You’re set on being a surrogate, and you’re committed to delivering a baby (or maybe two!) for someone else. But what happens after delivery? If your intended parents ask for your breast milk to feed their baby, what will you say? What are some factors to think about as you make this decision? Are there costs and benefits to consider?
This post walks you through the answers to these questions and more. The good news is that if you’re not yet pregnant, you have plenty of time to make this decision - although you should definitely start thinking about it now!
In most cases, surrogates who provide breast milk for their surro-babies do so via pumping their milk and storing it in bags or bottles for later feedings. Long-term breast-feeding is typically impossible anyway, due to obvious logistical issues like distance and living arrangements. Beyond that, though, the goal after delivery is typically for the baby to bond with his/her parents via skin-to-skin contact.
Very occasionally, intended parents or surrogates will request that breastfeeding occur only in the hospital after delivery, or just while the surrogate is producing colostrum, in order to facilitate the surrogate’s milk coming in and to make those earlier feeding stag-es easier for everyone. This happens very rarely, however.
Since breastfeeding is an intimate early encounter between a woman and the baby, it should never be an expectation that intended parents or surrogates will agree to this arrangement. And even if they do agree prior to delivery, all parties should remain open to the possibility of plans and feelings changing after the baby arrives.
You read that right - many surrogates agree to pump! Although this doesn’t mean that you need to pump after delivery in order to become a surrogate, it may be helpful to hear some of the underlying motivations if you’re undecided.
Many surrogates simply care deeply about their surro-babies, while also recognizing the unique nutritional and immune-boosting benefits of breast milk. They may have nursed and/or pumped for their own babies had positive experiences, and are committed to providing breast milk for their surro-baby as well.
Some of these surrogates are so passionate about nursing that they commit themselves to pumping after delivery even when their intended parents opt to formula-feed instead. These surrogates sometimes choose to donate their milk to local milk banks.
Other surrogates who plan to pump are focused on how pumping can impact their recovery following pregnancy and childbirth, helping their bodies get back to “normal” at a faster rate than might happen otherwise.
A commitment to pump is just that - a commitment. Pumping requires a significant amount of time and effort.
In order to keep up your milk supply, you’ll likely need to pump every 2-3 hours (including overnight) for the first 3-4 weeks or so after delivery. Once your milk supply is established, you may be able to increase the amount of time between pumping sessions; however, you’ll still need to keep yourself on a fairly consistent schedule. You’ll need to balance this schedule with your other daily commitments, like work, parenting, house-hold chores, social events, etc.
If your intended parents do not live or work in reasonable driving distance of your home, you’ll also need to store, freeze, pack, and ship your breast milk, generally either once per week or once every two weeks. Your match manager with help you and your in-tended parents figure out how to manage these tasks logistically, and there will also be plenty of support available from your fellow ConceiveAbilities surrogates. Regardless, though, this arrangement does equate to even more time and effort put into the process of providing milk for your surro-baby.
Occasionally, surrogates who pump may also develop mastitis or other types of breast complications. Such complications are rare and they are typically very treatable, but it makes sense to be aware of and prepared for this possibility.
Many surrogates will tell you that the benefits of pumping far exceed these “cons.” Also keep in mind that even though your pumping payment is generally pre-set and non-negotiable, you are compensated for your overall time and effort on a weekly basis, regardless of how much milk you produce and provide. You are also reimbursed for any pumping supplies you need to purchase (i.e., storage bags, bottles, ice for shipping, pump parts, etc.) in a given week.
ConceiveAbilities matching experts will definitely ask you whether you intend to pump; this topic will be addressed during the initial match meeting with your IPs. The surrogate acceptance team will ask you as well! However, unless you are already very sure of your plans, you should not feel pressured to give a firm answer so early in your surrogacy process. Instead, be honest and consider sharing some of your thoughts and/or hesitations. It’s okay to say ”maybe” or “I’m not sure yet” and allow your final decision to evolve over time.
Pumping after delivery is not a requirement for surrogates; neither is it an expectation. If your intended parents want to feed their baby breast milk and you are either unable or unwilling to provide it, ConceiveAbilities staff will help them to explore other options, such as milk banks, arrangements with other surrogates, or private arrangements with family members, friends, or online contacts. There are almost always feasible ways to access breast milk, even when it’s not coming from the surrogate.
In other words, you will be matched and able to pursue your dream of being a surrogate whether you agree to pump or not.
Flexibility and open-mindedness are essential when it comes to making a plan for pumping. During your 30-week birth discussion with your match manager, you and your intended parents will discuss hopes and expectations related to any planned pumping arrangements. Your intended parents will indicate approximately how long they would like to receive your breast milk, and you will share the length of time that you anticipate being willing and able to pump. Know that these are ideal plans, though. Neither you nor your intended parents can predict how successful, easy, or pleasant pumping will be in reality until it becomes…a reality!
Your surro-baby may not respond well to your milk. You may be too exhausted to follow through on your original commitment. Your milk supply may diminish over time. Your intended parents may not be able to sustain the pumping arrangement over time due to the very high costs of weekly shipping. Many factors can lead to changes in the pump-ing timeline.
Also remember that just as you get to decide whether you will pump, intended parents decide how they will feed their babies. This decision is a personal one, and it’s one of the very first parenting decisions that your intended parents will make. As a result, it shouldn’t be challenged or judged, even when it’s not in line with what you prefer or believe. Don’t take a decision to formula-feed personally; instead, understand and respect your intended parents for making the choice that seems right for their newly-expanded family.
If you and your intended parents do move forward with pumping, reach out to your ConceiveAbilities staff members and surrogacy sisterhood for any support that you may need, and always check with your OB or midwife if you have any medical questions or concerns.
All Things Conceivable is a blog dedicated to sharing the knowledge and expert opinions of the dedicated team at ConceiveAbilities, a Chicago-based egg donation and surrogacy agency.