My Milk Is Gone. Can I Relactate?

QUESTION

Dear Lactation Consultant,
My name is Amy and I went to my OB/GYN for my annual and I asked her was there anything I could take to reestablish my milk supply. It's been a 3 ½ month break since I nursed my son (he's 5 ½ months) and she stated once the milk ducts dry up its not possible to relactate. Is this true or not? I just want piece of mind while I start this quest because others say that it is possible but the professional that I'm putting my trust in says no. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

ANSWER

Relactation is definitely possible, but many are unfamiliar with it, even doctors. In one survey of 366 women who relactated, most of the mothers surveyed established a full milk supply within a month. It took another 25% of the mothers more than a month to fully relactate. The remaining 25% both nursed and gave supplements until their baby weaned. Mothers who attempted relactation within two months of childbirth reported greater milk production than those who attempted it later on.

The best way to relactate is to begin putting baby to breast as many times per day as possible. Eight to ten times per day is ideal. Some mothers use a device called a nursing supplementer to provide formula at the breast while they're bringing back their milk, so they don't have to feed their baby again after nursing. This device has a container that holds the formula and thin tubing that the mother tapes to her nipple, so that when the baby latches on he gets the supplement as well as any milk the mothers is producing. Sucking at the breast releases the hormones that stimulate milk supply.

There are also herbal and prescribed medications that can increase milk supply. Taking three capsules of Fenugreek (at least 500 mg) three times per day (nine per day total) is one popular way to boost milk supply. Prescription medications, such as Metoclopramide (Reglan) have also been found to increase milk supply. If you are interested in using a prescribed medication, talk to your doctor (not the baby's doctor).

Relactation can be an intensive process. If you are motivated to do it, I'd suggest you see about the possibility of getting some extra help at home, especially at first. In hindsight, three-quarters of the mothers who were surveyed felt relactation was a positive experience. One mother wrote, "I would suggest a mother decide what she honestly wants and do it and not listen to [those who say] 'wait til your next one.'"For more details, see the article "Can There Be Breastfeeding After Weaning?" on my web site.

-- Nancy, IBCLC

Kathleen Tackett

Dr. Kendall-Tackett is a health psychologist, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and Research Associate Professor of Psychology specializing in women's health at the Family Research Lab, University of New Hampshire. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association in both the Divisions of Health Psychology and Trauma Psychology. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is a La Leche League leader, chair of the New Hampshire Breastfeeding Taskforce, and the Area Coordinator of Leaders for La Leche League of Maine and New Hampshire.

Dr. Kendall-Tackett is author of more than 140 journal articles, book chapters and other publications, and author or editor of 15 books including The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood (2005, Hale Publications), Depression in New Mothers (2005, Haworth), and Breastfeeding Made Simple, co-authored with Nancy Mohrbacher (2005, New Harbinger). She is on the editorial boards of the journals Child Abuse and Neglect, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse and the Journal of Human Lactation, and regularly reviews for 27 other journals in the fields of trauma, women's health, interpersonal violence, depression, and child development. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is the "Ask a Lactation Consultant" columnist on Pregnancy.org and serves on the Board of Directors of Attachment Parenting International.

Dr. Kendall-Tackett received a Bachelor's and Master's degree in psychology from California State University, Chico, and a Ph.D. from Brandeis University in social and developmental psychology. She has won several awards including the Outstanding Research Study Award from the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, and was named 2003 Distinguished Alumna, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, California State University, Chico.