How To Relactate and Get Your Milk Back
If you’ve stopped breastfeeding but want to start again, you are probably wondering how to relactate and build your milk supply back up. Relactating and inducing lactation can be difficult…
The good news is it’s possible!
I’ve done it.
But relactation isn’t always an easy task. You need to know the right way to do it, so I’ve put together some tips and information to help you along the way.
And if you are interested in my relactation story, it’s at the bottom of this article.
Inducing Lactation vs. Relactating
There is a difference between inducing lactation and relactation – although they are very similar! So what does each one mean? And what’s the difference?
Inducing lactation is what happens when a woman produces milk without ever experiencing a pregnancy or milk production previously. When a mom without biological children of her own wants to breastfeed, she has to induce lactation.
It works the same way as relactating, and all the same steps are followed.
But inducing lactation can be more difficult and take longer than relactating.
A woman that’s been pregnant previously may find it easier to induce lactation. And a mother that’s breastfed before will generally be able to get milk back after drying up.
Relactating means that a woman is once again producing milk after her supply has dried up. The difference between relactation and induced lactation is that the relactating woman has produced breast milk before.
Hormones play a huge role in breast milk production.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding are accompanied with a lot of hormonal changes – and general body changes as well.
These changes affect us the rest of our lives, which is why relactation is often easier than inducing lactation.
Can breast milk come back after drying up?
Yes! Your breast milk supply can return after your milk has dried up.
It takes work though.
Did you know that women used to relactate when they traveled in wagon trains to the west when the United States was settled?
When a woman would die in childbirth or with an infant, the other women in the wagon train would have to feed that baby.
For example the woman’s mother (the baby’s grandmother) would have to relactate in order to keep the baby alive.
These women had breastfed in the past, and they would be able to build up a milk supply and feed the baby until breast milk wasn’t needed anymore.
So your milk can come back after drying up!
Tips and Steps to Take To Relactate or Induce Lactation
If you are trying to relactate or induce lactation, follow these steps for success:
1. Keep baby fed.
The most important thing is to make sure your baby is eating enough. If you need to supplement, then gradually wean off the supplement as you build your supply.
You can also try supplementation at the breast. In order to do so, use a syringe or a supplemental nursing system (SNS) to give the baby extra milk while they are nursing. This encourages your baby to breastfeed but also gives them milk.
Keeping your baby fed is so important! If you aren’t producing enough milk and your baby grows hungry, they may become unconsolable. Often hungry crying babies are difficult to feed at all.
2. Stimulate your nipples as frequently as possible.
The only way to build up your breast milk supply is to stimulate your nipples. The BEST way to do so is to breastfeed your baby. Babies are a lot more efficient than breast pumps, so they will probably be able to extract more milk. But they will also be able to stimulate your nipples better than a pump.
Nipple stimulation (along with milk extraction) is what tells your body to produce milk. The more nipple stimulation your body gets, the more it will produce milk.
3. Do hand expression and breast massage.
In order to get your breasts to release as much milk as possible, do breast massage before pumping or breastfeeding. This will relax your breasts and encourage milk flow.
It’s also a good idea to do hand expression after pumping or breastfeeding. Hand expression may help you express more milk after the session which will encourage your body to produce more milk.
4. Express milk at the optimal time.
Breastfeeding occurs because of a perfect balance of hormones within our bodies. THe hormone that produces breast milk is prolactin. Our bodies naturally produce prolactin in higher amounts in the morning.
Specifically, we produce more prolactin between 1AM and 5AM each day. That is why many moms notice their breasts seem more full in the morning.
Try and time a breastfeeding or pumping session for this time (between 1 and 5 AM) to encourage your body to continue increasing your prolactin levels and milk supply.
Each time you express milk, your prolactin levels rise which leads to an increase in breast milk.
5. Power pump.
A fantastic way to increase your milk supply is to power pump. It’s similar to cluster feeding in newborns.
To power pump, set aside an hour. Pump for the first 20 minutes, then rest for ten minutes. Then pump for 10 minutes and rest again for 10 minutes. Finally, pump again for 10 minutes.
Power pumping is a great way to increase your milk supply. You can do it a few times a day if you have the time, but if not don’t worry. Even one power pumping session can help increase your milk supply!
6. Skin-to-skin and getting baby back to the breast.
Since babies are more effective than breast pumps, try to get them to nurse. It isn’t always possible, especially with an older baby, but be patient. Spend time with your baby skin to skin to encourage them to breastfeed.
Even if your baby doesn’t latch, spending time skin to skin is beneficial for relactation. It helps your body produce the hormones made for breastfeeding.
7. Be consistent.
It’s SO important to be consistent. That means you need to pump every 2-3 hours all day AND night (if you want to get your full milk supply back quickly).
The longest you should go at night is probably 4 hours if you want good results.
But if you decide not to pump or breastfeed at night, know that you will see that in your milk supply. You won’t produce as much and not as quickly. By taking too much time between expressions, your body will not be getting the signal that it needs to make more milk.
The reason that milk supply is established well with a newborn is that newborns feed every 2-3 hours for the first weeks. Frequent feeding tells a mom’s body to produce an adequate milk supply. You need to mimic that in order to relactate or induce lactation.
Any inconsistency or a long period of not breastfeeding/pumping will result in a lesser milk supply.
8. Be patient
Finally, be patient! Relactation and induced lactation aren’t easy. They WILL take time and dedication. Be patient with yourself and with your body.
Also, be patient with your baby. They might not latch right away, or not at all. But if you are determined and dedicated to the process you will be producing milk again.
How long does it take to relactate?
The length of time it takes to relactate depends on the woman and how she induces lactation. It will also depend on how long it’s been since she stopped breastfeeding. Generally a longer time without breastfeeding will take longer to relactate.
The more frequently milk is expressed (or the nipples stimulated), the more quickly a milk supply will come back.
When relactating, if you pump or baby suckles every 1-2 hours throughout the day, milk supply will return much quicker. If pumping or breastfeeding only occurs a few times a day, relactation will take a very long time, or may not happen at all. Additionally, less frequent nipple stimulation might only bring back a partial supply (but any breast milk is good for baby!)
Within a few days, some women start to see drops of milk while others take a week or two. Returning to a full milk supply can take weeks or even months.
Getting Milk Back After Breastfeeding Stops Temporarily
Generally, the shorter you went without breastfeeding, the quicker your milk supply will come back.
A mom that’s only gone a week without breastfeeding will get her milk supply back much quicker than a mom that’s gone months or years.
Many people will say that relactation takes the amount of time that you haven’t expressed milk. But I think it depends on a lot more factors than that. In my own personal case, I was able to relactate to a full supply of milk within 20 days, even though it had been a little over a month since I’d breastfed.
How to Relactate Fast
The best and fastest way to relactate is to act as if you have a newborn baby.
Everyone knows that the newborn phase is exhausting.
And that’s partly because you are feeding the baby every 2-3 hours (or more often)… all day and all night.
I know, that’s probably not what you wanted to hear… but relactation isn’t for the faint of heart! It’s a lot of hard work.
If you breastfeed or pump every 2-3 hours throughout the day and night, your milk supply will return fast. Any longer than that and it will take your body more time to build your milk supply, and some women have a difficult time building back to their regular supply at all.
If your baby will latch on and suckle, try offering your breast as a pacifier every 2-3 hours throughout the day. At night, you may need to pump.
If your baby won’t latch or suckle then you will be married to the pump for a time until your supply starts to regulate.
How to Breastfeed Again After Stopping
Sometimes babies refuse to latch after breastfeeding has stopped. This is usually the case with older babies, so if your baby is less than 3 months old, don’t worry! You still might be able to latch them and breastfeed once again.
Reach out to a lactation consultant for help if your baby won’t latch and they will be able to give you pointers.
If you’ve ceased breastfeeding, chances are you’re giving a bottle. If that’s the case then try to make the bottle more like breastfeeding to encourage your baby to get back to the breast. So hold the bottle horizontal to minimize gravity helping milk flow into baby’s month. Wait for your baby to open their mouth and accept the bottle nipple instead of just popping it in. And pace them, give your baby little breaks throughout the feeding and try to make the feeding take the same amount of time as a breastfeeding session.
Skin to skin is also a great way to get your baby back to breastfeeding! Spend time cuddling your baby. It will encourage your baby to breastfeed again.
Don’t force your baby to breastfeed if they’re upset. The most important thing when trying to get your baby back to the breast is to keep times at the breast happy. Let your baby suckle if they want to, or just lay close to you if that’s what they prefer.
Sometimes a baby won’t latch again unless there is milk flowing so you may need to spend a few days pumping and establishing a small supply. Then when your baby latches, they will be rewarded with breast milk – even if it is only a small amount.
Don’t be discouraged! No matter what you’re a great mommy. My little one never did latch again after I relactated. So I spent a year pumping, and that’s ok! I was glad to give her breast milk even if it was from a pump. Each breastfeeding journey is different so give yourself grace.
My Relactation Success Story
I stopped breastfeeding my first baby at 5 months. Then at 6 months, I became a lactation counselor and learned all about the benefits of breastfeeding. I knew I needed to relactate.
It had been a month of not breastfeeding, so I knew it would take some time to get my milk supply back.
I was dedicated and set aside 2 weeks to pretty much do nothing except work on my supply.
It was hard.
I cried. But in the end, I got my full supply back and was able to give my baby breastmilk until she was a year old.
She never did latch again, so I exclusively pumped. It was tiring but rewarding.
For moms trying to relactate, I want to give you my schedule. This is exactly what I did and how things went.
Remember that everyone is different. Also, inducing lactation is much harder than relactating.
Just know that any amount of breast milk you can give your baby is fantastic.
Here is the schedule I followed and my results:
- Day 1: I started at 3 PM, and pumped every hour until 9PM. Then I pumped every 2.5 hours from 10:30PM – 8 AM.
- I only had a few sticky yellow drops of milk come out.
- Day 2: I pumped every hour to 2 hours. I power pumped 2 times during the day. At night, I pumped every 3 hours.
- Each pumping session I produced 3-10 sticky yellow drops of milk.
- This milk started to look a little more white than yesterday.
- Day 3: I pumped every hour to 3 hours (didn’t go longer than 3 hours). I power pumped 1 time.
- Each time I got 10-15 drops.
- Not a lot of milk but making progress!
- Day 4: I pumped every hour to 2 hours. This day, I started hand expressing before and after the pumping sessions.
- I noticed a letdown in my left breast during one of the pumping sessions. The milk barely covered the bottom of the container I was using.
- When I hand expressed before and after, I was able to get 2 mL during one of the pumping sessions!
- Day 5: I pumped every 2-3 hours.
- 15 mL of milk total today!
- Day 6: I continued to pump every 3 hours during the day and extended night pumping to every 4 hours.
- At 8PM I pumped/ hand expressed 15 mL of milk.
- TOTAL: 45mL TODAY!
- Day 7: In the morning, I pumped at 8 and then at 12PM. Then I pumped every 2 hours until bedtime.
- 8AM: 20mL
- 12PM: 15mL
- By bedtime: 95mL total!
- Day 8: Pumped at least every 3 hours or more frequently.
- Total of 120mL today! 4oz TOTAL!
- Day 9: Continued to pump every 4 hours or more frequently. I power pumped most evenings.
- Today I pumped 5 oz.
I continued with this pattern for the next week. I pumped every 1-4 hours during the day, and every 4 hours at night (usually one pump session in the middle of the night and then one first thing once I woke up).
I also power pumped every night before bed.
Here is how much milk I got by following this pattern:
Day 12: 10 oz of milk total
Day 14: 12.5 oz of milk total
Day 17: 16 oz of milk total
Day 19: 20 oz of milk total
Day 20: 18 oz of milk total
Day 21: 19 oz of milk total
As you can see, my milk supply started to level out around 20 oz of milk per day. That was just the right amount to feed my baby each day so it was perfect! I kept pumping about every 4 hours and my supply stayed the same until I stopped pumping when my baby was a year old.
As you can see, relactation is possible!
But it’s a LOT of work.
I was determined.
I pretty much did nothing else all day long, but I thought it was worth it and looking back I’m glad I did.
Relactating and Inducing Lactation Conclusion
In conclusion, relactating and inducing lactation aren’t easy, but they are possible!
And where there’s a will there’s a way.
If you’d like to know more about my relactation journey or want some guidance for your own please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.