Did you start off breastfeeding but encountered problems, but now want to go back to your breastfeeding? Relactation has got to be the best news for any mom who wants to get back in the game.
Or perhaps you’re considering adoption and looking for answers about whether you might be able to breastfeed.
Well, the good news extends to women who have never had babies of their own. With a little help from the doctor, they too may be able to breastfeed.
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of relactation and induced lactation to see what the options are.
What is Relactation?
In the simplest of definitions, relactation is building a woman’s breast milk supply which has reduced or totally dried up after a period without breastfeeding (1). The typical period may range from a couple of weeks to several months.
Relactation revolves around two key principles — bringing back the milk supply and getting your baby to latch and breastfeed again.
What About Induced Lactation?
Induced lactation, also known as “adoptive breastfeeding,” works similarly to relactation. It involves building up a milk supply in a woman who hasn’t gone through a recent pregnancy. This woman may have had children in the past, or she could be suffering from fertility difficulties.
Adoptive parents can consider this form of lactation to nourish their adopted babies naturally. If you know far enough in advance, the adoptive mom can go through hormone therapy to stimulate the production of hormones, estrogen, and progesterone.
In essence, you’ll be tricking your body into believing you are pregnant in hopes that your body will respond accordingly (2).
With induced lactation, mom will need to begin pumping milk at least two months before actually breastfeeding. Always remember that frequent pumping can enhance milk production. Working closely with a lactation consultant and your healthcare provider will give you the best chance of success.
What Is the Milk Composition From Induced Lactation?
Breast milk, whether after birth or from induced lactation (and relactation as well), remains breast milk. It has the same components and antibodies needed by your baby.
The one thing that I need to point out though, is that milk from induced lactation does not contain colostrum. This nutrient-rich, yellowish fluid is the first to come from the breast, two to five days following the birth.
Colostrum is extremely beneficial to a newborn baby and serves many functions in their bodies. It provides a nutritious and easily digestible meal for the baby and helps build their immunity.
Does the Baby’s Age Matter?
Ideally, the younger a baby is, the easier it will be for you to reintroduce the breast. Most babies under 1-month-old will probably root and latch the moment they’re placed on the breast. You’re likely to have more latching success with a baby who is younger than 3 months of age (3).
Babies older than 6 months tend to be less willing to resume (or even initiate) breastfeeding, especially if they’re already accustomed to bottle feeding. This should not discourage any mom from trying — all babies are different. Besides, research has shown that children between 1 and 2 years old have been breastfed successfully after a mother has relactated (4).
As long as you’re patient and willing to continue trying, you just might get your baby to breastfeed again.
How Long Will It Take for My Milk to Flow?
There is no definitive amount of time for relactation to work, since some female bodies respond faster than others. However, experts suggest that it may take at least one month to succeed.
How To Start Relactation
Establishing that bond one more time may require a little more than you might have anticipated. Check out these tips to help you along:
1. Consult Your Pediatrician
This is the first thing you should do before you start relactating. A pediatrician or professional lactation consultant will assess both your and the baby’s current situation before you get started. They will help prepare you for the journey ahead.
They will consider the baby’s current weight and advise you on how to monitor it as you progress. Additionally, they’ll want to know if you’re on any medications that can adversely affect your baby’s health.
Be open about all the medication you are taking, including herbal products. While not all forms of medicine pose a risk to your baby, some do (5).
Take this opportunity to talk to your doctor about what medicines are safe for nursing moms and which are not.
Thinking about having a board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) onboard? An IBCLC can be an essential part of your team. Many doctors have never heard of relactation or induced lactation, while an IBCLC has the training necessary to help with this particular situation.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
Lactation consultants can be particularly helpful to two groups of moms. Those who had a low milk supply or moms who just couldn’t bring themselves to breastfeed from the beginning. They will help you get to the root of the problem and provide suggestions to avert a similar scenario, now that you’re trying again.
2. Initiate Skin-To-Skin Contact with Your Baby
Skin-to-skin contact works wonders for both mom and baby. Cuddling your baby during skin-to-skin contact will give your baby a sense of security. By associating the breast with security, they’ll be more inclined to breastfeed.
Additionally, their natural reflexes will be stimulated, and they may find it much easier to latch and suckle. For mom, having your baby so close to you is known to boost hormone production which leads to an increase in milk production (6).
3. Avoid Pressuring Yourself or Baby
It’s important for you to know there won’t be instant results. It might take a couple of weeks or more before you can produce any milk worth mentioning.
So don’t stress yourself, and don’t pressure your baby to suckle. Be positive, give your body time to adjust, and take as much rest as you can. It’s likely that you will need to supplement with formula until your milk supply can begin to meet your baby’s needs.
4. Pump, Pump, and Pump Some More
Milk production relies on the principles of demand and supply. The more you express (demand), the more milk will be supplied.
Aim for 20- to 30-minute sessions every two to three hours — with two of those sessions happening at night. This way you will have pumped eight to twelve times every 24 hours.
Manual or Electric: Which Is Better?
The choice to buy a manual or electric pump depends on various factors, including convenience, efficiency, portability, and personal choice.
While manual pumps are lightweight and more affordable, using them takes more time, as only one breast can be expressed at a time. Electric pumps, specifically those that provide simultaneous pumping, offer greater efficiency and are less time consuming for this reason (7).
Make use of a good electric breast pump, and if you don’t have access to one, use your hands. While hand expressing may not be as effective as an electric pump, it remains a good option (9). For some moms, the skin on skin contact of hand expression works even better than a pump.
To stimulate more milk to be ‘let-down’, compress your breasts during every feeding or pumping session.
5. Go the Galactagogue Way
“Galactagogue” is any herb, food, or drug that increases breast milk production. Your doctor should be able to prescribe drugs should you need them. As far as herbal galactagogues are concerned, fenugreek, fennel, blessed thistle, stinging nettle, and wild asparagus have been found quite helpful (10).
It’s important to note not all herbs are created equal, and some are not safe for use during pregnancy or when breastfeeding. Speak with your doctor before starting an herbal regimen. Work closely with a lactation consultant if you plan to use a galactagogue.
Breast stimulation is still important when using a galactagogue. You will need to continue frequent milk removal while taking the herbs or medications. Milk supply is based on milk removal.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
6. Eat Breast Milk Stimulating Foods
A well-balanced diet is an important component to successful relactation. Some foods even have lactogenic (milk-making) properties, including green leafy vegetables (like spinach). Try having oats for breakfast, snack on almonds, and eat avocados and bananas. These foods are particularly good at boosting milk supply.
7. Drink Plenty of Water
Drinking water keeps you hydrated, which is crucial for milk production. If you don’t drink enough water, you won’t have enough fluids to help produce milk. Make it your goal to drink 11 to 12 glasses of water daily (11).
You can add a little pizzazz to your water by flavoring it with mint, strawberries, cucumbers or lemon.
8. Pre-Feed Baby
A hungry baby will cry your house down if you offer them a breast that doesn’t have a good flow of milk. You’ll both be frustrated and the baby may start associating the breast with frustration and refuse to breastfeed.
Pre-feed your baby with a little formula or expressed breastmilk before introducing them to the breast. A not-so-hungry baby is likely to be more receptive to breastfeeding. As your milk supply increases, you can reduce the supplementary feeding.
9. Consider a Lactation Aid
A lactation aid is a fantastic way to simultaneously let your child receive supplementary milk and stimulate your breast. The lactation aid involves using a bottle that contains expressed breast milk or formula connected to a feeding tube.
The loose end of the feeding tube is inserted into the baby’s mouth as they breastfeed. Alternatively, it can be taped to the mother’s breast so that it runs alongside the mother’s nipple. When the baby latches, they’ll have both the nipple and tube in their mouth.
As baby suckles, they are stimulating milk production from their mom’s breast and receiving the nourishment they need from the bottle. As mom’s own milk supply increases, less will be needed in the bottle
Here is a video on how to insert a lactation aid.
10. Monitor Baby’s Weight
As you begin relactation, you’ll need to monitor your baby’s weight to ensure they’re getting enough milk. Forcing an unwilling baby to breastfeed may see them lose weight, which is detrimental to their health.
For the accepting baby, replace an ounce of supplementary milk with your milk as it increases. Both scenarios will require weekly monitoring and if you observe any weight loss, speak to your pediatrician or lactation consultant.
11. Mind the Bottle
Most bottle-fed babies are used to quick-flowing milk that requires minimal suckling effort. As such, they may find it difficult to adjust to the slow flow of breast milk. Replace fast-flow nipples with slower ones to match your flow.
Additionally, consider purchasing nipple shields if your baby is finding it difficult to latch to your breast. The silicone material will feel like the bottle they’re accustomed to, making the adjustment much easier. Just make sure they fit right, or it could cause you pain when the baby suckles.
12. Seek the Support of Your Loved Ones
Relactation works better when you have the support of your loved ones. Speak to your family and close friends about your desire to relactate. Ask your partner to accompany you on your next appointment so they can learn best how to support you through this process.
13. Join a Support Group
The road to relactation success can be lonely and you may feel like those around you don’t understand. Find and join a community of relactating moms in your area or online. It’s easier to relate to moms who have been in your shoes or are going through the same issues as you.
With a support group, you’ll find encouragement, inspiration, and the motivation you need to succeed.
What Changes Will My Body Undergo?
Some of the changes you may experience include:
- Fuller breasts, which also feel tender.
- Tingly feeling in your breasts, or leaking.
- Darker areolas.
- Mood changes, including feeling a little tearful or overwhelmed due to hormonal changes.
Will I Achieve Full Supply?
It’s not possible to know ahead of time how much milk you can produce. This is because of the different factors involved, including the age of the baby, their nursing needs, and your frequency of pumping.
Additionally, each woman’s body is unique and responds differently to relactation. Some women work up a supply pretty fast, while others build their supply slowly and then level off.
Ultimately, whether you achieve full or partial supply, any amount you produce is precious and beneficial to your baby.
Does Relactation Really Work?
Aside from countless success stories, research conducted by the World Health Organization has proven that it is possible for moms to produce milk, provided there’s sufficient stimulation to do so.
With proper support from medical experts and following a well-charted plan, relactation may work for you.
Time to Try
Babies rely on breast milk for nourishment, growth, and protection from sickness and disease. Relactation affords a mother the chance to provide this precious food to her child. You can increase your chances of relactation success by involving your baby’s pediatrician andr a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC).
Stimulate milk production by eating the right foods, drinking plenty of water, resting, and pumping regularly. Use skin-to-skin contact to enhance bonding with your child, and seek support from loved ones.
By carefully following your relactation plan, you just may experience the joys of nursing your baby successfully.