breastfeeding mother

Understanding Relactation: How to Restart Breastfeeding

The benefits of breastfeeding are well-researched and high on the list of conversational topics for new parents, but nursing isn't as easy as you might think. In reality, breastfeeding has several challenges that don't always end with positive outcomes. Some women experience extreme discomfort or can't get a strong enough latch, while others may be trying to navigate postpartum mood disorders. Regardless of the reason that you stopped nursing, relactation may give you a second chance to try and return to exclusive breastfeeding. To help you better understand this process, here's everything you need to know about how relactation works and why you may want to try it.

What is Relactation?

Relactation is when you start breastfeeding after taking a break for a few weeks or months. For some mothers, relactation may also be required after a few days off. However, it typically takes two to three weeks for your breasts to dry out after delivery.

Relactation is essentially re-establishing your milk supply after it's been disrupted. Relactation typically works best if you either gave birth fairly recently, only stopped nursing briefly, or your baby is younger than three months old. Babies who have previously breastfed are also more willing to resume, but those over six months may be hesitant to latch onto the nipple.

What is the Difference Between Relactation and Induced Lactation

Relactation is the process of restarting breastfeeding after taking a break. It's when a woman who has given birth and started breastfeeding stops for a certain period and then wants to restart. Induced lactation is when a woman wants to start producing milk and breastfeed but has not recently given birth. This is a common process for an adopted baby or when new parents have a baby born to a surrogate.

While induced lactation is possible, you'll likely need to work with a doctor or medical professional. Induced lactation is more difficult than relactation and may require breastfeeding medicine or hormone therapy. Estrogen and progesterone supplements can mimic pregnancy and kickstart your body's natural milk production. It will take a few months to work, and you'll need to stop two months before you plan to breastfeed and start using a pump. This can kickstart prolactin, the primary hormone that helps produce milk.

Reasons You May Need to Relactate

Every woman is unique and faces different hurdles, especially in parenting. So, it comes as no surprise that there are several reasons that you might need to stop breastfeeding. Maybe you needed to undergo a medical procedure or take certain medications that weren't safe for your baby. Or maybe you received bad breastfeeding advice, couldn't get a strong latch, and are looking for ways to get a second chance at nursing. Some women might need to return to work, and the separation from their baby makes it difficult or nearly impossible to nurse. There are several reasons that a mom may need to consider relactation, so remember you're not alone. Although it can be a challenging journey, relactating is possible with some time, dedication, and a little help.

How to Start Relactation

The relactation process may take weeks or even months, but if you are thinking about starting, it's best to do so as soon as possible. The key is to stimulate milk production and empty your breasts to help ignite the supply and demand cycle. Consider the following tips to help you produce more milk and start nursing your baby again.

Be Patient and Realistic

Resuming milk production and building up your milk supply isn't going to happen overnight. It takes time, and your baby may be reluctant to suckle a nipple that isn't actively producing milk. While it can be frustrating and a bit discouraging, be patient and realistic with yourself. It can take weeks for your body to start making milk again and even longer to achieve a full supply. Some women who stop breastfeeding and go through the process of relactation don't achieve their initial levels of breast milk production as before, and that's okay. There are plenty of ways to ensure that your baby gets all the nutrients they need.

Work with a Lactation Consultant

If you want to relactate and aren't succeeding, consider working with a certified lactation consultant. A lactation consultant can help you find ways to increase nipple stimulation and help get your body to produce milk again, even if it's just a few drops. Lactation consultants are great resources and will help you overcome breastfeeding challenges without feeling like you need to give up. Ask your doctor or pediatrician for recommendations on lactation consultants in your area if you want to nurse again or are having any initial challenges with latching.

Breast Pump Throughout the Day

One way to help induce lactation is through ongoing breast pumping throughout the day. According to La Leche League, you should try to use a breast pump at least eight to twelve times per day for 20 to 30 minutes, including nighttime pumping. This can help encourage breast stimulation when your baby isn't actively nursing. You can use an electric pump or hand-held pump, as both encourage emptying of the breasts.

Nurse Your Baby Frequently

Another way to help ensure you can produce enough milk for nursing is to do it frequently. Allow your baby to nurse at the first signs of hunger. With responsive feeding, you may need to nurse eight to ten (or more) times per day, alongside a few night feedings. Try to nurse for at least 15 to 20 minutes per session. If no milk is coming out, you may need to stimulate your breasts before the session or use supplemental feedings.

Supplement Feedings

While some women can return to exclusively nursing their baby, relactation takes a long time and isn't always 100% successful. You may need to supplement nursing sessions to ensure your baby gets enough nourishment and nutrients. This is completely normal, so don't feel bad if you need to use some formula. If you'd prefer to use break milk, ask your pediatrician about recommendations for certified donor milk banks in your area. Donor breast milk can sound a bit odd, but as long as it's processed safely and adheres to regulation guidelines, it can be safely given to your newborn. Still, always clarify this with your doctor beforehand.

There's also an option to use a supplemental nursing system that kind of tricks your baby when they're suckling at your breast. You'll need a long, thin feeding tube, some formula, and some trial-and-error. Essentially, you'll place the end of the tube near your nipple while the other end is in a bottle of formula. Then, when your baby latches, they'll receive formula through the tube while still providing nipple stimulation.

Increase Skin-to-Skin Contact

Even just holding your baby against your breast can help build your milk supply and increase the likelihood that he or she will latch onto your breast. Prioritize skin-to-skin contact to help with bonding and kickstart overall milk production.

Eat a Healthy Diet and Stay Hydrated

Maintaining a diet that supports breastfeeding and drinking plenty of fluids can also help naturally increase your milk supply, so don't neglect self-care. Although it can feel impossible to cook, try to make healthier choices or find easy, convenient crockpot meals that can be made ahead. You can also ask your partner or support system for help staying healthy.

See Your Pediatrician Often

When you start the process of relactation, it's important to ensure that your baby is getting enough milk or baby formula. Supplementing feedings can help, but it's also important to work with your pediatrician to ensure your baby gets the nutrients it needs for healthy development. Always update your pediatrician on how you nourish your baby and if you plan to start relactation. Maintain your baby's regular checkup schedule and make additional appointments if you have any questions or concerns.

It can take months to build up a strong milk supply, so be patient and listen to your body in the process. If you have any questions or concerns with relactation, don't hesitate to contact your doctor or pediatrician. To help you support a healthy breastfeeding journey and improve your success with relactation, don’t forget to get your insurance-covered breast pump from Byram Healthcare. Connect with one of our specialists today to find lactation support or get started with your order.