Here at Boobie Bikkies we are often asked by mothers if they are able to start breastfeeding their baby after there has been a period of time when their baby was not breastfed. This may have been a short amount of time when mother and baby were separated for medical reasons at birth, or a longer amount of time when a baby has been weaned from the breast and the mother has decided she would like to return to breastfeeding her baby. The short answer is yes. It is possible to introduce or reintroduce your baby to the breast when breastfeeding was not established from birth, or if you and your baby have had a break from breastfeeding. In fact, our bodies are so amazing that even if a woman did not give birth to her baby, it is possible for her to breastfeed an adopted child or a child born to a surrogate mother.
Relactation and Induced Lactation- What is the difference?
You may be familiar with two different terms surrounding this topic: relactation and induced lactation. Relactation refers to bringing back a milk supply after breastfeeding has ended, whereas induced lactation refers to establishing a milk supply without having been pregnant.
During pregnancy, our bodies produce a cocktail of hormones including oestrogen, progesterone and prolactin in preparation for breastfeeding. After the baby is born and the placenta has been expelled, progesterone levels drop which signals the body to start producing milk. The main hormones involved in breastfeeding once a baby has been born are prolactin and oxytocin. Prolactin is the hormone responsible for the production of milk, and oxytocin is responsible for the release of milk from the breast. A woman does not need to have been pregnant in order to produce prolactin and oxytocin, which is the reason induced lactation is possible.
Establishing a milk supply
The easiest way to establish a milk supply is by frequently breastfeeding your baby. This stimulates the production of prolactin, the milk making hormone. It is then repeated removal of milk from the breast which signals the breast to keep producing milk. If you are having trouble getting your baby to breastfeed, stimulation of the breast through manually expressing or expressing using a breast pump will also trigger the production of prolactin.
Keeping your baby very close to you as much as possible and regular skin to skin contact can help encourage your baby to feed from the breast. Some women find the use of galactagogues assist them in boosting their supply, while others use prescription medication to increase their supply. The use of medicines should be discussed with a doctor, lactation consultant, or other appropriate health professional.
Patience and persistence are key factors in successful relactation. Like many parts of motherhood, relactation is a journey and although the journey may be challenging, it certainly does not mean it is not possible, or not worthwhile. There are existing networks in place to support you in your journey, so find your village. Whether it be family, friends, social support groups or online communities, share your story and use your village for support when you need them.
How do I know if this will work for me?
There are many complex factors at play regarding the individual situation of a mother’s journey to relactation or induced lactation. Results are as individual as the journey itself, and although it is possible to build a full milk supply through relactation or induced lactation, this may not be the case for everybody. It is of vital importance to remember that even if you are not able to establish a full milk supply, any breastmilk you give to your baby is beneficial to their lifelong health and that breastfeeding is about so much more than milk. It is about love, comfort and the bond between mother and child.
Australian Breastfeeding Association. Relactation and Induced Lactation (free article)
Special Information Series – Breastfeeding: relactation and induced lactation. Booklet available for purchase at this link
Phuong-Hong Nhat Le. Facebook link:
Phuong-Hong Nhat Le is a published author who built an online breastfeeding support community is Vietnam. She successfully relactated when her youngest child was 12 years old to prove it is possible. She donated her expressed milk to her own mother who had not received any breastmilk in infancy.
Emily Brittingham is a mum of three beautiful young children and a qualified Breastfeeding Counsellor with the Australian Breastfeeding Assocation. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Sciences Degree (Health Sciences) as a pathway to becoming an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.