In this time of formula shortage (spring 2022), many people may be asking themselves if they could chest feed or pump to supply food for their baby even if they haven’t chestfed or pumped in weeks, or even months, or if they chose formula from the beginning. And many people probably think that they can’t.
This is not true.
It is entirely possible to re-lactate at any time after having lactated at least once in your life.
What is re-lactating and who can do it?
Re-lactating is exactly as the name sounds – lactating again. Any person who has given birth can re-lactate. During pregnancy, the body goes through several processes to prepare the mammary glands to produce milk (most pregnant people have experienced “leaking” in the second and third trimesters because of these processes). Even if a family chose to use formula from the beginning, or the pregnancy was surrogacy, just because someone didn’t chest feed does not mean they did not lactate. This also means anyone who chestfed for any length of time and stopped.
Who can NOT re-lactate?
Anyone who has not lactated. Ultimately if lactogenesis has not occurred, then the body cannot repeat the process. There is a separate process known as “induced lactation” that is similar to re-lactating but for people who have not lactated at all.
How to re-lactate.
Consistency is key. This is not a process that will magically happen overnight, nor will it be as simple as pumping one time. If you plan to re-lactate, it’s best to begin immediately. The shorter the length of time between the last time you lactated and when you chose to do it again, the faster the process will be. This does not mean that it is impossible if it has been a long time, you will just need to work for longer to see results. When you decide to re-lactate, start pumping every 2 hours during the day and pump 1-2 times at night. It is best to use a hospital-grade pump. Each pump session should be 20-30 minutes long to provide adequate stimulation and emptying. You probably won’t see any milk for several days, even weeks, as you begin. Keep at it. If you remain consistent then you will see milk production start to happen. It is best to continue pumping every 2 hours for several weeks or months in order to build up a milk supply. You will not be able to provide your baby’s entire feeds in the beginning, but it is completely possible to mix feed (using formula and human milk) and potentially get to a point where you are using more human milk than formula if that is your goal. Support from friends, family, and your healthcare team can make a huge impact.
Skin-to-skin contact helps the physical bond which aids in milk production. This can be done when not pumping, such as in the evenings as part of your bedtime routine, or early in the morning before getting dressed for the day. Baby wearing is another great way to keep your baby close. When you pump, some helpful ways to encourage milk production are to look at a picture of your baby and to have an article of their clothing with you to feel and even smell! This is especially helpful if you have to pump at work, or while the baby is at daycare. The milk ejection reflex, or “let down”, is stimulated by oxytocin, the happy hormone. Seeing your baby and feeling their soft clothes and smelling the baby smell will help you relax and make you smile, which is more important than you may realize.
Make sure that when you decide to re-lactate, you are drinking lots of water, eating nutritious meals and healthy snacks (we don’t blame you if you need to throw some chocolate in there too, because we all love a treat). The use of galactagogues can potentially bring milk production on quicker, or help you to produce more when your supply is established. Galactagogues are foods and supplements that promote the flow of milk. Popular grocery stores now carry lactation cookies in a few flavors. Other galactagogues are various herbal supplements, fenugreek, fennel, anise, milk thistle, and others. You can often find these types of galactagogues in a vitamin/supplement pill.
After a conversation with Dr. Angie Bowen Bond, she shared the following in regards to some other options to AVOID when considering feeding infants amidst the formula shortage.
“I’d love to be able to provide a brief, safe, cost-effective solution. The fact is, one does not exist. That is why this shortage is such a compounding crisis.
The age of the baby matters. The gestational age of the baby matters. Their ethnic and racial background are important. The developmental milestones of the baby matter. Family history of allergies matter. There is so much involved that a general set of guidelines is impossible.
“There are, however, some things that can be said for objectively unsafe options.
Are you wanting to discuss this more in-depth with someone? Schedule a session with Emily to talk about your options as you navigate this difficult time.