Re-lactation: One Mother’s Journey
By Jacquelyn Ordner BSN, RN, IBCLC, RLC
I had met my breastfeeding goals with three out of my four children, with the fourth still nursing once or twice a day. Number four was about 2.5 years old and had decided he only needed “milkies” at naptime and bedtime. I was comfortable with this, and we were moving through this transition happily. But, when my husband and I decided we were going to adopt, my thoughts around weaning began to change. What if my next child needs my milk too?
As we completed the international adoption application process and began the home study process, we really began to think about the little person who would be joining our family. We had told the agency that we’re open to parenting a child with significant medical needs. Our child could need a myriad of medical interventions, and I immediately began thinking that I needed to store breastmilk to help support him or her. I’m an RN and IBCLC, so that’s just how my mind works. I KNOW that just 15 ounces of breastmilk can provide up to:
29% of a toddler’s energy requirements
43% of their protein requirements
36% of their calcium requirements
76% of their folate requirements
75% of their vitamin A requirements
94% of their vitamin B12 requirements
And 60% of their vitamin C requirements (Dewey 2001).
Breastmilk does not suddenly become non-nutritious or suddenly lose its bioactive and immune boosting components at a certain age! So, in the waiting and through the mountains and mountains of paperwork, I could be working toward making more milk to save for our fifth child!
I began with the basics…..pumping! In an effort to store every ounce, I gently encouraged our current youngest to cut back to nursing just once a day. This was easy at first, and he didn’t even seem to mind me pumping. I was double pumping with the Spectra S2 just 3-4 times a day to start. Let me tell you, this wasn’t very encouraging! I was only yielding a total of 1-1.5 oz per DAY! That’s when I hit the first major setback….my toddler became jealous of my pump! He cried when he saw me pumping and asked for “milkies” multiple times per day. I felt so conflicted at this point because my natural instinct was to scoop him up and provide that loving comfort as we had done thousands of times before. However, I also knew my goal was to collect and store as much milk as possible before we brought kiddo #5 home. Knowing that an effectively nursing baby (or toddler in my case) was far more efficient at stimulating milk production than my pump, I allowed him to nurse up to three times per day while I continued to pump 3-4 times per day.
We were hitting our stride, and my pumping output was SLOWLY increasing, when we had another setback. My work schedule changed, and this put stress on the whole family. My little guy had to start a new daycare during at this time as well. So, I took a break from pumping for a couple of weeks. I could kick myself for this now, but I can’t go back to change it. That two week break set me all the way back to the beginning. Still, once we found our new rhythm, I was determined to get my production up. I began faithfully pumping 5-6 times per day and VERY SLOWLY started to see an increase! Over the course of 4 weeks, my pumping output went from 1-1.5 oz per day to 3 oz per day in addition to the milk I was providing to my nursing toddler. Though my output is small, I’m confident that I can continue to increase my supply with dedicated pumping. Re-lactation takes time! If you are considering starting the re-lactation process, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Milk supply is easier to influence in the first 4-6 weeks postpartum.
- The amount of time and pumping needed to re-lactate depends on many factors such as how long you were nursing or pumping before stopping, how long it has been since you stopped nursing or pumping, and how much milk you were producing at the time you stopped.
- Pumping alone can be an effective way to stimulate re-lactation. The use of galactagogues should only be done so with the help of a knowledgeable practitioner.
- An effectively nursing baby is the MOST efficient way to stimulate milk production. If your baby will latch, this is very helpful to the re-lactation process. The use of an at-breast-supplementer can be significantly helpful as well.
- The knowledge and expertise of an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, who has experience with re-lactation, can be extremely beneficial for a mother who is pursuing this goal!
Dewey KG. Nutrition, Growth, and Complementary Feeding of the Breastfed Infant. Pediatric Clinics of North American. February 2001;48(1).