The World Health Organisation recommends that infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, and that breastfeeding continues until the child is two or older. However, some mothers face hurdles or problems with lactation which results in them resorting to formula and their milk supply drops off or stops. Fortunately, if these mothers would like to give breastfeeding a second go, there is a possible way.
Relactation is the process of restarting lactation after the milk supply decreases. Induced lactation is the process of inducing a milk supply without giving birth, this process if used by adoptive mothers who wish to breastfeed.
Relactation is generally easiest if:
- Your baby is under four months of age
- You had a well-established milk supply for the first four to six weeks after the birth
- You have support from a lactation consultant
- Your baby latches well
Don’t worry if the above criteria doesn’t apply to you, it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to relactate. It may mean, however, that you have to work a little harder to reach your desired goal.
It can take up to a month to establish a supply. Some women find that within days of initiating the process, they have a full milk supply. Whereas for other women, it may take a month to establish a partial supply. Not all women will be able to achieve exclusive breastfeeding by relactation, but most will be able to establish a partial supply.
How Do I Relactate?
The first step on your journey to relactation, is to teach your baby to latch on. Some babies will get it straight away, especially those who breastfed well for the first few weeks of life. For others, it may take work to achieve a correct latch. Keep practicing, and seek professional support if your baby is struggling to latch on.
Once your baby is able to latch on, you should aim to feed every 2-3 hours. You should aim for between 10 and 12 feeds every 24 hours. Try offering the breast at every available opportunity, and encourage your baby to suckle at the breast for comfort. Each time your baby nurses, your body gets signals to make more milk, so the more nursing you do, the more milk you will make.
Offer both breasts at each feed. Allow your baby to drain the first breast, and then offer the other. Correct drainage is important as this promotes milk supply and can also help to prevent breastfeeding problems such as mastitis and blocked ducts.
You can pump to increase your milk supply, and you may find this speeds up the relactation process. If your baby is struggling to latch on, you can pump to stimulate milk supply. You can use the expressed milk to supplement your baby’s feeds, and this will ensure your baby is still getting all of the nutrients from your milk.
Be sure to have lots of skin-to-skin with your baby. Skin-to-skin is proven to stimulate milk production and strengthen the breastfeeding relationship. Some lactation consultants have also found co-bathing can help to help relactation.
You could also try a herbal remedy to increase milk supply, but remember this will only work if you are also frequently nursing. Fenugreek, fennel, oatmeal and blessed thistle are all commonly used to increase milk supply in lactating women. Many BellyBelly readers swear by our lactation cookies recipe if you’d like to give that a try, along with our several articles on boosting milk supply in our breastfeeding section.
You may find it useful to use a nursing supplementer while trying to establish your milk supply. You can supplement with pumped breastmilk if you have some spare. Thin tubing is taped to your breast and extends about 0.5cm past the nipple. The tubing leads to a bag or bottle containing the supplement, and the baby receives this when sucking at the breast. In the early days of relactation, when you may have very little milk, this is a good way of encouraging your baby to suckle. The supplement satisfies your baby’s hungry, so he continues to nurse at the breast which then stimulates milk production.
Avoid using bottles and pacifiers while you are trying to establish your milk supply. Use a nursing supplementer or, if needed, use a cup to feed your baby. Do not pour the milk directly into your baby’s mouth, simply hold the cup to his mouth and let him take the milk himself.
Getting Help When Relactating
Your chances of establishing relactation increase if you have professional support. Get in touch with a lactation consultant (ideally an IBCLC) and ask for help to establish your milk supply.
The lactation specialist will help to explore why breastfeeding stopped last time, and try to find ways to avoid this happening again. They will also guide you through the process of relactation, and provide you with some moral support.
You might also like to contact the Australian Breastfeeding Association who can provide over the phone assistance, support and resources. The more support you have, the better!
Successful Stories of Relactation
Read three successful stories of relactation HERE. Find out, step by step how three determined mammas did it!