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Yes, relactation is sometimes successful, but it's not solution to formula shortage

Amid the formula crisis, many women face the question, “Why not just breastfeed?” Resuming breastfeeding after stopping is difficult and might not yield enough milk.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — "Why don't you just breastfeed?"

It's the dreaded question many moms face time and again, as the ongoing nationwide formula shortage persists.

A quick-to-judge social media culture has further fueled so-called "mom shaming," during what is already a high-stress time for many parents.

Families need options -- now -- by which to feed their babies, and credible information and education are crucial.

THE QUESTION

Is it possible to reestablish breastfeeding after stopping?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

Resuming breastfeeding (relactation) after stopping is possible, in some cases, but difficult. Even if it works, it might not yield enough milk to feed the baby fully, so supplementing with formula or donor milk might be necessary.

THE PROCESS

Relactation, in some cases, can be an option.

"It's possible. It's also difficult," concluded certified lactation consultant Beth Sanders, BSN, RN. 

She explained, "The longer it has been since a parent breastfed or made milk, the more difficult it is. This is why I'm really encouraging families right now that if you're currently lactating, continue to do so to the point that you're able."

As breastfeeding slows or stops, the body signals the brain to produce less milk, eventually drying up the supply.

Sanders said that is why relactation is most successful if done within a few weeks of stopping. The process takes a big commitment for, sometimes, minimal payout. 

To stimulate milk production again, La Leche League recommends the mom:

  • Hand express or pump at least eight to 12 times a day (including at night) for 20 to 30 minutes
  • If baby will latch, put him or her to the breast before and after each feeding
  • Consult a certified lactation consultant, who can develop a plan and offer support

"Good nutrition and hydration definitely help, so just lots and lots of healthy calories going in, lots of hydration and rest. One thing we tend to do in our culture is minimize the importance of rest," Sanders said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics urges mothers interested in relactation to "set realistic expectations." Even if relactation works, it does not always produce enough breastmilk for the baby's needs. So, the mother might still need to supplement with formula or pasteurized donor milk. That said, Sanders does not recommend mixing breastmilk with formula powder, because it can make the nutrient concentration unsafe or lead to waste. Her suggestion is to offer them separately.

Lactation experts acknowledge if a woman has stopped breastfeeding, there is a reason -- for example, a milk allergy, a medical condition or lack of pumping breaks at work. Therefore, in certain circumstances, relactation might not be ideal, and there is no shame in that.

RELATED: Yes, donated breastmilk can be a safe alternative during infant formula shortage

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