Supporting Families With Relactation

At a glance

Relactation is how a mother restarts lactation after having stopped for some time, such as weeks or months. Relactation can also apply to a mother who previously breastfed a biological child and now wishes to make milk for an adopted child, a partner's child, or a child birthed by a surrogate. Learn more about how relactation works and what to expect.

Mother breastfeeding her baby using a supplemental nursing system.

Reasons to relactate

A mother may want to relactate for the following reasons:

  • Breastfeeding was not successfully established in the hospital after birth.
  • Separation due to an illness or medical procedure led to weaning earlier than desired.
  • A non-birth mother who breastfed a previous child wants to nurse an adopted infant or an infant born to a surrogate mother.
  • Infant does not tolerate formula.
  • A mother desires a safe way to feed an infant during uncertain times, such as emergencies from natural disasters.

How relactation works

Lactation is a supply-and-demand process that requires nipple stimulation and milk extraction.

Nipple stimulation requires frequent stimulation of the nipples by pumping, hand expression, or infant nursing--or through a combination of these actions. These actions may reestablish milk production.

Milk extraction. Once milk production has begun, frequent and complete removal of the milk helps to develop a milk supply.

A lactation support provider can guide relactation practices by assessing each person's situation.

Infants receiving human milk from a relactating mother must be carefully monitored to ensure the child is getting enough calories to have normal weight gain. Infant formula should be continued as needed to make sure that infants continue to receive enough nutrition if milk supply is not yet adequate.

Realistic expectations

It is important to help mothers set realistic relactation expectations based on their individual circumstances. Relactation can be time-consuming. Many mothers can partially or fully lactate with the right support. Success depends partly on parental motivation and dedication to the process as well as assistance from a skilled lactation support provider. Milk production can start as early as a few days after beginning nipple stimulation, but it may take weeks to months.