Relactation: Return to Breastfeeding

True or false, moms: Once you stop breastfeeding you lose your milk forever? The answer is False. It is entirely possible to return to breastfeeding after a lactation gap, and no we’re not talking about having another baby. Relactation is the process of rebuilding your milk supply after having a baby and taking a break from breastfeeding. (This is different than induced lactation, which occurs when a woman builds a milk supply but has never been pregnant.)

If you’re hoping to return to breastfeeding, here’s the scoop on relactation:

Relactation: Return to BreastfeedingWhile there is little research on relactation, statistics show success rates are pretty high when mothers take the proper steps. The factors that influence success are: having a baby four months or younger, having only a short lactation gap, your baby’s willingness to feed at the breast and seeking professional support. First let’s look at how relactation is even possible.

During pregnancy and childbirth, your body is preparing for breastfeeding by mixing up a cocktail of hormones that will produce breast milk. Your breasts are also changing to best meet the needs of your baby’s most nutritious source of food. Once your baby is born, stimulation of the nipple triggers the hormone prolactin, which is necessary to produce breast milk. When you have a lactation gap (and amazingly even if you’ve never been pregnant or given birth), stimulating the nipple is how relactation can occur.

As is typical of all breastfeeding, putting your baby on the breast often and draining the breast as much as possible is critical for relactation. Feeding 10-12 times a day, that’s every 2-3 hours, is usually the best way to jumpstart your milk supply. The more stimulation, the more likely you are to restart the production of milk and build a healthy milk supply. Also make sure your baby is feeding effectively with a good latch.

It is also essential to drain your breasts thoroughly with each feeding. Find your baby’s favorite breastfeeding positions and activities to keep your baby interested and engaged in breastfeeding. Breast compressions – squeezing your breasts to encourage milk to drain – may be helpful and keep a trickle of milk coming so your baby will stay on the breast. Another way to keep your baby on the breast is using a supplemental nursing system that feeds your baby from both the breast and a tube of milk at the same time.

If your baby is not willing or able to drain your breasts, pumping is the next best option. Pumping after or in-between feedings is a good idea if your baby is not feeding as often as you would like. A double electric pump is the most efficient way to express milk besides your baby himself.

Milk supply is often the issue that leads to early weaning. If this is why you stopped breastfeeding in the first place, work hard to not run into the same issue. Besides frequent and thorough feedings, spend as much time with your baby as possible and engage in lots of skin-to-skin contact. You may want to take lactation supplements known as galactagogues, such as fenugreek and blessed thistle, or drink a lactation tea.

Relactation usually takes around one month to achieve. Most moms who are able to relactate work with a professional lactation consultant to strategize the best methods for reestablishing milk supply and ensuring their babies are getting enough nourishment during the process.

Sources: LaLecheLeague, KellyMom, MotherLove and Belly Belly