If you've stopped breastfeeding but wish to start again, it can be a relief to know that relactation is possible. It isn't an easy process and could require a long time and a lot of work, but the joy of knowing that you are providing your baby with the healthiest food possible can make the extra effort well worth it.
Relactation is the process of restarting breastfeeding after your milk supply has dwindled. To relactate, you need to do two things: teach your baby to breastfeed and reestablish your milk supply. Relactation is easiest with a baby under 4 months old, but even women who have never breastfed a baby, such as adoptive mothers, can start lactating with the proper techniques and effort.
Establishing Milk Supply
The main things influencing milk supply are frequent breast stimulation and the full removal of milk from the breast. Frequent nursing sessions can accomplish both of these goals, so if you can get your baby to latch on and nurse, you are likely to succeed. Offer your baby the breast for comfort as well as food, since even if he isn't getting any milk at first, he is stimulating your breasts to start making it. If your baby won't latch or suck yet, try pumping milk or manually hand expressing milk to keep the breasts primed to build up supply. Aim to empty the breasts every two to three hours. Some women find that certain herbs or foods, such as fenugreek, blessed thistle and oatmeal, seem to help increase and maintain supply, although these must be used in conjunction with breast stimulation and emptying, not in place of them. Always talk with your doctor before using a supplement.
Re-teaching Your Baby
Some babies latch onto the breast and try to suck even if it has been months since their last breastfeeding experience, or even if they have never breastfed at all. Other babies need more help. Some women try using a nursing supplementer, a tube that attaches to the nipple at one end and a bag of expressed milk or formula at the other to give the baby a supply of food that encourages him to try sucking.
Even if you cannot establish a full milk supply through relactation, your baby will benefit from any amount of breast milk that you can produce. The increased bonding experience also benefits both you and your baby. If you succeed in relactating but cannot get your baby to latch, you might opt to pump your milk and feed it to him through a bottle. If your supply remains low, you might combine feeding your milk and supplementing with formula.