The decision to relactate is a big one. The journey back to breast milk is sure to be wrought with frustration, stress, and perhaps tears. On the other side of that coin, however, is pure joy, moments of infinite tenderness and pride in such an amazing accomplishment. The first question you need to answer before you begin trying to relactate is, "why am I doing this?" If you have decided to do it because you're getting pressure from family, friends or a doctor about breastfeeding, then you should think again. This is not something that should be done with half a heart because all that will come from it is stress, frustration and resentment. Not to mention that if you are not a completely willing participant in your relactation, then it is much less likely to be successful. So, if you think you are ready to come on this journey, read on to discover how to successfully relactate and breastfeed your baby after stopping nursing.
If, for some reason, you either lost your milk supply or your baby was unable to nurse enough in the beginning to maintain your supply but you want nothing more than to give your baby the best and have that amazing bonding experience that can only come from breastfeeding, you can do this! You should start this experience with a realistic, but very positive attitude. If you practice defeated thoughts, then you will defeat yourself and if your expectations are too high, you can end up disappointing yourself. You need to understand that, even if you cannot fully get your breast milk supply back in a sufficient enough amount to be your baby's sole source of nutrition, it does not mean that you shouldn't do it at all. A small amount of breast milk is always better than none and has so many benefits for your child.
The most important part of relactation is the need to pump, pump, and pump some more! You will need a good breast pump if you're going to be successful with this and a hospital grade pump is your best bet. You can usually rent a hospital-grade breast pump from your local medical supply store and you can also purchase them, but they are very expensive. There are some other good options that won't set you back so much cash and you can read about those pumps in my Electric Double Breast Pump Review article . Of course, the most effective way to get your milk back in is to let your baby nurse constantly, but few babies will have the patience it takes to nurse at your breast when there isn't any milk forthcoming! You will need to pump or nurse every 2-3 hours around the clock for about 20 minutes at each session. This will be easier if you have a hands-free pumping system as you will also need to tend to your baby during all this pumping! This can be difficult for some moms because it seems like you are constantly hooked up to your breast pump instead of spending quality time with your little one, but you can make this quality time too! For example, you can feed your baby while you are pumping and this may even help to activate the hormones that cause a woman's milk production to begin. Put your baby in a bouncer and bounce him or her while you are pumping! No matter how you make it work, this is an integral part of re-establishing your milk supply and is necessary.
If your baby is willing to latch on and suckle, do this for a few minutes every two hours or as often as your little one is willing to indulge you. You will have the best luck with this if you do it right before you are going to give your baby a bottle because your baby will be most interested in your breast when he or she is hungry! Something that you may want to check into is a supplemental nursing system. It is a bottle feeding system that allows mother and baby to simulate breastfeeding because there is a tubing system that runs from a bottle of milk and attaches near your nipple so that your baby is in the traditional nursing position and can become re-accustomed to breastfeeding while still getting milk. There is a popular model produced by Medela and another similar system by Lact-Aid. Another step you can take to get your baby prepared for breastfeeding is to us a bottle nipple that most closely resembles the real thing. The First Years company makes a bottle called Breastflow that women have been using with success for years. Whatever bottle system you are currently using, make sure that your bottle nipples are the slowest flow variety available. If your little one is currently eating from a faster flow nipple, he or she will be quite frustrated when coming back to the breast because of the much slower-flowing milk.
There are other lactation-inducing techniques you can employ on this journey that can greatly improve your chances. One of these is to use some form of supplement or tea that is shown to increase breast milk supply. I have written extensively about the subject in my article, Natural Methods For Increasing and Boosting Your Breast Milk Supply. You could try any one of these methods, or even several of them in combination to help you to relactate.
Another technique that many women find success with is massage and compression. To perform breast compressions while pumping or nursing, you will massage your breast beginning at the armpit and getting as close to the nipple as possible without dislodging your pump flange or baby's mouth. You will massage with increasing pressure and then finish with a few firm squeezes to your breast. You can also roll your nipples between your fingers before beginning nursing or pumping to encourage milk flow and stimulate lactation hormones.
You will need to surround yourself with a good support system of family and friends when trying to relactate. This can be an invaluable tool, especially when it comes to your partner. There are times when you will feel like it's not working and you want to give up and having people around you to encourage you on your journey can make all the difference. Don't be discouraged, though, if those around you are doubting and questioning your choices. You are this baby's mother and you are the only person that knows what is best for your child. Nobody else will have to feel the regret if you don't do all that you can to do what's best for your baby, only you will have to deal with those feelings, so do what you think is right.
Another helpful hint is keeping a "pumping journal." To do this, every time you pump, write the amount of milk you were able to express into a notebook with the date. To begin with, this may seem discouraging, especially when you are pumping very little, or even no milk. The reason why this can help you though, is that it is hard evidence that your efforts ARE working and that your work is worth the effort. As you see those amounts increase, little by little, you can be proud of the success you have achieved.
A lactation consultant can be a valuable asset during relactation. They are a great source of information and encouragement. You will, doubtless, have questions as you go along and a lactation consultant can be a great place to go for answers. You can find a lactation consultant in your area through your local hospital. You can also get in touch with a La Leche League representative in your area. Just visit their website at llli.org to find one close to you.
As you are working towards a successful breastfeeding relationship with your baby, remember that it does not happen overnight! Each step you take in this process will get you a little closer to your goal, but there are no giant leaps in relactation. I also want you to understand that formula is not your enemy!! Just because your baby is still relying on formula for most, or part, of their nutritional needs does not mean that you are failing. Instead of looking at that can of formula powder and feeling bad about it, see it as your best friend in this process because it is giving you the opportunity to re-establish your milk supply without worrying whether or not your baby is getting the proper nutrition. You may always have to supplement with formula, and that is okay!! Don't feel guilty if you are still giving your baby mostly formula and only a small amount of breast milk each day, even a small amount of breast milk can be a big benefit for your child!
During the relactation process you need to avoid some things that can sabotage everything you are working to achieve. You should stay away from alcohol and caffeine because they can dehydrate you and make it extremely difficult to produce breast milk. Certain medications like birth control pills, decongestants and anti-histamines will also negatively affect your ability to lactate.
You are going to have days when you wonder if you can do this. You are going to have moments of doubt when you feel like giving up. The thing you need to remember is that anyone can relactate to some extent. There are women out there that have never been pregnant in their lives and are able to lactate, with enough work, in order to feed an adopted child! The hormones that control lactation, prolactin and oxytocin, are produced in the pituitary glands and are not ovarian hormones, and are produced in direct response to nipple stimulation. What does this mean for you? Even if it's been 3 months since you last lactated, or even longer, you can learn how to successfully relactate and breastfeed your baby after stopping nursing with a lot of hard work and determination. Breast milk IS best for your baby and you can give them this amazing gift if you truly want to. I encourage you to keep at it and not give up. Seek help when you have questions or need encouragement and remember who it is you're doing this for. Good luck and happy nursing!