What is induced lactation, the process that allows you to breastfeed if you haven't given birth?

Images of Jaclyn and Kelly Pfeiffer breastfeeding their twins together are going viral [Photo: Benzel Photography/Caters]

Powerful images of same-sex parents both breastfeeding their newborn twins is melting the Internet.

In one of the photos, new mums Jaclyn, 34 and Kelly Pfeiffer, 37 are holding hands and gazing at each other lovingly as they each breastfeed one of their twins.

And the back story behind the image is equally as special as the picture itself.

After meeting in 2012 through mutual friends, Jaclyn and Kelly started trying to conceive children of their own back in 2016.

But their path to parenthood was much more difficult than they anticipated.

Commenting on their journey Kelly, a nurse, said: “In December of 2015, we did a news story about same sex couples both being on their child’s birth certificates and it made us realise how much we wanted children together.

“We started trying to conceive shortly after that in January of 2016. But it turned out to be much more challenging than we expected.

“We thought it was going to be easy. We initially wanted Jaci to carry, but after many failed cycles, and a diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome [PCOS] and polyps, we decided I would try.”

READ MORE: Stacey Solomon gets real about breastfeeding struggle and 'Pepperami nipples'

The couple's journey to parenthood wasn't easy [Photo: Benzel Photography/Caters]

Fast forward two years, nine months, $21,000 (approx £16,500) and 377 injections, and the couple finally found themselves pregnant with miracle twins - one from each of their embryos.

"To conceive our twins, it took: two years and nine months, five intrauterine inseminations at home, two intrauterine inseminations in the doctor's office, one hysterosalpingogram, two saline sonograms, two polyp removals, 15 fresh inseminations, four IVF consultations, 18 monitoring appointments, four egg retrievals, two fresh embryo transfers, three frozen embryo transfers, one cancelled cycle, 58 eggs retrieved, 25 embryos pre-implantation genetic screening tested [PGS], 17 embryos PGS normal, one chemical pregnancy, 377 injections, countless negative pregnancy tests and one emergency c-section,” Kelly continues.

“We both wanted a baby bad enough that giving up wasn’t an option.

“There were times when it felt like we would never hold a baby, but looking back, they were worth every single shot and every failed cycle and we wouldn’t change a thing.”

Kelly gave birth to twins, Jackson and Ella, back in May [Photo: Benzel Photography/Caters]

Since welcoming their miracle babies, Jackson and Ella, who were born in May, the couple have been celebrating every aspect of motherhood, including feeding, and decided to share images, taken by photographer, Melissa Benzel, of the two of them breastfeeding their twins in unison.

Kelly said: "Since they have arrived, it has been both amazing and exhausting.

"We’re still trying to get into a routine, but I can’t think of a better reason to be exhausted - we’re absolutely in love.

"Being able to breastfeed our children together is so surreal and we love it.

"We had no idea what our options were for having a baby when we first started out.

"And we had never even heard of induced lactation, which is the process that enables Jaclyn to be able to breastfeed our twins.”

READ MORE: Mum left 'angry and embarrassed' after being told to stop breastfeeding her baby on Ryanair flight

Both Kelly and Jaclyn are breastfeeding the twins [Photo: Benzel Photography/Caters]

What is induced lactation?

According to experts, it is possible for some women to breastfeed even if they haven’t been pregnant and it’s all thanks to a process known as induced lactation.

“With preparation and dedication breastfeeding without pregnancy can be possible, although it may prove to be quite a challenge,” explains Liz Halliday, Deputy Head of Midwifery at Private Midwives.

Although it isn’t the case for Jaclyn and Kelly, Liz says the process can be helped if a woman has already carried a baby.

“One thing that can make a difference, is whether the mother has previously given birth,” Liz continues.

“If so, her body will be familiar with the process of producing milk – this will make reproducing milk for a baby she has not given birth to a lot easier, in comparison to a woman who hasn’t previously delivered her own children.”

According to Liz, the natural production of breast milk (lactation) is triggered by a complex interaction between three hormones — oestrogen, progesterone and human placental lactogen — during the final months of pregnancy.

“At the times of delivery, levels of oestrogen and progesterone fall, which allow the hormone prolactin to increase and initiate milk production,” Liz explains.

In some cases medication can be prescribed to women to help stimulate this change in hormones.

But it is possible for some women to breastfeed without medical intervention.

“Additionally, creating a pumping schedule will encourage the production and release of prolactin – to maintain this, breastfeeding should be upheld for 15-20 minutes daily every day until the baby arrives.”

“However, it is always recommended that women to consult their doctor and a lactation consultant before preparing for induced lactation,” she adds.

Now Kelly wants other same-sex couples to know that they’re not alone in their journeys to parenthood.

"We want other couples to know what their options are, and that they’re not alone in this process,” she says.

“I can’t even describe how I felt when I first saw them. I couldn’t stop crying and instantly just felt so much love for them. I knew all of our struggles were worth it.”