Relactation

Relactation means getting your milk back after your milk has already gone away. This post will dive into the real stuff that comes with this process. Hopefully by the end of this post you will have a really good idea of whether or not this is a good fit for you. Relactation is a difficult and time consuming process. Keep an open mind of whether this is even an option for you.

(This post was originally a video. Check it out!)

Formula Shortage

Currently, the United States is in the middle of a huge formula shortage. People are throwing around the idea of relactation as an option for a lot of formula feeding moms if they can’t find formula. While it can be good to explore options like relactation, it is not for everyone. There could be so many different reasons why people use formula. Just telling someone to try relactation is not helpful without the individual context of each situation.

It is not great to imply to moms that formula feed that they should switch to breastfeeding and try to re-lactate. It is a lengthy process. In no way am I saying that you should do this. You are not a bad mom for choosing to formula feed your baby. You are also not a bad mom for choosing to breastfeed your baby. This post is simply for information about relactation.

New Little Life typically works with working moms who are combining breastfeeding and pumping. I am a lactation consultant and also a breast pump expert. Pumping is really important right now during this formula shortage! If you were breastfeeding and are now going back to work, you don’t want to loose your milk supply because getting formula is very difficult. So, if pumping is something you need help with, you can click on this link and learn how to work with me.

Meet with a Lactation Consultant

Relactation is possible but difficult. It is recommended that you work with a lactation consultant to help you figure this out. You can try to re-lactate with your baby stimulating your breasts. With this method, you need to make sure that the baby is getting enough nutrition and gaining enough weight while you are getting that milk supply up. That is where a lactation consultant can really help you out. This post will mostly cover relactation through using a breast pump. While you can try to re-lactate using a breast pump on your own, it is still smart to consult a lactation consultant because they have a lot of expertise with all thing lactation!

CLICK HERE for resources for finding the perfect breast pump for YOU!

Important Facts about Relactation:

  • The longer you had a milk supply in the past, the easier it will be to relactate. If you did not breastfeed at all after your baby was born, your milk supply came in at the beginning, but it diminished very quickly. It will be harder for you to re-lactate, although definitely easier than someone who has never lactated.
  • If you stopped breastfeeding recently but now want to relactate, your journey most likely be easier, and more successful. But, if it has been a year since you last breastfed and now you want to start relactating, it is going to be a little bit trickier.
  • If you have never lactated, it is still possible to start. You do need to work with a doctor in order to start lactating. People who have never been pregnant can lactate but it is a difficult process. This might be your situation if you are an adoptive parent, a surrogate parent, or a parent who didn’t give birth but also has breasts and wants to breastfeed.

All of these situations are doable!

Step One to Relactation: Set Goals

Your goals need to be realistic and obtainable for you and your family situation. This is really important. How much pumping can you realistically add into your life right now? Ask yourself that. Will you be able to meet your baby’s total feeding goals? Maybe not. So you need to be okay with that right from the beginning. Don’t be surprised if you try relactation and you can’t meet 100% of your baby’s needs. This is not unusual. You need to have realistic expectations here.

If you are a formula feeding mom and you decide to relactate and you are meeting 50% of your baby’s needs with breastmilk and 50% with formula, that is half the formula that you have to find and buy. We are never all or nothing here. Anything is better than nothing. So set some realistic goals for yourself.

Step Two: Commit!

Relactation requires a lot of commitment. It will take a lot of time and a lot of effort. It can take 6 to 8 or even up to 12 weeks to get to where you want to be, especially if you are trying to meet 100% of your baby’s needs.

You will need to pump 8 to 12 times for 20 minutes a day. If you think about it, that is about every 2 hours during the day and then every 3 to 4 hours at night. This is a commitment that you are making to yourself. You can’t start small and expect to see results. You can’t just start pumping once or twice a day and expect this to work. If you want to relacate, you have to commit. Stimulation is key. You cannot eat enough lactation cookies to make up for skipping stimulation. This takes pumping. You have to stimulate the breast and ask for supply with demand.

Step Three to Relactation: Prepare Yourself

Relactation will be mentally exhausting and physically draining (no pun intended). It can be really frustrating to see low output especially for a week or two at the beginning. This can be straining on relationships, so talk with your partner. Explain that this is going to be a time suck for you. You are going to be pumping a lot. You might need to explain why this is important to you. Make sure you and your family are on the same page. This will really be a help to you.

Step Four: Get Good Equipment

You already have 1/2 the equipment, your breasts, but you need the second half: good strong pump. If you can get your hands on a multi-user hospital grade pump, great. You could rent a Medela Symphony for example, that would be a great pump. They are very strong and have dual motors. They will give you the best customizable stimulation that you need.

A Spectra is also a great pump to start with. That one is not a dual motor but it is a strong pump. Check out the New Little Life Facebook group if you want some help choosing a pump for relactation. If you only have a small pump or a wearable pump available to you, hey, something is better than nothing. You can make do with whatever you have and do what you need to do.

If you can get a good sturdy pump, you will probably have more success. Then again, sometimes the small wearable pump helps you not miss sessions. What you want is a pump that creates the most stimulation and helps you stay the most consistent.

Step Five to Relactation: Choose Your Method- Pump or Breast

Breast

If you choose to relactate at the breast with baby, you need to work with a lactation consultant. You could also try a supplemental nursing system. This is where you tape a tube to the breast to collect milk and feed your baby through a syringe or a bottle while they are at the breast. A supplemental nursing system helps you accurately measure how much milk your baby is taking in. It is a time consuming method since you have to pump and feed at the breast but it is an option.

Pump

If you are going to pump, start right now and get on a schedule! You need to pump every 2 hours during the day and every 3 to 4 hours during the night. The goal is 8 to 12 pumping sessions in a 24 hour period.

You need to pump for about 20 minutes. You will see drops of milk come out. Depending on how long it has been since you lactated, you might have really low output for awhile. Do not let this discourage you. The goal here is stimulation. The goal is demand. Demand, demand, demand. The supply will come, but you have to tell your body, hey, we need milk.

If you already have some milk, it will be easier to increase supply. Your are hormones going. Stick to the schedule, though, so that you can increase supply. Keep going and reach out to a lactation consultant if you need help.

Questions about Relactation

  • Can supplements help in relactation?

    The answer: galactagogues. That is a fancy word for foods or supplements that bring milk. Supplements and cookies can be expensive. There is also not a lot of research that suggests they work. In my opinion, these are not necessary for relactation. You will end up wasting time, money and calories on stuff that may only help a little. If you want an excuse to eat a lot of cookies, sure. Do it in the name of lactation and have a lot of fun with that!

    There are also some medications that can help with relactation, but those need to be prescribed by a doctor. Contact your OBGYN if you want to explore that option. They will tend to prescribe these for women that have never lactated before. The medications have risks so it may not be the best choice for you.

  • Can you mix breast milk and formula?

    Yes, you can mix breastmilk and formula. You might consider putting them in separate bottles so that you don’t waste as much. This will help by not having to throw out the breastmilk because the bottle of formula wasn’t finished. It is recommended that any formula that isn’t finished be discarded. Breastmilk can be out for up to 2 hours according to the CDC after it has been warmed. So if your baby doesn’t finish breastmilk, it can sit out for a bit until your little one can finish it. We don’t want to waste anything. Make smaller bottles for your baby. It is always easier to warm up more than to throw out precious milk. Short answer, yes, you can combine breastmilk and formula in the same bottle if you want.

Tips for Success in Relactation

The first tip: reward yourself.

Remember the goal here is stimulation not necessarily output at the beginning. The supply will come if the demand continues. So reward yourself! If you want to have a little piece of chocolate every time you sit down with that pump, do it. If you want a reward at the end of every day or end of every week, take it! Reward yourself because this can be a difficult, long and stressful process. Keep it positive. Keep it light. This will help your mental state which is so important since it effects your milk and your hormones. Do find a way to reward yourself. You are doing a really good job!

Tip two: try not to stress about the output at the beginning.

When I say the beginning, I’m not talking about the first couple of days. It could be a couple of weeks of low output. Just know that you are doing everything right. Stimulation is king. There is nothing else that will replace stimulation in relactation.

Give yourself some time, patience and grace. Make sure that you are doing this for the right reasons. Being afraid of the formula shortage is not a good enough reason. Feeling like a failure and are trying to make up for a perceived bad choice that you made before is not a good reason.

Relactation is hard and takes a lot of work. Here are some good reasons to try relactation. You want to! You feel like you can do it. Or, you are at a place in your life where you can handle it. I want to see you succeed!

Final Thoughts

Please, let’s make sure to not shame moms into relactating because they chose to formula feed or they had to formula feed or whatever happened. It just doesn’t matter. The goal here is to give you the information and the tools needed to make this work.

No one is expected to navigate parenthood alone. Relactation is very challenging. Please reach out if you need help. We are all in this together! Good luck on your relactation journey. I hope that you find success and that you are able to meet the goals that you have no matter what they are.

Relactation