Breastfeeding is a gift and truly a special time between a mother and her baby. Not all women are able to experience breastfeeding though (whether it be for medical problems, personal reasons or low supply), and that’s ok. However, if you are going to breastfeed this article will talk you through everything you need to know about relactation and all things breastfeeding.
What is lactation?
Lactation is the process in which your breasts produce milk for a baby. Lactation typically occurs after your baby is born. However, I learned the hard way that lactation can actually begin before the baby is born. That’s right, I started lactating when I was about 20 weeks pregnant with my firstborn. One moment I was enjoying a nice relaxing evening with my husband on the couch, the next moment my pajama shirt is all sticky and wet and I was mortified.
The female body is an amazing thing and the fact that our bodies can produce food for our babies is remarkable. During the early stages of breastfeeding, your body first produces colostrum which is basically your baby’s first superfood. It is full of antibodies, vitamins, white blood cells and much much more. According to americanpregnancy.org, this first milk only lasts for about 2-5 days after the baby is born. After that, the colostrum transitions into “mature milk” and that is what you will produce the remainder of the time.
When you are breastfeeding, you may notice that your body is beginning to slow production and supply which might leave you feeling frantic. You don’t want to run out of breast milk! All of the mommy websites forbid supplementing. Yeah, right. If breastfeeding doesn’t work out for you (for whatever reason), it’s fine. There are so many great baby formulas out there and you can bond with your baby in a million other ways. If you want to try to increase your supply, there are few ways to do so. We’ll discuss those later.
What do you need to know about relactation?
Now that we covered the basics of what lactation is, now we can talk about relactation. Relactation is when you train your body to begin producing milk again after not breastfeeding for a while, or training your body to begin lactating for the first time if you adopted a baby. Can we all just take a moment to take that all in? We can train our bodies to produce milk for our adopted babies. That’s seriously amazing and speaks volumes about the wonders of our bodies.
If you stopped breastfeeding your baby and your supply went away but now you feel ready to try breastfeeding again, you just might be able to do so! Relactation isn’t easy, but if you are willing to put in the work, the benefits are worth it. Relactation after 2 months and even relactation after 5 months is possible.
Are you ready for some real talk? Like real personal talk? Here we go.
What You Need to Know About Encouraging Relactation
You are probably questioning exactly how to relactate. Just like in lactation, in order for your body to begin to produce milk, your nipples need to be stimulated. Nipple stimulation can happen in any number of ways. You can try stimulating them yourself with hand expression, you can use a breast pump, or you can have your baby suck on your nipples as comfort even before you begin to produce milk. This will send messages to your brain that your body needs to start producing milk.
How long does it take to relactate?
It can take any amount of time from two weeks to 3 months to see results. This means if you are trying to figure out how to relactate fast, you may be out of luck. This journey is typically a long one. In order for your brain to get the hint that you need to feed a baby, you will want to have your baby nurse every 2-3 hours, even if your body isn’t producing milk yet. You will need to be consistent about having your baby on your breasts as much as possible so that your body will catch the rhythm of a newborn baby feeding schedule.
Offering up your breasts to your baby as often as possible will encourage the brain signals. You can try putting them on your breasts after they had a bottle, when they wake up, when they’re cranky, to help them calm down for bed, and any time you see fit.
Learning to Latch
If your baby won’t latch on, there are ways that you can help your baby learn to latch. If you have flat or inverted nipples, there are nipple shields that you can buy and place over your nipples to help give your baby something to latch on to. Medela brand makes them in different sizes so that you can find something to fit you.
When breastfeeding, make sure that you and your baby are both totally comfortable. If neither one of you are comfortable, it’s not going to work out very well. Also, make sure that your baby is being supported correctly. Use pillows, make sure that your baby’s nose is clear so that they can breathe, support their head and body, and adjust their mouth until you feel a good latch.
If you still feel that your baby isn’t latching correctly, contact your local lactation consultant. Most hospitals will have a lactation consultant, but if yours does not, you can find one near you on any of these websites:
Everything You Need to Know About Increasing Supply for Relactation
If you still are having a hard time making enough milk, you can try supplements. There are prescriptions that your physician can give you and there are also herbal supplements that work.
Fenugreek is an herbal supplement that has been around for ages. Some say it can begin to help a mother produce more milk within a couple of days of taking the supplement. This is remarkable for anyone who is looking to increase their supply quickly. Fenugreek comes in all sorts forms. There are capsules, teas, gummies, seeds, powder, and even smoothies that you can buy. Check out our detailed article about Fenugreek here!
You can also make or buy lactation cookies. The active ingredients in these cookies are the brewer’s yeast, flaxseed, oatmeal, and wheat germ. You can buy lactation cookies at nearly any store or you can buy them online and have them shipped right to your door while you are in your pajamas. If you are looking to make them yourself, try this recipe from countrycleaver.com. They add in coconut, dark chocolate and chopped walnuts which just happen to be a few of my favorite ingredients in baked goods.
Everything You Need to Know About Sticking to a Schedule for Relactation
If you are looking to increase your supply, you will want to make a schedule and stick to it. You will want to try to breastfeed every 2-3 hours, if not more often. If you work and cannot breastfeed that often, be sure to use a breast pump and pump your breastmilk until your breasts are completely empty. When using a breast pump, try leaving the pump on for a few minutes after all of your milk has been expressed. This will send signals to your brain that your baby needs more milk. Your body will, therefore, begin to produce more milk for your baby.
When you are trying to increase your milk supply, be sure that you are eating and drinking enough. Breastfeeding and pumping burns a lot of calories so be sure to snack throughout the day so you can be strong enough to produce milk. You also want to stray hydrated. Not only does breastfeeding and pumping burn calories, but it is also very dehydrating so keep a jug or a bottle of water with you at all times.
Signs Relactation is Working
So, you have followed all these relactation tips, but how do you know if they are working? Your breasts may feel heavier or fuller, they may tingle, or leak milk. You will also notice the amount that you are pumping is slowly increasing.
Relactation is Really All About Bonding
At the end of the day, breastfeeding is all about bonding. Yes, breastmilk is full of amazing things. Antibodies, white blood cells, good fats, protein, vitamins, you name it! However, breastfeeding may not work for everyone.
Maybe you tried and tried for months but your body just isn’t producing milk, maybe you work a crazy schedule and you cannot keep up with supply, or maybe you are just tired of breastfeeding and ready to be done. Whatever the case, it’s fine. Those early stages of your baby’s life are mostly about bonding. There is no need to stress whether or not you can breastfeed your baby. There are bigger problems in the world.
If you cannot breastfeed for whatever reason, try different ways of bonding. You can mimic breastfeeding “vibes” by giving your baby their bottle in a quiet room with just you and the baby. Try doing it in just your bra so that your baby is still close to you and getting that skin to skin contact that they crave. You can also do more kangaroo care, which is skin to skin time. Take your top off and take off your baby’s clothes so that you are both cozy and snuggly. Your baby wants your love and comfort more than anything else in the world. Breastfeeding is such an amazing way to show them both these things. Snuggle them closely and enjoy the bond that you are forming with your precious little bundle of joy.
What I want you to take away most from this, is that you are not alone. Every breastfeeding journey is different just like every mama and baby are different. I hope learning everything there is to know about relactation helps you reach your goals. However, even if it doesn’t, there are so many other ways to build a one of a kind bond with your little one.
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