What Is Relactation?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 08, 2023
3 min read

Did you stop breastfeeding your baby, but you wish you hadn’t? If so, you can get a second chance through relactation. This is a process that may help your breasts -- which aren’t making milk right now -- produce milk to feed your baby. It may work if you’ve nursed your baby before, and even if you haven’t.

Many women are able to breastfeed their babies after they go through relactation, but everyone has different results. You may make some milk, but you might also need to give formula to your baby so they gain enough weight and grow well. Or, you may go through relactation and be able to produce enough milk to feed your little one without using any baby formula.

The first step is to put your baby to your breast. The more often your little one latches onto your breast, the more likely it is that your body will begin to make milk again. That’s because the feeling of a baby suckling at your breast can prompt your hormones to produce milk.

At first, you may need to nurse your baby up to a dozen times a day (including two nighttime sessions) to get your milk flowing. Try nursing your baby for 15 to 20 minutes each time.

You can use a breast pump instead of nursing sessions. You will still need to supplement your baby’s feed while you are re-establishing your supply. The pumping action mimics the feel of a baby suckling your breast. Pump a few times a day to increase your chances of success. If you don’t have a breast pump, you can hand-express your breasts to try to produce milk.

Your doctor may prescribe medicine to help you lactate. They are more likely to do this if you’ve adopted a baby and haven’t nursed before.

Some studies suggest that the herb fenugreek may help you produce more milk. But very little research has been done to find out what side effects it might have on your baby. Before you take fenugreek or any other supplement, talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant (someone who’s trained to help solve breastfeeding problems for moms and babies). Increasing your hydration will help support your milk production.

The sooner you start the relactation process after you’ve stopped nursing your baby, the greater your chances for success. Younger infants tend to be more willing to nurse than older ones. But if you have an older baby, don’t let this stop you. The World Health Organization suggests that relactation may work with babies of any age, even those more than a year old.

For the best results, follow a healthy diet and drink plenty of water.

Some babies may not want to nurse long at a breast that doesn’t make milk. For this reason, your doctor may suggest you use a supplemental nursing system. This provides your baby with formula when they suckle at your breast. Here’s how it works:

  1. You’ll place the end of a long, thin feeding tube near your nipple.
  2. When your baby latches on, they take the feeding tube into their mouth.
  3. When they suck, formula travels through the feeding tube from the device into their mouth.

You’ll be able to stop using this system once your breasts start to make milk.