You may remember that during the 2022 formula shortage, there were a lot of misinformed people saying that women should “just breastfeed” or relactate. To be clear, relactation isn’t always a feasible option and even when it is, it takes dedication, a lot of time, and a lot of hard work. Also, no one should feel pressured to relactate for any reason. However, there are many circumstances – including adoption, simply changing your mind, or giving milk to a friend with a low supply – where relactation may make sense to you. Here, with the help of two lactation consultants, we break down everything you need to know about relactation – what it is and how to try it.
What is relactation?
Relactation occurs when a person trains their body to start producing milk again after a period of not breastfeeding or pumping. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines relactation as “the process by which a parent restores lactation after having stopped it for a period of time (weeks or months)”.
Basically, it’s any time a non-pregnant person resumes breastfeeding (it’s not considered relactation if you’ve started producing milk again because you’re pregnant or just gave birth).
There are many reasons a person may want to relactate. A parent may have weaned and then realized that he or his baby was not ready to stop. “Other times, a parent may wean for a while for medical reasons (e.g., chemotherapy) and decide to resume breastfeeding later. Some people decide to relactate because they are adopting a child (after childbirth anterior) and they want to breastfeed this child, or they want to restore their milk supply to breastfeed or give milk to a family member or a friend’s child”, Chrisie Rosenthal, lactation consultant International Board Certified (IBCLC) with The Lactation Network, Romper says, and in times of emergency and natural disaster, some may turn to relactation out of necessity, Rosenthal adds.
How to start relactation
Relactation plans vary a bit depending on each person and each situation. “If you’re considering relactation, work with an IBCLC experienced in relactation,” says Rosenthal, adding that consultations with an IBCLC may be covered by your medical insurance.
If you’re hoping to start relactation, you’ll need to take your breast pump out of the closet you put it in. “Typically, every relactation plan will include regular pumping,” says Rosenthal. “Regular pumping tells your body to start producing breast milk again. The pump you use can also make a big difference. Consider renting a high-quality double electric pump. Treat the phrase as if you were breastfeeding: make sure Make sure you have plenty of water and snacks close at hand, and get into a comfortable position with a book or something to do.
How long does it take to relactate?
The time it takes to relactate is also something that varies a lot from person to person. “The time it takes for a person to relactate may depend on how long it’s been since they last breastfed and how often and how effectively they remove milk from their breasts,” Krystal Nicole Duhaney, nurse authorized, IBCLC and founder of Milky Mama tells Romper. A good rule of thumb, however, is that it often takes about the same time for your milk to flow again as it did since the last feed.
Other factors in how long it takes to relactate include how strong your breastmilk supply is initially and how many times you’ve breastfed in the past, Rosenthal says. “Most people who relactate will start seeing results in as little as days or even weeks – but for some it can take months.”
The key to producing more breast milk, says Duhaney, is to view it as a relationship between supply and demand. The more demand you create by pumping, the more milk you produce. “The best thing you can do to get started is to remove milk from your breasts frequently and efficiently. Try to remove milk from your breasts every 2 to 3 hours or so,” she says. If you have a baby and you re-lactate, try to get him to latch on, and encourage him to do so as often as possible.
Make sure your pump works for you by making sure the flanges are the right size and your pump and its parts are in good condition so they can effectively remove milk from your breasts, says Duhaney. If it’s been a while since you’ve breastfed or your breast pump hasn’t been stored properly, it may be time to buy a new one.
“Additionally, massage your breasts with your hands while pumping and nursing to remove as much milk as possible. The more milk you withdraw, the more signals you send to your body to produce milk, which can contribute to success. of the relactation process,” says Duhaney.
Can you relactate after a year?
You may be wondering if relactation actually works, especially if you’ve tried it to no avail. “There’s no point where it’s not possible anymore,” Rosenthal says. “Time is a factor, however. Generally speaking, the date of your last lactation will be a factor in how long it will take to restore milk supply. Relactation plans take dedication and results vary.
Although relactation requires a lot of time and dedication, it is possible after a short break or even a long period of absence from breastfeeding. “A fun fact is that there have been instances where grandmothers have been able to rest to feed their grandchildren. In fact, this is reported to be a common practice in many cultures,” adds Rosenthal.
What are the signs that relactation is working?
The most obvious sign that relactation is working is when you start to see breast milk coming out of your nipples or pooling in the bottle. Other signs include breast fullness or leakage. “It’s very exciting to see your hard work start to pay off! Remember that any milk production is considered successful relactation,” says Rosenthal. “Set realistic expectations and be open to discovering how much milk you will be able to produce through this process. There is no guarantee that you will be able to restore a full supply, but working with an IBCLC maximizes your chances of achieving your goal.
When it comes to trying to relactate, practice makes perfect. At the start of your relactation journey, you’ll likely find that you’re pumping but producing nothing – this is an expected part of the process and doesn’t mean relactation isn’t working. It can be frustrating, but in many cases if you continue you will see your breast milk supply return to some degree.
Chrisie Rosenthal, IBCLC with The Lactation Network
Krystal Nicole Duhaney, Registered Nurse, IBCLC and Founder of Milky Mama