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Can You Start Breastfeeding After Stopping?

breastfeeding mother and baby

Some parents impacted by the baby formula shortage may be wondering if they can start breastfeeding again. A process known as re-lactation can help patients produce breast milk, even if it has been weeks or months since they did so.

Advanced Practice Provider Kate Manuel, international board certified lactation consultant and manager of the Yale New Haven Hospital Lactation Program, and Physician Assistant Meredith Young, international board certified lactation consultant, say they have recently seen more patients interested in re-lactation.

“There’s unfortunately no magic pill that makes you sprout milk, but a combination of things is what we find the most successful,” Young said.

How to re-lactate

Re-lactation is typically achieved through a combination of skin-to-skin contact with the baby and breast stimulation either through a latching baby and/or pumping every two to three hours day and night, which mimics how often a baby feeds. Since every patient is different, there is no specific timeline for how long this process takes.

Induced lactation is a similar process that is also possible for patients who never gave birth. In addition to stimulation, hormones through birth control can help a patient successfully breastfeed. Those who have adopted or grown their families with help from a gestational carrier may choose this path to connect with their baby through breastfeeding.

Help with re-lactation

Re-lactation takes time and can be a frustrating process. To get through it, Manuel recommends parents try to remain patient, look to a partner, or support person for encouragement, and to turn to outside resources when needed.

“Accept offers for help from family and friends. If they want to drop off food, clean the house, or just help hold the baby,” Manuel said. “It can be exhausting, but in the end, so worth it.”

Young also recommends patients take their re-lactation journey one step at a time. She often tells patients not to dwell on how much breastmilk they are able to produce in one sitting. Instead, give the process three to five days at a time before they evaluate their progress.

Some patients may never produce a large amount of milk, and that is OK. Studies show that with babies in the NICU, only two ounces of breastmilk a day can be beneficial.

Re-lactation and breastfeeding support services

Young and Manuel recommend any parent interested in re-lactation or breastfeeding to get additional help through a board certified lactation consultant who can work with the patient’s pediatrician, find solutions to common complaints, and offer ongoing support. Often those services are covered by insurance.

For example, the Yale New Haven Hospital Complete Lactation Care outpatient clinic offers help with re-lactation, latching difficulties, bottle feeding and weaning. These services, which include one-on-one sessions, are covered by insurance and open to anyone in the community, regardless of where they gave birth. They also offer a free support group. This program is unique in that it is staffed by advanced practice providers that can treat both mom and baby.

“It’s a scary time for families to have babies right now with this formula shortage,” Manuel said.

However, she said they are seeing more families feeling empowered to try breastfeeding or re-lactation. Support services can help parents at any stage of breastfeeding – whether it’s with a newborn or toddler and beyond.

Learn more about re-lactation and breastfeeding support services at YNHHS.