Relactation and Induced Lactation, 3 Mums Share Their Journeys

Here, three mums share their relactation/induced lactation journeys: one who brought back her milk after medical weaning; one who brought in her milk to breastfeed a foster baby and a mum who induced a milk supply without a pregnancy so she could share breastfeeding when her partner birthed their baby.

Angie’s story – relactation after medical weaning.

When my son Tomás was around 14 months old I got an awful bout of mastitis. I had never had mastitis before and it took me by surprise. It was an absolute war against my body - I was totally consumed by the infection. A pocket of infection in one of milk ducts had turned septic and after a week in hospital - three attempts to surgically drain the infection - all the while separated from my 'on demand boobie boy' - the surgeon said to me: “we need to go in and remove about 40% of your breast tissue” I was terrified! I asked what else we could do, and they said we could attempt to chemically dry up my milk supply and then nuke me with heavy anti biotics.

With an incredibly heavy heart  I chose to attempt to save my breast. I was bereft that my breast feeding journey with my son was ending on such acrimonious terms. Devastated that my body was doing this to us both.  Alone in my hospital bed I cried myself to sleep that night after taking the magic boob drying pill and I woke up empty and dry. 

 Three days later, with chemical burns up and down both arms from the Medications they gave me - I was finally clear of infection and my breast was saved. I went home at the end of that week and clung to my screaming bub who hadn’t weaned at all - he had his only comfort torn from him and apologised over and over. 

 He kept trying to grab my breasts, tore at my shirt, and sobbed. He stopped sleeping (we fed to sleep) and spent two weeks absolutely wrecked. Our paediatrician suggested we go to the Brisbane nurture Center for help (a sleep school - we always said we would never ever sleep train). Eventually a friend said - why don’t you show him there is no milk by letting him dry suckle for comfort. And that’s what I did. He was so relieved and I began to think maybe I could relactate even a tiny bit off the good boob? 

 I asked my surgeon and she said she had never heard of it being done. Silently I thought to myself: challenge accepted. I asked around my local breastfeeding group and no one had a clue! I called my gestalt Lactation consultant at the possums clinic and she said: give it go! Why not. A friend forwarded me a link from Kelly Mom about relactating. I read it over and over.

 Eventually after actually being totally dry for two full weeks - zero milk - I decided to relactate. This is what is I did: I went back to basics. Skin on skin, lots of bath time skin on skin with dry suckling. And after about a month of this on just one boobie - we had lift off to full capacity and one much happier little dude. We breastfed together as a team for another 12 months until he self weaned - as nature intended - telling me one day with knowing eyes: “I no need my boobies anymore”.

 And that’s my story! It can be done! 

 Laura’s story – relactating for a foster baby

One year after my biological child had completely weaned, I relactated for our foster child. We found out he was arriving in our family so during the 2 weeks of transition I started pumping regularly and was feeding him from the breast 2-3 times a day from his arrival at 7 weeks. Although there was no return home goal, due to him still having access with his birth parents regularly, I knew I couldn't exclusively feed him. However, it was very important he got breast milk as he has Down Syndrome. Many of his bottle feeds were with donor milk. 

After two weeks of double pumping every 3hrs (day/night) I was only able to get enough for a couple of feeds a day. I wasn't able to fully commit as he still had to have bottles at visitation. We were also trying to conceive so I wasn't keen to take medication. 

We were surprised with how well he latched as we expected him to have trouble (due to the low tone of down syndrome) but he latched well. We were doing hours of skin to skin during the day and all his sleeps were in a carrier, which I'm sure helped. I fed him twice a day for about 3 months but then we started IVF treatment so had to stop. He continued to receive donor milk for the next 3 years. 

Laura’s tips

A hospital grade pump was important as was the support I sought from experts in my area. I attended lots of breastfeeding groups to build my confidence and reinforce the goal. Skin to skin and baby wearing were a huge contributing factor in why I think we succeeded. I didn't get the full feeling, it was more like how my breasts felt during the later breastfeeding months so was easy to doubt the quantity. For me the milk was only a small part of why feeding him was important and I believe it really helped him build a secure attachment. 

Sandra’s story – induced lactation without pregnancy

I induced lactation to feed my newborn son that my wife was giving birth to. Everything I read said it was this big arduous process where you had to get up all night to pump and pump at work and all day but I never did either. I figured I’d be up all night enough when the baby arrived. By the time our baby was born I was producing between 300-400mls a day and we had litres and litres in the freezer. We ended up using most of the freezer stash in the bath or donating it to other mums to feed their babies but it was nice to know we had that backup. We had to be careful that I didn’t feed too much when the baby was born as my wife also had to build her supply but the first night home from hospital when she fed literally 12 hours straight (4pm-4am) and I could take the baby and say ‘no really, go sleep for a few hours’ and she could relax knowing I could feed him was amazing.

 I’ve never given birth (and don’t really have any desire to - lucky my wife is happy to birth all of our future babies!). I do feel like a lot of non birthing mums are put off by how hard it is made to seem. I accept that I may just be lucky with how easy it was for me but we took an ‘I’ll do my best and if it works it works’ approach and it worked! 

 What Sandra did: 

 I followed the Newman Golfarb protocol   loosely in terms of medication (taking the birth control pill (BCP) and domperidone (60mg/day), starting about 6 months prior to the due date. Then 4 weeks before the due date I stopped the BCP and began expressing. I would express loosely every 3 hours but it would often be shorter as I would express before work and bed and as soon as I woke up regardless of when the last time I expressed was. 

 I’m a shift worker so that would also change the times I would express throughout the day. So, if I’m on afternoons, it would look like this: if I woke up at 8 I would express, then at 12, then I’d express at 2 because I start work at 3 on arvo shift. Then when I got home at 11:30. For a morning shift I’d be up at 5:30, express and go to work. I’d get home about 3:30 and express, then at 6ish then 9ish or just before bed if I was in bed earlier. If I had the day off it would be routinely every 3 hours. 

 Sandra’s tips

 A good, comfortable electric pump was a god send. I think next time I would splash the extra cash for a double pump. When I pumped I would do 10mins each side or until my flow slowed down/stopped so sometimes I’d be stuck pumping for 40ish mins which can get a bit annoying. 

 My GP who prescribed everything and was 100% supportive and was a great support/resource (initially she admitted she had no idea and had never heard of it but did her own research and learning by the next appointment and was wonderful) so a good GP is essential. I’ve also heard some doctors are reticent to prescribe domperidone for inducing lactation so I got lucky there. 

Lastly, I think my mindset really helped. I was on a lot of forums/Facebook pages and there were a LOT of women who were putting so much pressure that it HAD to work or they were a failure/not a good mum/not a good woman etc. I literally said ‘I’ll try and see how I go and if it doesn’t work at least I know I tried’ and I think that probably had a lot to do with how successful I was. I don’t know the science but I’m sure that being stressed/having higher levels of cortisol and Adrenalin in your system would surely contribute to less breastmilk production?