Relactating/building Milk Supply for Yourself or Others

Whether you are exclusively breastfeeding, supplementing, or formula feeding, the current formula shortage has parents on high alert, trying to prepare and react to this unfortunate situation. 

If you breastfeed and supplement with formula, you may be looking into building your supply or if you chose not to breastfeed, and are able, you may be looking into relactating, which is the process of reestablishing adequate milk production if you have a reduced supply or have stopped breastfeeding altogether. 

While relactating requires more time and patience, the way to build supply and relactate are similar, and whatever your circumstance, we want to share some tips that we hope will help.

Stimulate frequently! Stimulation is necessary to alert your body to make and move milk. Massaging your breasts during and in between feeds and or pump sessions is essential to do frequently.

When relactating, using a pump or nursing in addition to breast massage helps stimulate your nipples through stretching, which triggers another hormone necessary for milk production. 

Massaging your breasts while pumping/nursing will provide additional stimulation and help express more milk, allowing you to empty more completely, and easier. Our Nurture Breast Massager is an amazing tool to incorporate into your pumping routine so that you do not need to do the massage yourself. 

Empty as completely as possible! When building a milk supply – the more you breastfeed/pump and massage, the more often and completely you will empty your breasts. This will trigger your body to make more milk in order to replace it. Milk supply works on the principle of supply and demand.  If you typically exclusively breastfeed, try pumping or hand expressing after your baby is done feeding to ensure you are as empty as possible. 

When relactating, it is very important to breastfeed/pump often. Aim for 8-12 times a day, for 20-25 minutes, ensuring 1-2 middle-of-the-night sessions. 

Improving milk transfer, which is the baby’s successful consumption of milk from mom’s breast, is very important when building supply or relactating while feeding at the breast. Feeding at ideal times by knowing what feeding cues to look for, trying different feeding positions, ensuring a proper latch, and using alternate massage during feeds are all options that may positively impact milk transfer. Using pre and post-feeding weights to track transfer will allow you to monitor your supply and adjust your feeds/supplementing as your milk supply improves. 

Atbreast feeders, like the Medela Supplemental Nursing System, can be very helpful when building supply or relactating while nursing. Your baby will receive additional milk from a tube while at the breast, ensuring they are receiving adequate milk, while your body gets the message that you should be making more milk that the feeder is actually providing. 

Whether you are building your milk supply or relactating, it is important to discuss your plans with your pediatrician, lactation professional, and support system. Professionals will help determine how much milk/formula your baby needs to be receiving each day, assess your current milk supply/gap in milk production and make adjustments to your supplementing as your milk supply improves. For mothers wondering about whether they are able to relactate, if you have produced milk at some point, then relactation may be possible. The shorter the gap since you last produced milk, the easier it may be to relactate, though it does differ from person to person. 

Your support system should have an understanding of the commitment that building supply and relactating require, and the emotional, mental and physical toll it can have.  (While also very rewarding, of course!) Ensuring they are there to support you along the way will make a huge difference! 

By Chelsea Sablotsky, BS Nutrition, CLC

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