Breastfeeding is much more than a simple feeding session, and while you may have originally intended to breastfeed from the beginning, you may have run into issues that kept you from enjoying this special relationship with your baby. However, that doesn’t mean you can never breastfeed. Through the process known as relactation, you can bring back your milk supply and get your baby to feed again.
If you want to know more about relactation or how to go about getting your milk supply back, this article is for you.
What Is Relactation?
Relactation is also known as induced lactation and is the building up of a milk supply that has either been reduced or stopped after weeks or months spent without breastfeeding. Mothers often seek to relactate after discovering their child has a formula intolerance, their medical condition has changed, they had changes at work or within the household, or they would like to try breastfeeding again after earlier weaning.
Relactation is a process involving two distinct parts. First, you have to teach the baby to once again nurse from the breast. This includes finding comfort in breastfeeding. Secondly, you are also redeveloping a milk supply, which requires nipple stimulation and removal of the milk. The more the baby nurses, the more milk you will produce.
What Are The Odds Of Successful Relactation?
Although relactation is possible, it is not always easy. It's crucial to have support and guidance from a lactation consultant during this process. That said, there have been a number of studies that found partial or full relactation to be possible. About half of the mothers who successfully induced lactation were about to reach a full milk supply in under a month. However, these mothers who were involved in the studies had professional help from trained lactation counselors and support groups.
You should keep in mind that relactation is not immediate. It will take around 2 weeks for the mammary glands to respond, and that is only if your baby is less than 6 months old. Less success has been reported with older babies.
What Factors Influence Successful Relactation?
Research states that you will have better chances of relactation if the following conditions are met:
- You have 20-30 minutes every 2-3 hours to commit to bringing your baby to the breast
- You have a younger baby. Babies under 3 months old are the easiest, along with those who are younger than 6 months old and have experienced breastfeeding before.
- The baby is willing to take the breast.
- There is a short lactation gap, meaning the weaning and relactating periods are not too far apart.
- You have assistance from trained professionals.
Tips For Relactation
Here are some tips to make the relactation process easier and much more successful:
Bring your baby back to the breast.
Skin-to-skin contact is essential. Research has shown that holding your baby skin-to-skin helps to stimulate milk supply by increasing your hormone levels of oxytocin—the hormone responsible for milk ejection. Oxytocin is known as “the love hormone,” and your levels increase when you snuggle skin-to-skin. Bring your baby to your chest as often as you can and make sure they can self-attach to the nipple. Check the latch, too.
Consider baby-led breastfeeding, comfortable breastfeeding positions—such as lying down in bed—and co-bathing. These things will help bring around the baby’s instinct to establish (or reestablish) breastfeeding. Baby-led breastfeeding will involve positions that enable the baby to reach your breast on their own. But beyond that, spend as much time with your baby as you can, and encourage them to latch on whenever you have the chance.
Make lactation cookies.
If you never had lactation cookies, now is the chance. There are plenty of lactation cookie recipes available on the internet for you to try. Most of the cookies focus on omega-3 fatty acids from ingredients like eggs, linseed, flaxseed, and more. The high protein also helps stimulate milk supply.
Remember, nutrition is key in quality milk supply, so be sure to eat well and nourish your body.
Pump or hand expression.
Even if you don’t have a lot of milk right now, you should make sure the milk your body is creating is being used. Pump or hand express around 8-12 times a day for about 20-30 minutes each time. The more your express milk, the quicker your supply will return. You should also consider getting a hospital grade breast pump, since it is more efficient at draining the breasts than commercial models. Keep in mind the first weeks of your relactation journey you may only get a few drops, but over time with consistency the amount will slowly increase.
Find a breastfeeding specialist.
Breastfeeding specialists are trained to help you identify any reasons why your milk supply isn’t increasing or why your baby is not responding to the breastfeeding. If you had problems with breastfeeding once, you can talk to a specialist to understand what happened and how you can avoid the problem now. Any difficulties that you run into can be overcome if you have an excellent support group at your side.
What is a galactagogue? It is a kind of food or herbal supplement that are thought to aid in the natural increase of breast milk supply. While galactagogues are not always needed for relactation, you may be able to hasten the process with the use of herbs and specific foods. Some teas even use the herbs if you don’t want to take pills. Look for blends that feature fenugreek, blessed thistle, nettle or stinging nettle, goat’s rue, fennel, wild asparagus, and alfalfa.
Additionally, you can add some galactagogues to your diet. Many foods exist that can support milk production and make more nutritious milk, such as rice, barley, almonds, coconut, chickpeas, and sesame seeds.
Lastly, if you could speak with a doctor about medications that increase breast milk supply. The prescription drugs include domperidone, metformin, metoclopramide, and sulpiride. Keep in mind that these medications are not always compatible with other prescription drugs.
Final Thoughts On Relactation
You might have assumed that once your milk supply started to dry up that you could never breastfeed again, but it is indeed possible. It is possible to relactate or even induce lactation without having given birth. Follow the steps in this article, find a support group, and give it a try. Most parents have had success with regaining partial or full milk supply, so there is no reason you won’t find success. Remember, relactation requires three things: persistence, patience and lots of support!
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