Breastfeeding is a beautiful journey that most mothers wish to continue for long. However, in some cases, premature breastfeeding cessation may occur due to some reasons. In such instances, if a mother desires, she could resume nursing through relactation. Relactation is the process of establishing breast milk supply after it has been reduced, dried up, or was absent (1).
Experts believe that a mother can successfully relactate if she has delivered a baby recently or her milk supply has been low or absent for only a short period. However, relactation is also possible in mothers who have never nursed their infants but now wish to do so.
This post tells you about factors that make relactation possible and provides practical tips to relactate effectively.
Relactation VS Induced Lactation
Relactation and induced lactation are often used synonymously, albeit they are different. Relactation is the process of resuming breastfeeding in mothers who have previously breastfed. On the other hand, induced lactation is developing breast milk production in women who never breastfed as they never had a baby (2). Induced lactation often uses medicines to set-up breast milk production and supply, which isn’t the case in relactation.
Reasons Why A Mother Would Wish To Relactate
A mother or a woman could consider relactation when (3):
- She stopped breastfeeding due to some personal reasons but now is willing to take up the responsibility.
- She stopped breastfeeding due to a health condition but is now healthy and fit to resume breastfeeding.
- The baby was born premature or sick and wasn’t breastfeeding earlier, but now they can.
- The doctor has advised breastfeeding the baby as the baby isn’t well.
- The baby isn’t growing or developing well while on formula.
- She wishes to wet-nurse or cross-nurse a baby other than her own.
Factors That Can Make Relactation A Success
Like any other physiological process, relactation may come easy for some and may become challenging for others. In either case, you need to remember that relactation is a new journey warranting you to set realistic expectations with persistent efforts and perseverance.
- Strong desire to breastfeed the baby, pushing the mother’s body to produce the hormones necessary to create and supply milk.
- Intense interest and eagerness of the baby to consume breast milk, helping them latch and suck on the mother’s breast properly. Research shows that babies under three months and those who had pleasant breastfeeding experiences tend to relactate more successfully.
- Resumption of relactation soon after weaning, allowing the mother’s body to adjust to relactation with relative ease. According to experts, if your baby is under six months, you relactate with relative ease (6).
- Breastfeeding, pumping, or hand-expressing breast milk frequently, which can stimulate hormones, causing more production and supply of breast milk.
- Family support encouraging the mother to resume lactation. Relactation is an emotionally and physiologically moving experience, and the mother needs support for it to be a success.
- Guidance from the healthcare provider so that the mother can make an informed choice and have the resources necessary to ensure successful relactation.
Besides these factors, experts believe that women who had breastfed earlier may relactate with relative ease than those who never did.
How Long Does It Take For Relactation To Establish?
According to lactation experts, 50 percent of the women who relactate successfully establish a full milk supply within a month (7). In some cases, the time taken to establish relactation equates to the time spent not breastfeeding. However, every mother is different, and so is the time taken to relactate. Nevertheless, mothers should commit at least two weeks of diligent breastfeeding efforts for successful relactation.
Tips To Make Relactation Easier
- Breastfeed your baby frequently: Breastfeed at least eight to 12 times a day, every two to three hours for around 15 to 20 minutes per session. Breastfeed the baby before bedtime, after the nap, after the bath, and have a lot of skin-to-skin contact If a baby isn’t willing to breastfeed often, express or pump breast milk to stimulate breast milk production.
- Check your baby’s latch: Proper latch is vital for the baby to breastfeed successfully. If your baby is not suckling effectively and you suspect a latching issue, consult a lactation expert. An expert will determine the exact cause of the latching issue and suggest an appropriate solution.
- Empty each breast thoroughly: Empty both the breasts during each feeding session. It is vital to regulate breast milk production and supply. Offer another breast only when the baby empties the first. If they cannot empty one or both breasts, express or pump breast milk using a manual or electric breast pump.
- Massage your breasts: Five to ten minutes of breast massage before and between feeds stimulates the breasts to produce more milk. It is an important process for mothers who wish to relactate.
- Sleep close to the infant: Until you establish your milk supply, keep your baby close to you by placing their crib in your room. It can help you feed your baby anytime at night with relative ease. While your baby is near you, aim to have at least one nighttime feed, especially if the baby isn’t waking up in the night for a feed.
- Power pump: A power pumping session that simulates cluster feedings could also boost milk production. For instance, for an hour a day, pump for 20 minutes and rest for ten minutes. Then, pump for ten minutes, rest for ten minutes, and finally pump for the remaining ten minutes.
- Get support for yourself: Relactation could be an overwhelming experience that can make a mother self-doubt and feel isolated, especially in the absence of expected outcomes. You can consult a lactation expert or enroll in a breastfeeding organization for help and guidance. Connecting with fellow nursing mothers in the community who have relactated or are lactating is another support source.
In addition to these, set realistic goals, be kind to yourself, and avoid undue anxieties. Take care of yourself and your baby, and until the milk supply resumes, continue formula or supplementary feeds.
Can You Use Galactagogues To Promote Relactation?
In addition to trying the above tips, you may try some galactagogues after consulting your healthcare provider. A galactagogue is any food, herb, or prescription medication that could boost your milk supply. Some of the common galactagogues that may enhance breast milk supply are oatmeal, fennel seeds, fenugreek, lean meat, and poultry. Additionally, your doctor may prescribe you some medicinal galactagogues.
When Should You Cease Relactation?
There isn’t a set time as to when you should stop relactation. It is a decision that you should take in consultation with your healthcare provider. Your doctor or lactation consultant can help you set realistic time limits and goals based on your breastfeeding history and overall health.
Relactation is an excellent way to resume breastfeeding. Remember, maintaining your health and well-being while relactation should be your priority. You must try as much as your body allows and stop overexerting. Never compare yourself with other mothers and focus on your individual relactation journey.
2. Relactation and Induced Lactation; La Leche League GB
3. Relactation and induced lactation; Australian Breastfeeding Association
4. Su Jin Cho et al.; Factors Related to Success in Relactation; The College of Information Sciences and Technology
5. Relactation; WHO
6. Infant Nutrition and Feeding; USDA
7. Relactation; Central District Health Department, IDAHO
8. Relactation; Emergency Nutrition Network