We all know that the breastfeeding path can sometimes be bumpy. For some, those bumps can mean a gap or pause in their breastfeeding or pumping routine. While frequent and continued breastfeeding or pumping is best for maintaining a good breastmilk supply, sometimes this isn’t possible due to medical, personal, or social reasons. Even if you have to take a break, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of breastfeeding.
The process of resuming breastfeeding after a break is called relactation. It is not always easy and requires determination, dedication, and support. But it is possible to start breastfeeding again, whether the gap is a week, a month, a year, or more.
There are lots of reasons why you might want to try relactation. For example:
- You changed your mind about stopping breastfeeding.
- You were separated from baby for a while and couldn’t pump (perhaps during a hospital stay).
- A medical problem that made breastfeeding difficult or impossible (such as a partially retained placenta, or tongue tie or cleft palate in the baby) has been resolved.
- Your baby has an allergy or intolerance to formula.
- A medication or a medical treatment made breastfeeding unsafe for a while.
- You’re adopting a baby.
Whatever the reason, choosing to relactate is an immensely personal and often emotional decision. All the intense feelings associated with breastfeeding are in play, and you may have to overcome fear, guilt, or grief connected with your previous breastfeeding experience. That’s why it’s important to build a support team around you who can help your through the process and build your confidence and self-belief.
There are two parts to relactation: teaching your body to start making milk again and getting baby to latch and feed at the breast. Both will take time and dedication, and they may not happen simultaneously. Working with a lactation professional, like an IBCLC, especially if you’ve had a longer breastfeeding gap, is key for success. They will be able to provide you with personal advice and monitor your progress along the way.
The process of getting your body to make milk again requires frequent stimulation of the breasts and nipples, anywhere from eight to twelve times per day. This can be done through hand expression, pumping, or having baby latch on and feed. This stimulation causes the release of hormones associated with lactation and will trigger your body to start making milk. Skin to skin contact with baby will also help increase these hormones. So even if baby isn’t feeding at the breast yet, having them lay on your chest before or during expression can give your hormones a boost. After a week or so of concentrated effort at relactation, most moms will start to see an increase in supply. Within a month many will be start producing enough to exclusively breastfeed.
Whether relactation works for you or not, don’t lose hope. Staying connected and close with your little one is the most important thing through the whole process.
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