Have you ever wondered, can breast milk come back after drying up? Well, it’s a question that many moms and parents grapple with. The good news is that there are strategies available to help stimulate your body’s milk production once again. This process, known as relactation, requires dedication and lots of patience, but it is entirely possible.
It’s important to know that the journey of relactation varies significantly from person to person. Factors like how long it’s been since you stopped breastfeeding or how your body responds to stimulation can greatly influence the outcome. However, with consistent effort and the right approach, a return of breast milk supply is achievable.
Over the course of this article, we’ll go into what causes low milk supply, how much time it might take for your breast milk to return after drying up, and practical steps you can take toward achieving this goal. We’ll also explore when seeking guidance from a lactation consultant or healthcare provider might be beneficial in your relactation journey.
How Breast Milk Production Works: The Basics
You might be surprised to know that your body’s ability to produce breast milk doesn’t just switch off once it’s started. It’s actually a complex process, influenced by hormones and demand. When your baby nurses or you use a breast pump, signals are sent to your brain to create more milk – this is known as ‘demand and supply’.
When your baby nurses or when you stimulate your breasts using a pump, signals are sent to your brain, prompting it to release the hormone prolactin. Elevated prolactin levels are crucial for milk production. The more frequent the nursing or pumping, the higher the prolactin levels, which in turn leads to increased milk production.
During the first 3-5 days after childbirth, the body produces colostrum, a nutrient-rich precursor to mature milk. It may seem like little milk, but it’s packed with essential antibodies and nutrients vital for your baby’s initial days. As days progress and especially over the first few months of life, as the baby’s demand increases, the milk supply also rises to meet these demands.
Now, you might be curious about the fluctuations in milk volume. Why does it sometimes feel like a bountiful flow, while at other moments, it seems scanty?
Your diet, hydration levels, and stress can play significant roles. Even prolactin levels, which naturally fluctuate throughout the day, can influence milk production. For instance, many mothers observe a more abundant supply during the early morning hours due to peak prolactin levels.
Remember every mother’s journey is unique. While some might feel they produce “just enough,” others might feel they have an oversupply. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that as long as your baby is growing healthily and having a regular output of wet and dirty diapers, your milk supply is likely just right for your baby’s needs.
What is Relactation?
Now here’s some good news for mothers who’ve experienced low milk supply or whose breasts have dried up for various reasons. Yes, it’s possible for breast milk production to resume after drying up! This process is called 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.
While it may not always result in a full milk supply as before, any amount of breast milk is beneficial for your baby’s health. So whether you stopped breastfeeding due to medical reasons or personal choice but now wish to start again – don’t lose hope.
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 a variety of 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. Some mothers might stop breastfeeding due to challenges or pressures they face, only to later regret the decision or experience a change in circumstances that makes breastfeeding more feasible.
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.
Breastfeeding provides a unique opportunity for physical closeness and bonding between the mother and baby. Some mothers might want to relactate to re-experience this bond.
Infant formula can be expensive, so relactating can help families save money.
Parents who adopt an infant or have a child through surrogacy may choose to breastfeed. Relactation or induced lactation (for those who haven’t given birth recently) can make this possible.
Certain illnesses or conditions in infants can be better managed with breast milk. For example, breast milk can be easier for premature babies to digest compared to formula.
If a mother had to interrupt breastfeeding due to her own surgery, illness, or medication, she might want to relactate once it’s safe to do so.
Some babies might have allergies, intolerances, or other reactions to certain formulas, prompting mothers to consider relactation as an alternative.
Overcoming the challenges of relactation and successfully breastfeeding can bring a sense of personal satisfaction and empowerment to some mothers. A mother or parent’s decision to relactate will be influenced by a unique combination of factors. Support from healthcare professionals, lactation consultants, and peer support groups can be invaluable for those considering or undertaking the process of relactation.
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
Relactation isn’t an overnight process; it requires hard work and patience. But with consistency and dedication, many women find success in re-establishing their breastmilk production.
Getting your body to produce breastmilk again requires your breasts to be stimulated to produce milk.
Here are some techniques that can aid in stimulating lactation:
- Breast Stimulation: Regularly stimulate your breasts using hand expression or a good-quality electric pump. You will need to pump every 2 to 3 hours.
- Skin Contact: Spend lots of skin-to-skin time with your baby.
- Nipple Stimulation: Letting your baby latch onto the nipple stimulates hormone production which aids in lactation.
- Hydration & Diet: Drink lots of water and maintain a well-balanced diet.
- Medical Aids: Certain medications can stimulate milk production. Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting any prescription medication for lactation.
If you have never breastfed 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.
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.
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 and use small circular motions for stimulation of the breast.
How Long Does It Take to Relactate?
Relactation time varies for each individual, but many mothers start seeing signs of milk production within a few days to a few weeks. Factors influencing the duration include how long it’s been since regular breastfeeding ceased, the age of the baby, and the frequency of breast stimulation.
Consistent pumping or breastfeeding, support from lactation consultants, and sometimes medications or herbs can aid the process. However, for some mothers, it might take longer, and a full milk supply might not be restored.
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:
Increased Breast Fullness: Breasts may feel fuller and heavier.
Breast Changes: There might be tingling, heaviness, or other sensations in the breasts, similar to the feeling of the milk “letting down”.
Leaking Milk: Even a few drops are a positive sign that milk production is resuming.
Milk Expression: When pumping or hand-expressing, you may begin to see colostrum or drops of milk.
Baby’s Behavior: The baby may show increased interest in nursing, seem more satisfied after feeding, and may start swallowing more while at the breast.
Increased Wet Diapers: If the baby is receiving more breast milk, you’ll notice more wet diapers.
Changes in Baby’s Stool: There might be an increase in stools, or they may become more yellow and loose, resembling those of exclusively breastfed babies.
Audible Swallowing: You can hear the baby swallowing more frequently during breastfeeding sessions.
Breastfeeding Sessions: The baby may become more willing to latch and suck at the breast, even if no milk is coming out initially. This can be an encouraging sign of the baby’s innate desire to breastfeed.
Increased Thirst or Hunger: As milk production starts ramping up, some mothers might feel thirstier or more hungry due to the energy used in milk production.
Remember, every individual’s journey with relactation is unique. While these are general signs that relactation might be working, the process and experience can differ widely among mothers. It’s essential to seek guidance and support from lactation professionals during this process.
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 a baby 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 mentioned 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 mother’s 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 or you don’t have a cooperative baby, 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 manual 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.
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. Some people even use lactation cookies.
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.