I’ve been wanting to share my relactation success story for a while now. Yes it is possible to get your milk supply back after drying up! Here are 8 relactation tips for resuming breastfeeding or pumping after you’ve stopped.
What is Relactation?
Relactation is the process of starting breastfeeding after any amount of time. It doesn’t matter if you breastfeed for a short amount of time or for years, relactation is the process of bringing your milk supply back.
Your milk supply may come back fully and be enough to feed your baby 100% breastmilk. Other times you may need to supplement with donor milk or formula, whatever your preference is.
This journey will require persistence, time, determination, and a lot of patience but it is possible!
Reasons You Might Want to Relactate
You might be wondering, “Is relactation worth it?” Well, there are many reasons why you would want to start breastfeeding again.
Sometimes, your initial attempts at breastfeeding didn’t end well due to lack of support or misinformation.
Perhaps you were separated from your baby for a long period of time or you had a medical procedure that interfered with your ability to nurse or pump.
It’s well known that the benefits of breastfeeding go beyond just providing nutrition for your baby. Whatever the reason you decide to reestablish your breastfeeding relationship with your baby, it’s a great decision.
TIP: Didn’t get enough information about breastfeeding in the beginning or you just need to know more about the essentials? Consider taking a simple, go at your own pace online breastfeeding class or step by step pumping class to learn everything you need to know and empower yourself to reach your relactation goals!
How To Relactate or Get Breastmilk Back After Drying Up
Getting your body to produce breastmilk again requires your breasts to be stimulated to produce milk.
There are two ways you can do this. You can bring your baby to the breast for nursing or you can use a breast pump to stimulate your breast.
If you have never breastfeed or it has been a while since you breastfed or pumped, you may not be getting any milk at all. That’s okay! You are sending your body signals that you need to start producing milk.
If your baby will breastfeed, let them nurse whenever they would like. Encourage them to latch well. Here are tips for getting baby to nurse from the breast.
You will have to continue to supplement milk along with the nursing sessions to ensure that your baby is being fed enough.
You can supplement less as your milk supply increases.
If baby is unwilling to nurse, you will need to use a breast pump to stimulate your breasts.
You will need to pump every 2 to 3 hours.
When you’re pumping, try using hands on techniques and massaging your breast to increase the amount of milk you pump.
Make a letter C shape with your hands on your breasts use small circular motions to massage the breasts.
How Long Does It Take to Relactate?
The length of time it takes to get milk back varies, so there is not a standard answer.
It can take weeks to months to get your milk to return. You may make enough milk to exclusively breastfeed your baby or you may make enough to supplement.
In my case, as you’ll see below, it took almost 60 days to get to the point where I was able to pump 2 ounce bottles.
I had only pumped milk for the first 3 weeks after my baby was born and started trying to breastfeed again at 7 months postpartum.
Obviously that was not enough to feed her exclusively breast milk, but you have to define your own relactation goals.
Signs Relactation Is Working
Signs that your milk supply is increasing can include:
Your breasts feel fuller or heavier. They may even tingle or feel hotter.
Your breasts are leaking milk.
You’re able to express/pump more milk.
You notice more hormonal or mood changes.
You feel thirsty when breastfeeding or pumping.
Your baby gains wet and has more wet/dirty diapers.
Relactation Success Story
I didn’t know it was possible to have a second chance at breastfeeding. I was never able to get my baby to latch and I decided to pump right away in the early weeks following my daughter’s birth.
For 3 weeks, I pumped milk using my Spectra breast pump. However, I didn’t know anyone else personally who had breastfed so I didn’t think I had anyone to ask my questions or get advice from.
Soon sleep deprivation, exhaustion and all the unknowns about being a first time mom hit me hard.
I stayed at home with my baby alone on maternity leave and found it difficult to pump , while holding a baby who didn’t want to be put down.
I was missing pump sessions because I was choosing to catch up on the little sleep I could.
It seemed easier to fix baby a formula bottle and get help with feeding at nighttime. Feeling defeated, I made the decision to give up breastfeeding my baby.
My husband asked me if I was sure I wanted to quit. I said yes even though deep down I didn’t really want to quit. However, figuring it out felt impossible.
I began 100% formula feeding and pushed my doubts to the back of my mind.
Around 7 months postpartum, I was scrolling on Facebook of all places and noticed a post from a woman in one of the breastfeeding groups I hadn’t left.
She was talking about resuming breastfeeding after stopping. The people in the comments were mentioning the same word, relactation.
I quickly did a search about it and found out it was possible to start breastfeeding again!
For the next week, I tried getting my baby back to the breast, but it did not work. She was older and at 7 months she was not used to breastfeeding at ALL.
She didn’t really understand why I was trying to get my nipple in her mouth and showed no interest in nursing. So I decided I was going to have to relactate using my pump only.
I started with my Spectra S2 pump and pumped around the clock. I set my reminders for every 2-3 hours.
I tried to go no longer than 3 hours between pumping sessions. After getting my baby to finally sleep longer stretches at night getting up to pump in the middle of the night was torture.
Not even going to lie, I missed a few overnight sessions. However, when I did do those sessions I was able to make more milk.
I never got back to full supply, I still had to supplement with formula.
However, you have to set personal goals for your own breastfeeding journey. At well over 7 months postpartum I was thrilled to be able to supplement with any amount of breastmilk.
Relactation Progress Pictures
I’m going to share my relactation after 6 months progression pictures with dates so you can tell the timeline of my progress.
Relactation Tips for Success
I want to share a couple of tips for making your return to breastfeeding successful. These tips will even help you if you decide to relactate after 6 months or more.
These are the things that personally helped me and I hope they can make your life easier as well. Breastfeeding and pumping is a labor of love, but the benefits are so worth it!
1. Get Support
Deciding to relactate is a personal decision and ultimately you know whats best for your baby.
As with all things mom life and parenting, people will offer their opinions on what they think about what you’re doing. The number one reason I was able to relactate is because I received support.
My biggest supporter was my husband. He assured me that I wasn’t crazy for trying to relactate at 7 months postpartum.
In additional to emotional support, he physically supported me by taking care of the baby so I was able to pump without distractions. This didn’t happen every single time I pumped, but he understood what I needed to do and agreed to help as much as he could.
Another amazing form of support is social media believe it or not. For all that’s said about social media, it can be very helpful in connecting people with similar interests.
I was apart of several “regular” breastfeeding groups on Facebook, but when I found a breastfeeding group for relactation I really felt connected.
It can be discouraging to see women talk about all the ounces of milk they pumped in one day or thier freezer stash when you’re barely seeing drops.
My favorite group of all time, hands down, is definitely Relactation One Ounce At A Time. The admin and ladies who are in that group are so nice and super helpful.
2. Skin to Skin Contact
One of the things you’ll see when you’re trying to figure out how to relactation is the recommendation for lots of skin to skin contact.
If you want to get your milk supply back, lactation consultants will tell you that you need to stimulate your nipples often. Your baby is great for this job!
However, if you never had baby nursing from the breast to begin with or your baby is a little older when you start relactation it might be difficult to get them to nurse directly from the breast.
This was the case with me as my baby had never latched in the beginning and was probably wondering why I was putting my nipple in her mouth!
Some people have found success with a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) system.
It is essentially a feeding tube device that is feeds baby through very fine tube attached to the mother’s breast. It can be filled with breastmilk or formula and is worn around the mothers neck. She can control the flow of milk and the system helps babies stimulate the nipple.
Even if your baby does not come back to the breast, skin to skin contact is still beneficial for you. It promotes bonding and stimulates the hormones that affect milk production.
3. Use A Breast Pump
If you can’t get your child to nurse directly from the breast, you will still need to stimulate your nipples. You will need a breast pump for the job and luckily, there are so many amazing breast pump options these days. My recommendation is that you use a double electric breast pump for the most efficient use of your time.
During my relactation journey I used 4 different breast pumps.
I had one single manual breast pump and 3 different electric double breast pumps.
If you can only pick one breast pump to use, I highly suggest you select a portable breast pump for the ultimate hands free pumping.
You can find out more about my favorite breast pump for relactation, the Baby Buddha pump in the post all about the best breast pumps for relactation.
4. Power Pump To Increase Milk Production
You might have heard the term power pumping before, but if not, it is a technique that is used to mimic cluster feeding with a breast pump.
When babies cluster feed, they are nursing several times within a short period. You can do this with a breast pump by pumping several times within an hour.
Start your normal pumping session. Then after that first pump, wait 10 minutes and then pump again for 10 more minutes. Repeat this one more time and you will have pumped 3 times in one hour. You can find out more about power pumping here.
When you relactate, you might not be getting a lot of milk, but power pumping is helping to stimulate your nipples.
You’re telling your body you need to make more milk and giving it signals to produce more.
It can be hard to fit power pumping sessions in when you’re pumping to relactate but even just one of these power pumping sessions will help.
Related: How To Find Time To Pump As A Busy Mom
5. Keep Track of Your Progress and Journey
This is such a simple relactation hack, but can be highly effective at motivating you.
Take pictures of how much milk you are able to pump. You can take pictures daily or every other day but the important thing is that you’re able to document your progression.
Another thing I did was keep a hard copy of a monthly calendar. Simply being able to mark off another day that I was able to pump gave me satisfaction. It’s also a reminder to take this journey one day at a time.
6. Get Reminders to Pump
I used an app called Pump Log to log my pumping sessions and one amazing feature is that it will send you a notification to pump.
You need to pump quite frequently to establish a milk supply, every 2-3 hours.
Don’t think you’ll be able to rely on your memory alone to get all your pumping sessions in. You’ll get busy and the time will fly and you don’t want too much time to pass between pumping sessions.
7. Use Supplements at Your Discretion
You’ll hear a lot of talk about galactagogues surrounding the topic of breastfeeding.
A galactagogue is a substance that increases milk supply. There are natural herbs that can increase milk supply.
However, specifically concerning relocation, you may hear about people using prescription medications to increase milk supply.
Please do your research on these herbs and medications and talk to a lactation consultant or your medical provider.
Sometimes these things can can have the opposite effect and decrease your milk supply.
Medications come with side effects that you really should take into consideration.
8. Stay Positive
The final tip I have for successful relactation is to stay positive!
Don’t stress about the amount of milk you’re able to make. Your success is not measured in drops, ounces, bottles, freezer stashes, etc.
You’re doing the hard work of establishing the breastfeeding relationship with your child and that’s amazing!
When Is It Too Late To Start Breastfeeding?
It’s never too late to start breastfeeding. Although it’s not always possible to bring back a full milk supply , your baby’s health and development are benefitting from the milk you can supply.
Relactation is not an overnight process and it takes time and dedication. Trust the timing, trust the process and trust your body. You’re capable of doing this.
These are real, progress pictures of my own relactation attempt. I hope these give you a realistic idea of how long it takes to reestablish your milk supply by pumping alone.
I wish you the very best for your relactation journey! I’d love to hear what you’ve tried and how it’s going. Leave me a comment below and let me know if you have your own tips or if these tips helped you.