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Relactation - Restarting breastfeeding

Many mothers fail to establish breastfeeding because of difficulties such as:

  • lack of access to accurate information
  • lack of support
  • medical reasons

If you give up breastfeeding but then regret your decision, you can start again with support.

The desire to recommence breastfeeding is completely normal.

Where to find support

Start by finding a lactation consultant who can help you with starting to breastfeed. Your public health nurse may be able to help, or can refer you to the right person.

You can also find support by joining a breastfeeding support group. Talk to the people there about the reason you stopped breastfeeding, to see if they can give advice.

Find a breastfeeding support group near you

Milk production

Milk production depends upon a number of factors, including:

  • your baby's age and willingness to breastfeed
  • frequency of breastfeeding and milk expression
  • whether you have ever been pregnant and how long ago

It also depends on health reasons, such as:

  • medical conditions - for example, thyroid problems or diabetes
  • any damage to your chest, breasts or nipples - for example, surgery, burns or other injuries
  • any damage to the pituitary gland in your brain (this is where the necessary hormones are produced)
  • infertility

Practical and emotional support is important for milk production also.

How lactation works

During pregnancy, the milk-making cells and ducts in the breasts enlarge and multiply.

Your first breast milk (colostrum) is produced from late in pregnancy. This is low volume milk, high in protein and antibodies.

After giving birth, you produce milk which is released in response to the baby's suckling. The hormones prolactin and oxytocin help with this also.

Relactation is stimulating the breasts to produce milk again. This is if you have breastfed before but left a gap.

But, it's also possible to breastfeed if you have never given birth. If you have never given birth before, this process is called induced lactation. For example, you may want to breastfeed your adopted baby.

How to induce lactation

It's possible to induce lactation successfully and bring in your milk supply.

It can take anything from a few days to a few weeks to be able to produce a few drops of milk. It often takes the same amount of time that you stopped to bring back a full milk supply. For example, if you stopped breastfeeding for one week, it may take one week to get back to a good supply.

To help stimulate lactation:

  • use hand-expression or a breast pump
  • put your baby to your breast to suck at each feeding and for comfort between feedings as often as possible
  • hold your baby close to your breast when bottle-feeding and use a slow flow bottle teat.

Using a supplementer

You can also wear a supplemeter to help induce lactation. This is a device that allows you to give your baby formula or expressed breast milk as they feed on the breast.

A supplementer is made up of:

  • a container that holds the milk
  • tubing that carries the milk from the container to your nipple

When your baby suckles at the breast, milk is drawn through the tubing to their mouth. At the same time, it stimulates your breast and removes the milk you have made.

Taking medication

Certain hormonal, herbal and dietary treatments can also help stimulate milk production.

If you are adopting a baby, you can also induce lactation using oral contraceptives. Talk to a breastfeeding specialist or your GP for more information.

Learning to breastfeed

Breastfeeding may be a totally new experience for your baby. They may take to it quickly or need time and patience to get used to this new way of feeding.

Breastfeeding may be a new experience for you too so read about how to get breastfeeding off to a good start.

Close contact

Offer lots of close contact to help your baby associate close contact with comfort. Skin-to-skin contact is very important.

Try breastfeeding your baby:

  • before they are too hungry
  • when they are sleepy - this may help them respond instinctively to the sensation of being held at the breast
  • instead of using a soother when your baby needs to comfort suck

Supplementing breastfeeds

At first, you will need to supplement the breastfeeds. This means giving your baby other milk while you work to increase your milk production. You can do this with formula or any expressed breast milk you have.

Carefully follow guidelines on how to prepare baby formula.

If you have expressed breast milk, give this first, before you give your baby any infant formula. Do not mix the two together.

Related topic

Types of formula milk

Monitoring weight gain

Check your baby's weight gain. Keep a check on their wet and dirty nappies to reassure yourself they are getting enough milk.

Related topic

Knowing if your newborn is getting enough breast milk

Breastfeed often

It may take some patience to get your baby to breastfeed effectively. If they are willing, offer the breast every 1 to 2 hours and at least 10-12 times every 24 hours.

Cut out any soother use and let them breastfeed for comfort as well as food. This will help to stimulate milk production. Encourage night-time and frequent evening nursing. Breastfeeding at this time can be particularly good at increasing milk production.

A soft carrier or sling can be a handy way of keeping your baby close and encouraging breastfeeding.

If it doesn't work out

There may come a point when you decide to stop because it isn't working out. Relactation and induced lactation are hard work and take a lot of time and patience. Your baby needs to be co-operative also.

Whatever happens, be proud. Every single drop of breast milk you have given your baby will have been beneficial.

page last reviewed: 17/06/2019
next review due: 17/06/2022

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