How to Relactate and Helpful Tips for Restarting Breastfeeding

With patience and the right help, relactation can often be possible depending on your unique situation and body. Learn what to consider first and how you can begin the process after a period away from breastfeeding.

It’s not uncommon for mothers to find themselves in a position where they may wish to relactate, though many don’t know exactly how or where to begin. With a little guidance, patience, and determination, many mothers find that they are able to relactate. In this guide to relactation you’ll learn about what exactly relactation is, the benefits of continuing to breastfeed your little one, and how to achieve relactation.

What is Relactation?

According to the CDC, relactation is the process by which a parent reestablishes lactation after having stopped for some time (typically weeks or months). There are many reasons that a parent might find themselves wanting to produce breast milk again, such as situations where their milk supply may have dwindled due to a lengthier illness or extended time away from their baby. Relactation can also apply to a parent who previously breastfed a biological child and now wishes to breastfeed their adopted baby, a baby delivered by their partner, or a new baby birthed by a surrogate.

Benefits of Relactation

There are numerous benefits to relactation and, through doing so, breastfeeding. The CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity has highlighted five benefits of breastfeeding, many of which are key reasons why a parent might want to relactate.

  1. Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for most babies, providing everything a growing child needs and changing to meet their needs as they age.
  2. Breastfeeding can help protect babies against some short- and long-term illnesses and diseases.
  3. Breastfeeding can help babies develop strong immune systems, as breast milk transfers antibodies to the newborn and helps protect them from sickness.
  4. Breastfeeding can reduce the mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
  5. Breastfeeding can be done anytime, anywhere, without needing to prepare bottles or mix formula.

Though relactation requires a commitment from the parent that includes time, effort, patience, and perseverance, it can often be accomplished to some degree, depending on your unique situation and body. Working alongside healthcare professionals, including a lactation consultant, can help immensely in the event that challenges are encountered, or additional support or encouragement is needed to continue your breastfeeding journey.

Here’s what else you should know as you consider initiating relactation:

How to Relactate

For a mother who has recently given birth, the process of relactating is all about supply and demand, as initiating demand will lead to increased supply. Initiating demand requires both nipple stimulation and milk extraction. Frequent stimulation, whether with a breast pump, through hand expression, nursing, or a combination of everything, is required to re-establish milk production. It’s also important to note that if hand expression is used, you should do so in combination with nursing your baby and/or using a hospital-grade (multi-user) breast pump. This is to ensure the release of essential lactation hormones like prolactin and oxytocin. Once you’ve begun initiating the demand for breast milk, frequently removing this milk through nursing and/or pumping often will help you increase your supply over time so you can begin providing your liquid gold to your little one – again or for the first time.

For those who haven't recently given birth, relactation will likely be referred to instead as induced lactation. This typically requires hormone therapy, in addition to the steps noted above, beginning at least a couple of months before you hope to begin breastfeeding.

Every family’s situation is different. Due to the many nuances associated with relactation and induced lactation, meeting with a specialist to help assess your unique needs and personal breastfeeding goals is the best way to set you and your baby up for the strongest likelihood of success in the relactation process!