Relactation

What is Relactation and How does it Work?

By: Sabrina Granniss, IBCLC

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6 min

There are many reasons breastfeeding can be interrupted and just as many reasons why someone chooses to relactate after having stopped breastfeeding. It is possible to begin producing milk after you have stopped, but it does take time, patience, and determination. A plan with clear steps helps optimize your time and milk production as you work toward relactation. 

Relactation expectations

There are no guarantees. While some people can re-establish a full supply for their baby, others are only able to make a partial supply compared to their baby's needs. Any amount of your milk you give your baby benefits them. Breastfeeding can look many different ways, and the more milk you can provide your baby, the less donor milk or supplement they will need.


Relactation is a process of beginning to produce breast milk again after stopping for anywhere from a few weeks to many months. In some cultures, grandmothers re-lactate to nurse a newborn if the mother is ill, there is a separation of mother and baby, or other cultural beliefs, including colostrum taboos. (1)

Reasons people have chosen to relactate:

  • Baby is not tolerating formula well
  • The parent was not ready for breastfeeding to end
  • Health benefits for the baby (and mother)
  • Having nursed a child previously and now adopting a baby
  • Having previously nursed a child and wanting to be able to co-nurse their new baby
  • Preparedness for being able to safely feed your baby in states of emergency

How does relactation work? (2)

Prolactin 

Prolactin is a hormone responsible for the development of mammary tissue, milk storage, and making milk. As the baby or pumping removes milk, prolactin is released and tells the body to synthesize milk by pulling nutrients from the parent's blood supply and storing the milk for feeding the baby. Because of this, once you are making milk, you are never truly empty of milk. The more often milk is removed, the more often you send the signal to make more, and prolactin levels stay more elevated.


Oxytocin 

The hormone Oxytocin is responsible for releasing milk through the milk-ejection reflex. It is also the feel-good hormone. For oxytocin to be released, you must be relaxed. It doesn't release if you are under stress, feel rushed, and have too much going on. This can become a barrier when you are concerned about increasing milk production. Set yourself up for success by taking a few deep breaths, putting on soothing music or meditation, and dimming the lights. Or, maybe you may feel less stressed putting on a favorite show or listening to your favorite comedian. Whatever helps you to relax. As your baby begins to suck or you begin pumping, oxytocin is released, and milk is squeezed from the cells and flows through the ducts toward the nipple. It is often called the milk let down, but more accurately, it is the milk ejection reflex.


Demand dictates supply 

The amount of milk being demanded and removed helps dictate the supply of milk. During relactation, it can take time to build and increase the supply, but with frequent, consistent, and effective milk removal, the body responds, and more milk begins to be produced. Strategies that are tailored to you and your situation will help optimize your relactation process. Each parent and baby has a unique situation and may need different tools to help achieve their goals. Meet with an experienced International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) to co-create a care plan based on your health history, lactation journey, and goals you have.

How long does it take to relactate?

  • How old is the baby? - younger babies are often more willing to get back to breastfeeding. Older babies may take more convincing unless you have already rebuilt your supply by pumping.
  • How long since you have lactated? - If it has only been a short period of time since you last made milk, you may see a response to your relactation efforts sooner. If you have completely weaned and have not made milk, it may take a little longer to see the drips and milk production flow.
  • Current health status - Your health impacts your milk supply. What you eat, drink, and your environment can help or hinder your relactation goals. Choose a wide variety of colorful foods to boost your nutrition, limiting processed foods and sugars. Get plenty of fresh air and sunlight and find alternatives to harsh household cleaners that can be toxic to your indoor air. 
  • Did you have a full supply previously? - If you did, you are likelier to make a full milk supply again. 

Helpful tools & tips for relactation

  • Pumping & hand expression - stimulation to the nipple releases prolactin, which triggers the development of the alveoli in the breasts and instructs the cells to secrete milk. Using heat to warm the breast and gentle massage can help encourage relaxation and milk flow. Legendairy Milk’s Breast-Ease conforms to your breast and can be used during pumping. Hand expressing after a pumping session to get more milk out means room for more milk to be stored.
  • Skin-to-skin contact - you and your baby exchange a lot of information when you are skin-to-skin. Being skin-to-skin raises oxytocin levels, improving milk flow and, therefore, milk removal. The more often you have your baby on you, skin to skin, the more often they are likely to nurse. More contact with your baby allows them to feed even for a short snack more often rather than waiting long periods between stimulation and feeding. 
  • Supplementer at the breast - babies are often more effective at building milk supply than a pump. Using a supplemental feeding system allows you to feed your baby directly at the breast each time while still getting the necessary calories while you build your supply. Their suck stimulates production by releasing prolactin, and they will drink all the milk you produce.
  • Co-bathe - this is another opportunity to be skin-to-skin with your baby in a relaxed atmosphere. This reminds babies of their time in utero and can help get them comfortable with latching and feeding at the breast again.
  • Co-sleep - safe co-sleeping keeps you and your baby near each other, often leading to more nursing during the night when prolactin levels are naturally higher. Prolactin follows its own circadian rhythm. Milk removal during the night, when it is highest, optimizes production and can increase milk supply for the next day.
  • Bodywork - there are many types of bodywork available. Reducing stress and muscle tension can aid in oxytocin release during milk removal. Just like babies, parents can have structural misalignments that inhibit milk production. (3) Chiropractic adjustments are gentle release stuck tension and fascial strain, and restoring alignment can help your body work better and increase your ability to make more milk.
  • Herbs - Some herbs can support your journey of relactation. Herbs work differently in the body, so choosing herbs or a blend best suited to you is recommended. 

Legendairy Milk lactation supplements

  • Liquid Gold has Goat’s rue as an ingredient, which is shown to increase mammary tissue and milk storage capacity. Other herbs in this popular blend aid digestion and increase milk flow.
  • Moringa, alfalfa, and nettles found in Cash Cow are nutritional powerhouses. This blend gives your milk a nutritional boost and increases milk storage capacity. It helps for dips in supply as well as relactation.
  • Milkapalooza is a blend with Shatavari that increases prolactin and encourages milk flow. This lactation supplement supports recovery after delivery, nourishes your body, and can increase milk supply.

Relactation is a journey that requires time, patience, and determination, but it is possible to begin producing breast milk again after interruption. While there are no guarantees, any amount of your milk you can provide your baby benefits them. Remember that demand dictates supply, so consistent, frequent, and effective milk removal is key to increasing milk production. Many helpful tools and tips, such as pumping, hand expression, skin-to-skin contact, and using a supplementer at the breast, can help in the process of relactation. Consider incorporating bodywork and herbs into your relactation journey, and explore lactation supplements like Liquid Gold, Cash Cow, and Milkapalooza from Legendairy Milk to support your milk production. Keep going, trust the process, and know that every step you take is worth it. 

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