These are more of the almost magical abilities a body has related to breastfeeding! Relactation refers to the process of re-establishing breastfeeding after a period of not breastfeeding. This means that you were breastfeeding or at least had a milk supply, but then for some reason you stopped. Once you stop breastfeeding or pumping, the milk supply will dwindle and disappear. Relactation is the process of getting the milk back.
Induced lactation means creating a milk supply even though you haven’t recently or EVER lactated. Yes, you read that right. It’s even possible to lactate if you’ve never been pregnant!
Why Might Someone Want to Relactate?
Sometimes the loss of milk supply is not a choice. If a person is sick or hospitalized and is not able to maintain breastfeeding or pumping, the milk supply will suffer. Sometimes the baby has to take a break from breastfeeding for some reason, and pumping might not be something you can or want to do. You might have to travel away from your baby for long enough to lose your milk supply and pumping might not be enough to maintain it. You might think that you don’t want to breastfeed and then change your mind! These are all real situations that can and have happened. There are also plenty of other reasons that someone would need to stop lactating and then restart.
Whatever the reason, the important thing is to know that if you’ve lost your milk supply and want to get it back, you might be able to do that.
How to Relactate
It’s not usually easy to start lactating again unless you’re pregnant and have just given birth, but it’s definitely possible. It takes some effort and dedication, and it’s especially helpful if you have a willing baby and plenty of support.
The key to making milk is making your body understand that you need some. The way to do that is by having either a baby or a pump create suction on the nipples. That’s a clear signal that there’s a baby needing milk, and very often your body will respond. It’s best to provide that kind of stimulation regularly and with plenty of enthusiasm.
A hungry baby will latch on and create a lot of suction trying to get the milk out. The more often that happens, the more quickly your body will catch on and start the milk production.
Sometimes a baby will be willing to just suck on the nipple even if it’s not productive, sort of like using a pacifier. That’s great if you can get it! Sometimes that will just lead to frustration and rejection of the nipple. Most likely, even if your baby is a willing participant, you’ll also need to include pumping into your routine. It’s really important to have a pump that works well for you. You may benefit from meeting with a lactation consultant to make sure you’re using the right flange size and that you develop a good pumping schedule for your situation.
Why would someone want to Induce Lactation?
This is a completely different situation and usually means more effort and time. Induced lactation can be accomplished whether you have been pregnant or not.
Some people might choose to induce lactation if they are adopting a newborn or expecting a baby through surrogacy. Some non-heterosexual couples choose to induce lactation in the non-birthing partner so they can share the physical responsibilities, or so they can both breastfeed or chestfeed their baby.
Some people choose to induce lactation to help provide breast milk to a friend or family member who can’t produce it themselves. Some heterosexual couples choose to induce lactation in the male partner so they can share baby feeding responsibilities. That’s right, you don’t even need ovaries or a uterus to be able to lactate!! Whatever the reason for inducing lactation, it can be a great option for many.
How to do it?
The basic idea is very similar to relactation. The key is to tell your body that you want milk production to happen, but might be more difficult to accomplish without the benefit of having lactated before.
Some people choose to have the extra help that can be provided by certain medications. Depending on the situation, these medications or supplements might be suggested:
- Oral contraceptives
- Domperidone (not readily available in the United States)
- Blessed thistle
Some of the medications are shown to have negative side effects, although not for everyone. It’s very important to monitor how you’re feeling and make adjustments as needed. And of course, you should only use these medications under the care of a physician. A lactation consultant can make suggestions for relactating or inducing lactation, and that might include medication suggestions if they think it’s needed, but your doctor will have to go over this with you and issue the prescription.
It’s best to start as soon as you know you’re expecting a baby. If given 6 months to work on your milk supply, the success rates improve. The oral contraceptives are a way to “trick” your body into believing you are pregnant. Those higher levels of “pregnancy hormones” can help, especially when paired with a medication like domperidone which works on the prolactin hormone levels. Prolactin is a hormone that stimulates milk production.
Those things combined create a situation very similar to what happens during pregnancy, so when you maintain that for a few months and then make another adjustment in the hormone levels by stopping the oral contraceptives, many people can be successful. Again though, the key is to create a lot of stimulation in the breasts to tell your body that a baby is here and is needing milk. Very often, medications are not necessary, and just the breast stimulation can be enough to start producing milk.
With relactation and induced lactation, some people are able to create a full milk supply, but other times people only make a partial milk supply. In that case, the work is to maintain the supply you have while also supplementing with formula or donor milk.
Breastfeeding Success has a great guide for relactation and induced lactation and can also provide the direct support you need to start this process or just find out more. It’s a great idea to make an appointment with a lactation professional to find out how you can get started.