As a breastfeeding support group, we regularly get asked about relactation, and the answer is yes, it is entirely possible to relactate! Even adoptive parents can induce lactation so it’s entirely possible for a mum a few months down the line (and further) to relactate. There are two key things that must be achieved in order to get baby back to directly breastfeeding: 1) the re-establishment of a milk supply and 2) getting baby to latch at the breast.
The best thing for this is to have baby suckling at the breast, but if your supply has dwindled to almost nothing and it has been some time since baby directly attached to the breast, this may not be possible immediately. So how else can you get this supply going? Regular expressing, even if not yielding much milk, can really help to get things on the way. Your best chance of doing this would be with a hospital-grade pump; these can be hired either from pump agents or directly from the manufacturers. If you cannot obtain a hospital-grade pump then a double electric pump may be the next best thing. See this link for more information on choosing a pump. I would suggest pumping every few hours to try and mimic the behaviour of a newborn baby, including one pump in the early hours, but do allow yourself some time to get a short block of sleep if your baby will allow you! If you manage to express some milk (even just a drop) then congratulate yourself as it’s a step in the right direction! Once the flow has slowed, then continuing to pump for around five minutes more will send the signal to your body to make more milk. This video provides some tips on how to improve yield with hands-on pumping: https://med.stanford.edu/newborns/professional-education/breastfeeding/maximizing-milk-production.html
Hand expressing may also help, particularly when you are first starting out, as the amounts you initially express are likely to be small, and some mums get better results using this method. This UNICEF video demonstrates how to hand express: http://www.unicef.org.uk/BabyFriendly/Resources/AudioVideo/Hand-expression/.
Other things that can help to re-establish milk supply are the use of herbal galactagogues (milk-supply-increasing agents). Although much of their usefulness is largely anecdotal and not necessary in normal breastfeeding, it may help the mother trying to relactate. Oats, Fenugreek, Brewer’s yeast etc. are often used, but please see this link for more information on the particular herbs that can be used to increase milk supply.
There are also medicines available on prescription from GPs, in particular Domperidone, however in recent years there has been some research which highlighted cardiac risks in the older population from using this drug. This link provides some more information which may assist you in making a decision as to whether to approach your GP: https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/domperidone/
Contrary to popular belief, in breastfeeding there is no need to go overboard on drinks and food. Drinking to satisfy thirst and eating to satisfy hunger is all that is required to establish and maintain breastfeeding.
Getting baby to latch at the breast:
Skin to skin (yes, again!) can really help with creating the right situation for baby to latch on. Taking baths together and keeping the whole process as calm and as laid back as possible is really important in getting baby to latch.
That leads me on to positioning. You may find the most appropriate position for baby to latch on may be the Biological Nurturing® (Laid Back Breastfeeding) position. It’s a natural and instinctive position which also encourages a deep latch. This is a great website for seeing the laidback position in action: https://www.naturalbreastfeeding.com/
Mums can find nipple shields very useful in this situation when baby is used to feeding from a bottle, but if baby can latch without then there’s no need to introduce something that you’d ultimately need to wean from, as long-term use can decrease milk supply. Information on nipple shields and their sizing (which is really important) is available here: https://abm.me.uk/breastfeeding-information/using-a-nipple-shield-with-a-breastfed-baby/. Whilst we are talking about bottles, feeding supplements using paced bottle-feeding techniques can help teach babies to get used to the pace of breastfeeding. There are various clips on YouTube which demonstrate this feeding technique.
Once baby is latching successfully, you could consider the use of a supplemental nursing system. What’s this, I hear you ask? Basically, it’s a device designed to enable mums to be able to give all supplements at the breast. Its use not only teaches baby how to breastfeed, it also helps to increase your milk supply as the best way to increase milk supply is by baby actively nursing at the breast. There are a few of these systems which can be bought, however they are really quite expensive, and with the correct equipment it’s totally possible to make your own. All you need in addition to a bottle is a size 5 feeding tube (available online). This post explains how to make your own: https://breastfeeding.support/homemade-supplemental-nursing-system/
We’ve known of mums to be successful with relactation without the use of breastfeeding specialists, but sometimes the face-to-face, in-person support, particularly from an IBCLC, is the key to cracking relactation.
Best of luck on your journey 🙂
By Jenny Baldwin