: Protocol by adoption organization Starts 1-3 months before adoption placement date. Uses hormones, galactagogues, pumping, and breast stimulation.

The specifics of these protocols vary, but all follow the same framework of hormonal preparation, prolactin stimulation, and frequent milk removal. Working with a lactation consultant is ideal to determine the right regimen.

Techniques to Supplement Hormonal Therapy

In addition to medications or herbs, certain techniques can help boost milk production during induced lactation:

  • Frequent breast pumping: Pumping every 2-3 hours removes milk and maintains prolactin signalling. Typical goal is to pump for 15-20 minutes per breast per session.
  • Direct nipple stimulation: Stimulating the breasts with massage, hand expression, nipple rubbing, or using a breast pump suction can help release oxytocin to optimize let-down.
  • Skin-to-skin contact: Holding an adopted or foster infant skin-to-skin against the bare chest can stimulate hormonal responses similar to pregnancy and support milk production.
  • Masturbation: Self-stimulation of the nipples/breasts leading to orgasm produces oxytocin and may enhance let-down and output.
  • Acupuncture: Shows promise for increasing milk production by potentially modifying hormone levels and blood flow to breasts.
  • Visualization techniques: Imagining sensations of milk flowing, breasts full and leaking, or baby nursing may help trigger let-down reflex.

Combining these techniques with an effective hormonal regimen gives the highest chance of successfully inducing lactation. Support from partners, families, and peer groups also helps during the process.

How Much Milk Can You Produce?

The amount of milk produced via induced lactation varies greatly between women. Some can produce just drops or ounces per day, while others are able to eventually fully breastfeed. General estimates are:

  • Within first 1-2 weeks: 5-15mL (1-3 tsp) per breast per day
  • After 1 month: 30-60mL (1-2 oz) per breast per day
  • After 2 months: 60-120mL (2-4 oz) per breast per day
  • After 3 months: 120-240mL (4-8 oz) per breast per day
  • After 6 months: 240-480mL+ (8-16 oz+) per breast per day

These averages are based on women who follow rigorous induction protocols with galactagogues, frequent pumping, and professional support. Having breastfed previously may increase milk output as well. Some women never produce more than drops, while others are able to fully breastfeed twins. It varies greatly.

The amount of milk able to be produced depends most on the mother’s baseline mammary tissue, dedication to an effective protocol, and extent of prolactin response. Age and breast size do not determine outcomes. Support from family and lactation professionals also plays a big role.

Benefits of Induced Lactation

While induced lactation takes significant commitment, for many women the benefits make it worthwhile:

  • Enables adoptive mothers to breastfeed: Lets adopted infants receive breastmilk and adoptive moms experience breastfeeding their babies.
  • Allows same-sex couples to nurse: Enables non-birth lesbian mothers to nurse their babies and share feeding duties.
  • Provides breastmilk to preemies: Some NICUs use donor milk from induced lactation to feed premature infants.
  • Fulfills emotional goals: Allows women who have never been pregnant to experience nursing a baby, which may be emotionally meaningful.
  • Offers health benefits: Breastfeeding provides immunologic factors and nutrition even when milk supply is partial. And breastmilk composition is diverse among all women.
  • Promotes bonding and maternal behavior: Nursing may enhance attachment and interaction between mother and child.

If desired for any of these reasons, induced lactation can provide meaningful benefits despite requiring significant time and dedication. With realistic expectations and professional support, it is doable for many women.

Challenges and Considerations

Inducing lactation without pregnancy also comes with some unique challenges to consider:

  • Time commitment is intensive: Frequent pumping and taking medications/herbs is required, often over a period of months before milk flows. This level of commitment is not realistic or desirable for everyone.
  • Milk volumes are unpredictable: Some women produce only drops or limited amounts insufficient for exclusive feeding. Having realistic expectations is important.
  • Adopted baby may require supplementation: Especially in early months, supplemental feeding is often still needed to ensure baby’s nutrition until supply is adequate.
  • Hormonal side effects may occur: Prescription or herbal galactagogues can cause side effects like headaches, nausea, anxiety, or digestive issues that need monitoring.
  • Medical oversight is recommended: Working with lactation consultants and physicians that support induced lactation helps ensure protocols are safe and effective.
  • Emotional support helps: Partner, family, or peer support provides encouragement through a process that can be emotionally and physically taxing before rewarding.

The challenges involved mean induced lactation will likely remain relatively rare. But for many women, the benefits outweigh the difficulties.

Is Relactation Without Pregnancy Possible?

Relactation refers to re-starting breastmilk production after it has fully stopped, such as after weaning. For women who have been previously pregnant and lactated, relactation is generally easier than inducing milk for the first time.

The same principles apply of using prolactin-raising medications or herbs along with frequent pumping to signal the breasts to start making milk again. But since the mammary glands have produced milk previously, they may be more responsive when re-stimulated.

Relactation often takes 1-2 months with intensive pumping until milk returns. Some women relactate in just weeks. Medical oversight with a lactation consultant is still ideal to develop an appropriate regimen. Realistic expectations are also important, as milk volumes may not reach previous levels.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the earliest induced lactation can start?

Protocols typically begin 2-4 months before an adopted baby is due to maximize milk production. However, the process takes consistency over a longer period of time. Starting 1 year out with just galactagogues, pumping occasionally, and breast stimulation can slowly prepare the breasts for later more intensive induction.

Does induced lactation affect fertility?

In most cases, induced lactation should not impact fertility, especially if non-hormonal contraceptives are used after the initial breast development phase. Estrogen and progesterone early on can limit conception, while exclusive pumping and amenorrhea may temporarily reduce fertility. But normal ovulation and fertility return for most women after lactation stops.

How long does induced lactation last?

Consistency is key – the more milk that is removed by regular pumping or nursing, the longer high milk production will be sustained. As long as stimulation is maintained and prolactin remains elevated, induced lactation can continue for months or years. Weaning once desired levels are reached leads to gradual drying up.

What foods or diet help increase breastmilk?

Eating a balanced diet rich in protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats provides the nutrients required for optimal milk production. Oats, leafy greens, lean meats, eggs, nuts/seeds, beans, and yogurt are all nourishing dietary additions. Staying hydrated by drinking to thirst is also beneficial. No specific “magic” lactation foods have been shown to substantially increase volumes alone.

What if pumping and supplements don’t seem effective?

If efforts to induce lactation don’t appear successful after 2-3 months, asking your doctor about possibly adjusting the hormonal regimen can help. Checking for potential health or hormonal barriers, increasing pumping frequency, adding power-pumping sessions, alternating breasts, trying breast massage and compression, and exploring donor milk are some other options to boost results. But for some women, minimal outputs remain the reality.


While uncommon, induced lactation is possible with dedication, professional support, and realistic expectations. For many women, the ability to breastfeed without pregnancy and childbirth can be meaningful, worthwhile, and a beautiful experience. With appropriate guidance, commitment, and research, induced lactation can enable women to nurse adopted babies, partner’s babies, preemies, or simply fulfill personal goals to breastfeed.