If you started breastfeeding your baby and then stopped or dried up, you may wonder if you can begin to produce milk again after a gap in breastfeeding. While a lactation consultant’s advice will help you, the short answer is: yes. You can produce milk after drying up or after a gap in breast milk production.
This article outlines how to increase your milk supply, how much milk former breastfeeding mothers can expect to produce when they start breastfeeding again, and how to beat the frustration of trying for more milk after a gap.
Can Breast Milk Come Back After Drying Up? Understanding Relactation
Relactation is simply starting to lactate after a gap or after your breast milk supply has dried up. There are many reasons that this gap can occur and why moms choose to try to return to a full milk supply after a break from breastfeeding.
Reasons for Relactation
Some women have to stop breastfeeding for some time, which often means that they lose their milk supply. If you don’t use a breast pump to extract the milk during that gap, you may find that it’s harder for your body to produce milk when you try to start breastfeeding again.
So why take a break in the first place? And why go back? Baby formula is also packed full of nutrients and will keep your baby from going hungry.
The following are reasons some women may need to take a break from nursing.
You Thought You Were Done
When you start breastfeeding, it can be a challenge. The first few weeks generally hurt, as the baby’s mouth leaves nipples chapped and sore. You may get tired of feeling hungry or simply not having the time for so much skin-to-skin time while nursing.
Many women work full time and, after maternity leave is over, have few options for breastfeeding aside from pumped milk extracted from a breast pump. Pumping sessions cut into the workday, and it can be very tiring and stressful trying to help your baby transition from breast to bottle feeding.
If you exclusively nurse, it’s exhausting to constantly feed your child, especially when infants are very young. Newborns eat up to and sometimes over 12 times in 24 hours, all through the night. And while this usually makes for a full milk supply, it also makes for a lot of sleep loss.
Sometimes moms decide that they’re finished. And then they decide that they weren’t ready.
That’s perfectly fine. If your milk supply is down because you needed a time out or thought you would do better using baby formula instead and then regretted it, that’s okay. And if you’re a mother who struggles to keep up with nursing, you’re not alone. The National Breastfeeding Helpline will connect you with a lactation consultant, breastfeeding counselor, and support to keep you going.
Surgery or Prescription Medication
Sometimes you need to take a medication that will transfer through your milk and end up in the baby’s system, and it’s not safe. While there are many prescription drugs you can take while breastfeeding, there are also many that you cannot.
If you have a medical procedure or surgery and it requires you to take a bit of recovery time or be on restricted medications, you may find that without using a breast pump to stimulate your breasts and keep the milk supply up, you start to dry up. Some health conditions simply leave you with no choice but to take a break from nursing.
Many mothers plan to return to baby nursing rather than drinking donor milk, pumped milk, or infant formula after they get off the medication they have been prescribed. Resuming breastfeeding can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible.
Induced lactation occurs when you have either stopped breastfeeding years ago or have never produced milk to begin with, but would like to begin lactating with the intention of nursing a baby.
This can occur when an infant is adopted or in other circumstances in which you are responsible for feeding an infant but do not produce any milk. Most people who attempt this form of lactation have never previously breastfed. A breastfeeding counselor may be necessary to help you avoid bottle feeding and keep the baby’s health optimal so that the little one is gaining weight as they should be.
Infant Won’t Tolerate Formula
Sometimes you intend to stop nursing and switch to formula, only to find out after a period that your child doesn’t tolerate infant formula as well as they do the breastmilk. It is possible to produce again if you are a mom in this group.
Breast Milk Drying Up Symptoms
It can be challenging to tell if your milk supply is decreasing or if your baby requires more milk than you’re making, especially if you don’t use a breast pump to collect milk that can be measured and fed.
You can’t actually see how much milk is going into the baby’s mouth when nursing, so there are certain signs you can look for when nursing if you’re worried that your supply might not be sufficient.
- Lack of wet diapers
- The baby seems lethargic or dehydrated
- The baby is not gaining weight
Women often get confused and think that if an infant wants to feed more times in 24 hours than normal for them, they need to increase milk production. However, this is insufficient evidence to assume your supply is low because many babies cluster feed during growth periods or simply enjoy comfort feeding. This actually increases the milk supply for many women.
How To Induce Lactation: Practical Tips
So you’ve decided that you want to pick breastfeeding back up and try to nurse again. That’s wonderful! There are many ways to encourage your body to start making milk again. While you may not get your full supply back immediately, you might get enough milk to go back to exclusive nursing if you keep trying.
Skin to Skin Contact
The bond shared between mom and infant when skin touches is significant. You can achieve this by lying baby tummy down on your chest or stomach after a bath or before a nap while your chest is bare and the baby is in nothing but a diaper. This can encourage your body to start making milk again, just like how you would leak more often and more heavily when you heard the cries of other mothers’ babies.
You can also offer a bottle in this position, making the transition from bottle to breast easier once your body produces milk again.
Power Pumping Sessions
Expressed milk, collected often, will often help you start breastfeeding faster if you’ve stopped previously. Starting breastfeeding again requires patience and is time-consuming, but this is one of the more effective methods for getting your supply back up and being able to breastfeed again.
Hospital Grade Pump
Pumping frequently with a high-grade breast pump for several weeks can help you increase your milk supply and get things moving again. It’s important to use a pump that is effective and of high quality. Many women choose to use old pumps or used pumps but keep in mind that if you’re trying to relactate, those older pumps have sometimes lost a fair amount of suction, and you’re most likely not going to get optimal results.
Expressing milk with a manual pump or encouraging milk supply through nipple stimulation while in the shower and throughout the day also helps many women get their breasts back to breastfeeding status. Be careful not to squeeze too hard or aggravate the breasts, which have soft tissue that can bruise easily.
Try not to be too disappointed if you don’t see results immediately, especially in the early weeks of trying breastfeeding again. Every drop counts and any drop you produce is an absolute victory!
How to Increase milk supply fast
If you have not yet experienced a dry out when you breastfeed but have noticed or strongly suspect that your supply is drying up, there are things that you can do to increase your milk production fast.
Many women simply stimulate the breasts more. When you breastfeed exclusively, you can start to take for granted that your body produces milk on its own, and it’s easy to skip a feeding here or there or offer a bottle to your baby from milk that you’ve frozen or stored.
By just pumping or hand expressing more frequently, you will most likely notice an increase quickly when you breastfeed your baby.
Fenugreek, blessed thistle, and goat’s rue sound like ingredients for a spell in some Halloween movie, but they’re actual natural herbs and supplements that many women swear work as a nursing supplementer to up your production.
While there are no actual medical or clinical studies that cite this as an effective method, many peer-reviewed studies swear by the use of supplements.
Nursing Power Foods
Another method, closely related to herbal remedies, is consuming foods known or believed to be “superfoods” for moms who want to breastfeed.
Ingesting extra calories is essential to production, to begin with. If you want to feed a baby with your own body, you need to be feeding yourself appropriately. This means consuming lots of foods that are good for you and will produce the necessary nutrients to create the energy that your breasts require to make food for your child.
Oatmeal, lots of water, coconut water, certain teas with beneficial herbs, and foods marketed as “lactation” foods may help your breasts go back to producing the nutrition your baby needs.
If you have taken a break for any reason and it has caused your milk to dry up, you will most likely need to supplement with some other feeding method while you wait for your milk to increase.
This involves using a nipple on a baby bottle that forces your baby to work harder and use the sucking reflex more to get the formula or milk you are feeding while not feeding directly from the breast.
Allowing a baby to eat from a bottle with a fast flow nipple can make for a lazy eater, who may be reluctant to go back to the breast, which takes more work to get food from.
There are many organizations you can go through to purchase or get free donor milk. This milk has been thoroughly tested and vetted and is just as good as the milk from your own breast for your baby to consume while you are on your relactation journey.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with formula. However, if you are supplementing with formula that you purchase, such as Similac, Enfamil, or other store brand formula, you may want to look for a “Pro” formula, which often means that it is a blend and has ingredients that are close to and mimic human milk. This will help your baby to transition back to the breast more easily.
It Isn’t Easy
There are no miracle cures that will take you from no milk to an abundance of milk in one sitting. If you genuinely want to start feeding your baby with milk from your own breast after a break or a gap, it will take a lot of patience and a lot of hard work.
Think About Your Why
Why did you stop nursing? Can you commit to the work it will take to get back to it? Focus on your reason, and don’t give up. You can do this. And if it doesn’t work, you’ll have tried your best, which is all you can do.