For many, breastfeeding is viewed as an integral component of mothers life. Breastfeeding can however be very hard for some women.
Perhaps you stopped breastfeeding for health reasons, maybe you struggled with milk supply or your baby spent his early days in NICU. Perhaps you want to provide breast milk for an adopted child, or a child born through surrogacy.
Whatever the reason, if you are wondering how to relactate, you are not alone in having this question!
It’s possible, but it’s a long journey so it would be well worth speaking to your healthcare provider and seeking local support from a lactation consultant if you plan to relactate or induce lactation.
What is Relactation?
Relactation means that you go back to nursing or pumping after a period of not lactating. It’s not uncommon for moms to want to relactate after earlier than desired weaning.
While difficult, it certainly is possible to stimulate milk production and then increase milk supply by placing the baby in your breast regularly. It will take some time to establish a full milk supply, and many mothers find that this process takes longer in relation to the length of time since they stopped breastfeeding.
If it has been some time since you last breastfed your baby, you will have to go back to basics, starting with lots of skin to skin time. It’s not likely that your baby will latch easily, so its best to first try hand expressing to assess what milk supply you have to work with.
What is Induced Lactation?
A mother may wish to induce lactation if she is breastfeeding a child she hasn’t delivered herself. During pregnancy estrogen levels are decreasing and prolactin increases.
This hormonal change is what stimulates milk production- and of course, adoptive moms or moms who have used a surrogate have not experienced this hormonal shift.
It is still possible for someone adopting children to induce milk production. Induced lactation is likely to be an intense journey and can require medical treatment. Support from a lactation consultant will be essential.
How Can I Stimulate My Breasts to Produce Milk?
Skin contact with your baby is the easiest way to increase or stimulate your breasts to produce milk.
Most moms use a hospital grade pump in order to ensure as much milk removal as possible-however, hand expression is another option.
Many double electric pumps now have various options, including frequencies that provide nipple stimulation that will mimic baby suckles, to trick your breasts in to thinking that milk removal is by a baby nursing.
Remember, the more milk that is removed from the breast, the more signals your breasts receive to produce milk supply. It can also help to have baby, or perhaps a photo of baby nearby; spend as much time skin to skin as possible.
When you have established at least a partial supply, you can try to introduce your baby’s mouth back the the breast; but be aware that baby may not instantly take to it, especially if it’s been a while since your decision to stopped breastfeeding. Even a previously breastfed baby might now reject the breast.
A nursing supplementer may be helpful if your baby will latch but is becoming frustrated by slow milk supply; a nursing supplementer or SNS provides supplementary milk to your baby while they are at the breast.
Does The Age Of The Baby Matter?
The younger a baby is, the easier the process of relactation is likely to be, especially if they experienced exclusive breastfeeding before the decision to stop breastfeeding.
Most infant babies under a year have a natural desire to suckle, and it is this suckling that will signal your breasts to produce more milk.
You may have greater latchability success with babies below three months old. Babies over 6 months often do not return to breastfeeding, and if this is the case, another option is to use a breast pump to extract milk and bottle feed your baby the pumped milk.
Do speak to your lactation consultant for advice catered to your own situation.
What Drugs Induce Lactation?
Metoclopramide (Reglan) and Domperidone (Motilium) are both drugs which are prescribed as an aid in preventing stomach problems, however they also have an off label use of being used to help with induced lactation.
Always speak to your doctor about commencing any medical procedure, medication or hormone therapy.
Can any foods or supplements help increase your milk supply during relactation?
While some mothers claim their milk production was increased through the use of oatmeal and consuming fenugreek tea every day, it is hard to prove that the ingredients actually work.
When taken in adequete doses, Fenugreek is thought to improve breast milk supply. Traditionally these herbs are consumed as tea, however they are also added to curries and other foods.
This drug has estrogen like properties which can improve milk production in humans. Fenugreek is generally considered safe for pregnant women, but you should consult a medical practitioner or doctor before taking the drug.
The jury is out as to whether particular foods help with the production of breast milk, however it’s certainly a great idea to ensure you are generally eating and drinking enough as you work on establishing a full milk supply.
For more help, check out our blog about natural ways to increase breast milk production!
Is Relactating Worth It?
Relactating is no easy task, and is entirely a personal decision. The World health organization recommends breastfeeding to the age of two years and beyond, specifically because the health benefits of breast milk for babies and toddlers are well known.
Our Breastfeeding basics post covers everything you need to know about the benefits of breastmilk.
That said, breastfeeding does not come easily to many new moms. Sometimes, nursing moms introduce baby formula to improve infant weight gain, or a mother wants to begin making milk for an infant who is not her biological child-yes, adoptive breastfeeding really is possible!
There really are a great number of reasons why women find themselves wanting to produce milk for their baby or begin breastfeeding again.
Every drop counts when it comes to breast milk, so it’s important to remember that whether you have a full or partial supply, whether you will be breastfeeding or pumping, every effort you make for your baby is amazing!
The process of power pumping to stimulate your body to produce milk is time consuming and can be frustrating at times too. Frequent breast stimulation is a must in order to produce enough breastmilk for baby can be frustrating at best- pumping sessions need to be very regular throughout the day and night and progress can be slow.
You may find that the support of other moms who have been through the same thing is invaluable.
How Long Does It Take to Relactate?
Some sources suggest that re lactation takes the same amount of tine as the time since breastfeeding was stopped. Obviously, putting baby to the breast or pumping for baby very regularly will be essential in order to succeed.
Can I Relactate Just By Pumping?
Yes, you can! We would recommend an electric pump to anyone who plans to pump regularly. Frequent stimulation is essential, so be prepared to use your pump a great deal! You may want to invest in a nipple shield to prevent irritation.
As long as your breast is getting that signal to produce more milk, whether it be through power pumping or directly nursing, your body will get the message and make more.
Most babies after the age of around 6 months will refuse the breasts completely, making pumping the smarter option.
What Is A Supplemental Nursing System?
A supplemental Nursing System delivers milk to your baby while they are on the breast- this system is ideal for moms who don’t quite have enough milk but want to start breastfeeding.
If your baby will tolerate formula, the supplemental nursing encourages your baby to suckle, taking in milk produced while topping up with formula.
Re lactation: The bottom line
Re lactation can be an incredibly demanding process, but has a number of benefits for both mom and baby. It is likely that the time taken to relactate will directly reflect the amount of time since your baby was breastfed.
Not only does baby get all the health benefits associated with breast milk, but they enjoy emotional benefits too. Relactation is also a beautiful way to bond with an adopted baby.
There are a number of ways to stimulate milk production, including the use of a breast pump, hand expression, supplemental nursing system or direct breastfeeding. We would strongly recommend the advice of a lactation consultant.
This article was written by Sandra Baker – full time writer and the mother of four amazing kids (including twins!)
She’s also a breastfeeding counselor and has spent years helping new parents learn how to care for their children. When she’s not writing or caring for her children, Sandra likes to spend time reading and taking walks with her husband.