Women who have had to halt breast-feeding temporarily may suffer from a diminishing milk supply or even the complete cessation of milk production. Sometimes, a mother chooses to try relactation, the process of teaching her body to restart milk production, instead of accepting a permanent switch to formula. The herb fenugreek, commonly used in breast-feeding mothers with low supply, may be useful for mothers attempting relactation as well.
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Relactation involves stimulating the breasts to start producing milk after they have stopped; and the milk supply has dwindled. Mothers may want to relactate for many reasons, such as restarting breast-feeding after an illness or choosing to breast-feed after initially feeding the baby formula. Relactation tends to work best if the baby is under 4 months old and the mother had previously established a good milk supply before slowing or stopping breast-feeding.
Fenugreek is a spice that may boost milk production as long as the breasts are otherwise being well-drained, either through suckling by the baby or through pumping breast milk. The ground seeds are available in capsule form in doses of 500 to 610 mg per capsule. You will need at least six capsules a day, about 3,500 mg of fenugreek seed, to have a noticeable effect on breast milk production. While specific studies have not been performed on the use of fenugreek during relactation, at least one small study, a paper presented at the annual meeting of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine in 2000, has shown an effect on milk supply in women with some milk production.
To relactate successfully using fenugreek, the first step is to teach the baby to suckle at the breast for comfort, even when no milk is coming out. Stimulation of the breast, through suckling if the baby will do so or through pumping or hand expression if not, is required for relactation to take place. Fenugreek may take up to two weeks to have an effect on milk production, so women who desire to relactate may want to start taking it as soon as they begin trying to encourage their infant to nurse. Stimulating the breast every two to three hours makes it more likely that relactation will occur.
Because relactation is a complicated biological process, fenugreek seed alone will not cause milk supply to return or become well-established. Active stimulation and emptying of the breasts is necessary. Professional or peer support from your doctor, a certified lactation consultant or a local La Leche League leader can help you rebuild your milk supply. Supplementation with formula, previously stored breast milk or other forms of nutrition may be needed while your milk supply builds up to the level that your baby needs.