Never underestimate the determination of a mother. Or the power of medicine.
A 30-year-old mum has made history, becoming the first transgender woman on record to breastfeed her baby. The new mum did not give birth to bub, but was able to exclusively breastfeed the newborn for six weeks.
And she did the seemingly impossible through stringent breast stimulation and a selection of medications.
While there have been anecdotal stories of transgender women breastfeeding, this is the first time medical experts have documented it. The account was published in Transgender Health and is massive news in the medical world.
“This is a very big deal,” Dr Joshua Safer of Boston Medical Center, told New Scientist. “Many transgender women are looking to have as many of the experiences of non-transgender women as they can, so I can see this will be extremely popular.”
The quest to breastfeed
So how did this apparent medical miracle happen? When her partner was five months pregnant, the transgender woman approached her team of medical professionals with a question – would it be possible for her to breastfeed her baby?
After her partner decided she did not want to breastfeed, the non-gestational mother wanted to take the task on herself.
Although she was not carrying the baby, had not had gender reassignment surgery or breast augmentation, doctors believed it just might work.
Tamar Reisman of Mount Sinai hospital in New York, one of the doctors who reported the case, says, “Transgender medicine is becoming part of mainstream medicine. We’re getting more evidence-based data, we’re getting more standardised care, we’re getting more reproductive options.”
Already on hormone therapy, the woman started to include a gradually increasing regimen of the female hormones progesterone and estradiol. She also started taking domperidone, a nausea medication known to increase milk production.
In addition to the drugs, she stimulated her chest with a breast milk pump.
Within one month, doctors reported the patient had developed breasts and was able to express milk droplets. After three months, she was expressing 227 grams of breast milk per day.
When bub was born, she was able to exclusively breastfeed for six weeks before supplementing with formula. Doctors monitored both mum and bub carefully and a paediatrician confirmed the baby was growing and developing normally and healthily.
World first, but not ready for the world just yet
Doctors are hailing the success story as a breakthrough in modern medicine because it proves “modest but functional lactation can be induced in transgender women”.
However, the regimen won’t be available internationally until it is proven safe and effective.
One of the issues is that the FDA hasn’t approved the drug domperidone for use in the United States. The patient got the drug from Canada. And although domperidone is used in Australia, it’s not given out lightly.
Another concern is the long-term impact on the milk. The woman’s breast milk has not been assessed and, although bub seems healthy, it’s too soon to know for sure.
“We don’t know if it has the same mix of components as in milk from new gestational mothers. This means the practice cannot yet be recommended,” says Madeline Deutsch at the University of California, San Francisco.
What the experiment does provide is a positive step for all mums in a similar position who would like to give breastfeeding a try.
Looking for more transgender success stories? Have a read of the touching story of this transgender family proving that love is love, no matter what.