Can I relactate?

Yes! Relactation—re-establishing a milk supply that has disappeared or diminished—requires the same three ingredients as initiating breastfeeding: a baby (to consume the milk), a breast (to make the milk), and a brain (to stimulate milk production).

To increase your baby’s interest in breastfeeding you will want to:

  • Encourage your baby to latch on to the breast and suckle effectively 
  • Ensure that your baby is being adequately nourished while you are building your milk supply 
  • Maintain the special mother-child bond 
  • Maintain your own interest and enthusiasm for breastfeeding

Some strategies that have helped other mothers:

  • Hold your baby skin-to-skin. So-called “kangaroo care” will help you and your baby get reacquainted and will also stimulate your body to release prolactin, the milk-producing hormone.
  • Tune into your baby’s hunger cues. If you’re unable to hold your baby skin-to-skin, at least keep him nearby so you can watch for and respond to his early signs of hunger. You may want to use some form of co-sleeping (learn more here) as well, to take advantage of higher nighttime prolactin levels.
  • Offer your breast often. Don’t wait until your baby cries (a late sign of hunger) to feed him. Crying can make it difficult for your baby to latch on and feed effectively. Your baby is more likely to be receptive to breastfeeding if he is in a light sleep, slightly drowsy, or just barely awake. It may also help to massage your breast before you try to latch your baby, since this stimulates let-down and increases milk production.
  • Give your baby’s instincts a chance to show. Place your baby skin-to-skin on your abdomen just below your breasts. As long as his reflexes are intact, there is a good chance he will slowly make his way to your breast and latch on. You may find a reclining position helpful.
  • Take a bath with your baby. Many babies who have trouble latching on to the breast do better in a warm water bath. It can be soothing and relaxing for both mother and baby. After one or two in-water attachments, your baby may be ready for feeding on “dry land.” Of course, you will want to pay attention to the amount of water you use, and avoid bathing with your baby if you are at all sleepy.
  • Stay positive. Depending on your baby’s age, personality, and experience with artificial nipples, it may take a number of tries before he warms up to this “new” way of feeding.

Some mothers use a nursing supplementer when relactating, which allows their babies to suckle at the breast while drawing expressed breast milk or infant formula through a tube placed near the nipple. Others use a breast pump to help increase their milk supply, at the same time that they work on bringing their baby back to the breast. Still others find that it helps the baby to transition from bottle-feeding to breastfeeding if they bottle-feed their baby skin-to-skin as an intermediate step.

As you engage in the process of relactation, you’ll want to make sure that your baby is getting the nutrients he needs. Your baby will still require supplementary feedings—at least at first—to ensure that both his body and his brain continue to grow well and that he has the energy needed to breastfeed. If he is gaining weight well (at least 5 ounces a week) and breastfeeding at least eight times in each 24 hours, you can slowly reduce the amount of supplement while maintaining or even increasing the amount of time your baby spends at the breast.

Make sure to go slow, and check your baby’s weight, as well as the number of wet and dirty diapers he produces, to ensure that he is still getting the nutrients he needs for healthy growth.

You will probably want to consult with your baby’s health care provider for support and guidance during this process. You may also want to reach out to family members and friends, La Leche League leaders, or lactation consultants.

Relactation can go quickly or it can take many weeks. Some mothers are only able to eliminate the supplement entirely after their baby adds complementary foods to the diet at about 6 months of age. Regardless of how much or how little milk you produce, the end result is worth the effort.

Last updated July 10, 2018

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