Can breast milk come back after drying up? Let’s Learn About Relactation!

Are you wondering if you can start breastfeeding again after stopping? You’ll be happy to know that relactation is often possible!

Relactation is when you start breastfeeding again after stopping for a few weeks or even months. It might be to reestablish nursing with the same baby you were initially breastfeeding, or because you are interested in breastfeeding an adopted child, a child born to a surrogate, or to donate your breast milk.

Whatever your motivations are, in this article you’ll learn more about what relactation is, how to relactate, gain some helpful tips, and find out how to tell if your efforts are working.

Please remember that while I am well versed in topics related to breastfeeding, I am NOT a certified lactation consultant.

If you are planning to start the process of relactation, I highly, highly recommend working with an IBCLC and not attempting this without expert guidance.

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Can breast milk come back after drying up?

One of the first questions women ask when it comes to relactation is whether or not breast milk can even come back after drying up. And the quick answer is yes it definitely can! But the process involves strict dedication, motivation, and often professional support.

According to the CDC, milk production can come back in within a few days after beginning the relactation process, but in many cases, it may take weeks to months.

It’s also important to know that even if milk production returns, some women will never have enough supply to avoid formula supplementation entirely.

Keep reading to learn what’s happening during relactation and what you need to do to get it done.

What is relactation?

Relactation is the process of starting to breastfeed again after stopping for a period of time. It is a process where you intentionally signal your body to start up milk production after it has stopped entirely, or it significantly slowed.

There are a number of reasons why someone might choose or want to relactate including:

  • Not establishing breastfeeding right from birth (for any variety of reasons)
  • Separation of mom and baby due to illness or other circumstances
  • Formula feeding not going well or no longer desired
  • Wanting to breastfeed an adopted infant after lactating for a previous child
  • Non-birth parent wants to breastfeed after lactating for a previous child
  • Desire to try breastfeeding again after encountering obstacles

I want to note that relactation is most common in birthing parents, and second most common in women that have lactated for a previous child.

But it is possible to induce lactation in non-birthing, never-lactated-before parents with the help of a doctor, hormone therapy, and a calculated approach.

If you’re looking for information about inducing lactation, check out this list of resources from Kelly Mom.

How to relactate?

Relactation isn’t a simple process. And the very first thing to understand is that there are two different potential goals:

  • One is bringing back lactation (milk production)
  • The other is bringing baby back to your breast

It’s important to know that not everyone wants both of these things! Some aim to bring back their supply and bottle feed pumped milk, while others want to reestablish nursing at the breast.

You will have to decide what your goals and motivations are in order to succeed. Some might argue that bringing back your supply is less challenging than bringing baby back to the breast. If you intend to do both, working with a lactation consultant is a must!

With that in mind, let’s look at the steps to bringing back your milk supply

1. Consult with the experts

The first thing you want to do on your relactation journey is talk to your pediatrician and a lactation consultant. They can help you figure out how the process will fit into your baby’s current feeding schedule and advise you on the best approach for your unique situation.

2. Stimulate your breasts every 2 hours

You will need to stimulate your breasts 10-12 times a day for 20-30 minutes with a pump or with hand expression. This includes at night, and really the more the better! If you do the math here, you’re looking at a pumping session every 2 hours.

If your baby will latch, your baby can be the source of breast stimulation – but it’s important to get help from an IBCLC with this because you need to know baby’s latch and suck is strong and effective. Additionally, you’ll need to know how to approach formula supplementation.

3. Stay vigilant

In the beginning, you will likely not produce any milk during these pumping or expression sessions. It is important to continue to stick to a rigid schedule. Over time milk production should begin!

Remember, the time it will take for lactation to start varies based on the individual and, in some cases, how long you paused lactating. Your milk may come back within a few days of this stimulation process, or it may take weeks to months.

4. Incorporate other tips and strategies!

Right below this, you’ll find a huge list of tips related to relactation to help accelerate your efforts! But know that relactation often takes a lot of patience.

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Relactation tips

We just talked about the basic premise of how to relactate, but here are some additional tips to help with the process:

  • If your goal is to get baby back to the breast, La Leche League recommends only feeding baby expressed milk and formula in a cup or with the use of an at-the-breast supplementer to eliminate bottle feeding completely during this time
  • In between your 8-12 breast stimulation sessions each day, allow your baby to comfort suck and spend lots of time skin-to-skin instead of using a pacifier. Skin-to-skin time, as well as comforting nursing, tell your body to produce hormones that help promote milk supply
  • Remember that lactation works off a supply and demand model. So the more often you “ask” your breasts for milk, the more they will produce
  • Even once lactation restarts, you’ll need to keep up with a very frequent feeding/pumping schedule to get your supply in “full swing”
  • Make sure you are drinking enough water and eating a nourishing diet to help your body produce milk
  • Consider taking a supplement to help boost your milk supply. Again, this is something to have an expert weigh in on
  • Regularly meet with an IBCLC throughout the process so that they can assess your progress, your supply, and your baby’s progress if getting them back to the breast is the goal
  • Learn about power pumping and add that strategy into your mix
  • If you are using your baby to help stimulate your supply, consider finishing each nursing session with 5-10 minutes of pumping

Signs relactation is working

When you are putting so much time and effort into bringing back your milk supply, of course you want to know the signs that relactation is working!

Here’s what to look for:

  • Production of milk during pumping sessions that gradually increases in volume
  • The sound of swallowing when your baby is at the breast
  • A fuller or heavier feeling in your breasts
  • The sensation of a letdown during pumping or nursing sessions
  • Leaking breastmilk

Relactation success stories

When you are on a journey to relactation, reading about other women’s success can be a wonderful motivator!

Here are a few to check out:

Your path to relactation

I wish you luck on your relactation journey, no matter your motivations. Please just promise me that you will be kind to yourself, and not let your worth be defined by your relactation success!

As you learned, relactation can take different lengths of time for everyone, and sometimes will never result in a milk supply that doesn’t require formula supplementation – and that’s okay.

Remember: fed is best, always. And you don’t want your feeding journey to steal the joy from motherhood.

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Liesel Teen, BSN-RN
Founder, Mommy Labor Nurse

Meet Liesel Teen

Hi there. I’m Liesel!

As a labor and delivery nurse, I’ve spent countless hours with women who felt anxious — even fearful — about giving birth. I want you to know it doesn’t have to be that way for you!

When you know what to expect and have the tools to navigate the experience, you’ll feel confident and in control.

I believe you deserve a better birth — no matter how you deliver.