It is possible to restart lactation after stopping breastfeeding and this is called relactation. It is a process aimed at restoring the lactation of the baby’s biological mother (I am not talking about induced lactation here), whether she has breastfed or not.
What is relactation?
Relactation consists of restarting lactation after a more or less long period of stopped breastfeeding or stopped using the breast pump. This means that the mother can resume breastfeeding even if she has not been breastfeeding for several days, weeks or months. However, it is not the duration of the cessation that predicts the ease of restarting lactation. It takes 3 times longer than the shutdown period to expect full production to resume. The causes of breastfeeding cessation must also be considered, understood, and resolved so that efforts to relactate are not compromised.
What causes lactation to stop?
- A difficult and discouraging breastfeeding (difficulty to latch on, difficult sucking…)
- Significant weight loss or very slow weight gain
- Taking a medical treatment that is not compatible
- Long separations between you and your baby
- Significant fatigue
- A baby who cannot tolerate infant milk
How to do it?
Breastfeed often! Milk production must be stimulated in an efficient way: therefore the mother’s body must receive the signal to produce milk. The strategy will be adapted according to the child’s age. Relactation requires intensive and ongoing support from trained breastfeeding professionals and the mother’s family.
Two key points:
– Stimulate milk production: restarting lactation requires an efficient milk transfer to reactivate the hormonal mechanisms involved in milk production
– convince the baby to (re)take the breast so that he/she will suckle: do not rush or force, do skin-to-skin feeding, offer comfort feedings, respect the baby’s rhythm and abilities, evaluate his/her suckling abilities, use breast compression, adapt the strategy during the feeding, etc
- Expressing milk: with a breast pump or with manual expression (with the hands)
- Use a lactation aid (LAD) to supplement until optimal milk production is achieved. If the baby is not latching on, a pipette, glass or other safe alternative container can also be offered.
These actions will allow the implementation of hormonal mechanisms (prolactin, oxytocin, insulin…). And as long as production is not optimal, supplements will have to be offered.
Here are also some tips, natural and very accessible, to increase milk production. Sometimes they are even real boosters! However, their effects depend on your individual situation and the list is not exhaustive:
– confidence in yourself and your baby: the basics to keep in mind
– skin-to-skin: in a baby carrier, in the bath, on the sofa… Real skin-on-skin, that is to say, UNDONE!
– rest! Rest = relaxation and recovery = oxytocin and prolactin = milk
– oilseeds: almonds, cashew nuts…
– breastfeeding teas: in bags, in bulk, home-made or not (
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– galactogenic “friendly” foods that stimulate lactation, the rise of milk: fennel, fenugreek … but also milk thistle! Of course, brewer’s yeast also…
– some essential oils and drawing techniques
– products are also being developed: cereal bars, capsule supplements, galactogenic powder mix.
How long is the relactation period to return to exclusive breastfeeding?
There are no rules in this area.
If lactation was complete before weaning, it will usually be the time it took to stop breastfeeding. For example, if a baby has been weaned for 3 weeks, it will take 3 weeks to start breastfeeding again.
If the lactation was partial at the time of weaning, it will take a little longer but the advice above and the encouragement of those around you will support you in your relactation.
Breastfeeding: a public health issue
Relactation is a major public health issue for babies living in a country at war or in an emergency situation (e.g. prematurity). Indeed, access to breast milk is a way to avoid infant mortality: partial or complete production guarantees an uncontaminated food source.
Remember that breast milk contains live antibodies to protect the health of the child and is the best possible food for a baby.