This article was updated 5/13/22
The formula shortage has left many moms scrambling for formula and wondering “Is It Too Late To Start Breastfeeding?”
Perhaps you are a new mom who couldn’t breastfeed your little one at birth. Maybe your infant had a medical condition that kept them in the NICU for several weeks or even months. Maybe your milk wasn’t coming in, and you were scared of starving your newborn baby. There are many reasons mothers aren’t able to breastfeed their babies including severe postnatal depression, adoption, surrogate situations, and many others.
Whatever your reason may be, if you are interested in breastfeeding, relactation, or need to increase your milk supply, we have lots of tips for you!
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Is It Too Late To Start Breastfeeding?
Babies who are 4 months and younger can more readily take to breastfeeding. And, if you nursed frequently and effectively in the first 4-6 weeks postpartum, it will be a lot easier.
Moms with older babies (5 months and above) who didn’t breastfeed postpartum and those with adopted babies may also get exemplary results. It is never too late to start breastfeeding.
That means there is hope for you to bond with your baby the old-fashioned way, while nourishing him.
If You Stop Breastfeeding Can You Start Again?
Some moms will decide to wean their infants early for various reasons. If you had a difficult start with breastfeeding and you want to give it another shot, you may be wondering if it’s worth it or if you can produce breast milk at this point.
Great news! You can do it. Relactation – the process of re-introducing breastfeeding to your baby after a period without it – is possible with diligence, patience, and a great support system.
Also, don’t be too hard on yourself. You’ve got this. Now let’s look at some tips for relactation success.
Tips for Successful Relactation
Pump. Pump. Pump. Then pump some more.
Pumping frequently stimulates milk production. Pumping every 2-3 hours will produce ample milk supply. When you start pumping you might see only a few drops, but don’t let that discourage you.
Keep at it, and you’ll see the milk production increasing after about a week (or sooner)!
Eat foods that help to increase milk supply
Fenugreek seeds – I love fenugreek seeds because they are versatile. You can add them to your stews or smoothies. Or, you can take them as capsules. And the best thing is that they are fast-acting, so you should notice an increase in your milk supply within a week.
Coconut water – This refreshing natural water is one of those drinks that every breastfeeding mom should drink to hydrate.
BodyArmor – This is a sports drink that lots of breastfeeding moms have used to successfully increase their milk supply.
I drank Body Armour every day to help build my milk supply for the first 3 months postpartum (before I went back to work). And, I had a healthy stash built up by the time my maternity leave was over.
Offer the Breast
Some babies will want to breastfeed weeks or months after weaning. Try offering your little one the breast after a bath, after a nap, or at bedtime.
If your little one shows interest, let them feed as often as they want. Make sure the baby latches well so that they can suck a substantial amount of milk.
While you’re increasing your supply, keep offering your baby formula so that they can continue to grow healthy and strong. Keep up with this until your milk production is substantial.
Limit Pacifiers and Bottles
Let your baby use your breast for comfort instead of a pacifier or bottle. With time, they will start sucking a fair amount of breast milk.
Squeeze a few drops of breast milk onto your nipple first, then offer the breast to your baby. The smell and taste of the milk will encourage them to suck.
In case your baby doesn’t take to your breasts:
- Ensure that your pump is working correctly. A good hospital-grade pump like this one is best.
- Frequent pumping will help you stimulate and empty your breasts several times a day.
- Power pumping several times an hour for about 2 hours will imitate cluster feeding, which increases production naturally.
- Give your breasts a massage while pumping to increase your breastmilk output
Factors For Relactation Success
Keep in mind that your relactation progress and results will differ from other moms. While some moms will successfully produce a substantial supply within 2-3 weeks, others will take longer.
Some moms will not produce a full milk supply. Whichever category you’re in, remember that every ounce of breast milk counts, and you’re doing the best you can.
These factors affect your relactation success:
- Your milk production before weaning will determine your supply when relactating. Adequate milk production prior to weaning will make it easier to relactate.
- Moms of younger babies have better results. The most successful relactating efforts happen for babies between 3 and 4 months.
- Pumping and attempting to breastfeed several times a day requires a serious commitment. Dedicating lots of time to this is essential to successfully stimulate your supply.
- Knowledge is power. The more information you have about relactation, the more successful you’ll be.
- An interested baby makes relactation easier.
- A reliable support system made up of family and friends will motivate you to keep going and support you when you feel like giving up.
Generally, you can expect to see positive results within two weeks of trying relactation. Some specialists claim that it will take the same amount of time that it’s been since you weaned your baby.
Keep in mind that everybody is unique, and our bodies respond differently to relactation efforts, so everyone’s results will differ.
In the Case of Adoption or Surrogacy
Some moms have never breastfed before or last breastfed years ago. If you would like to breastfeed your infant born through a surrogate or whom you adopted, induced lactation is an option. It’s more complicated than relactation but can work with support and diligence.
Some mothers can induce lactation to produce a partial milk supply using these principles:
- Medication or supplements for boosting milk production
- Frequent pumping or breastfeeding to stimulate the breasts
- Lots of skin-to-skin with babies on arrival
Make your experience easier by consulting a healthcare professional with experience in induced lactation. They can support you and create a customized plan for your specific situation.
How To Start Breastfeeding After Bottle feeding
Did you start your precious little bundle on the bottle and now want to try breastfeeding? Is it too late to breastfeed your baby? Worry not. You can still get them to breastfeed after a couple of days or weeks on the bottle.
Your infant might get fussy at first because they need to learn how to latch, which takes more effort than bottle feeding.
With a ton of patience from you and some help from a lactation specialist, you and your baby will soon be enjoying the bonding experience that is breastfeeding.
First of all, contact your baby’s pediatrician. They need to know your plans and monitor the baby’s growth during this transition.
They will also calm your fears just in case you’re still questioning if it’s too late to start breastfeeding. During this transition from bottle to breast, make sure that the baby is well fed at all times. It doesn’t matter whether it’s breast milk or formula.
Secondly, pump as often as your baby feeds. Pumping will stimulate milk production so that when the baby starts latching correctly, the supply will meet his demand.
Consider triple feeds. Nurse, pump, then off the bottle to your baby. You can feed formula or breastmilk in the bottle. It’s a lot of work, but it can help to establish an adequate supply while ensuring your baby is getting enough milk.
When my firstborn wasn’t gaining enough weight, I used triple feeding to help build my supply and to ensure my baby was getting fed enough.
When bottle-feeding, do paced feeds. Sit the baby up to feed. Use a slow-flow nipple, hold the bottle horizontally, and give your baby frequent breaks. These breaks allow them to adjust to the slow pace of breastfeeding.
I also implemented paced feeds when I was triple feeding. I used Dr. Brown’s Premie Nipples to ensure a slow flow.
Talk to an IBCLC lactation consultant as soon as possible. They will help you assess and resolve any latching concerns. If you don’t know any lactation specialists in your area, contact your local La Leche chapter, your baby’s pediatrician, or your ob/gyn for a recommendation.
Tips for reintroducing breastfeeding after bottle
Breastfeeding often causes anxiety, especially when your baby hasn’t mastered the art of the latch. Relax and take it easy. Before feeding your little one, get into a calm state of mind.
You can listen to soft music or close your eyes and breathe deeply. Help the baby relax with a snuggle or gentle massage. Switch off all gadgets and turn down the lights.
Skin to skin releases the hormone oxytocin, which regulates the baby’s body temperature and blood sugar. It also relieves stress, stabilizes the baby’s heart rate, and stimulates the release of your breast milk (let-down).
When babies are swaddled and sleepy, they don’t stay focused on breastfeeding. Try skin-on-skin by placing your baby against your skin. The baby should only be wearing a diaper. If it’s chilly, you can snuggle under a light blanket.
Your baby may fight the breast because it’s a new experience or your previous attempts have been forceful. The baby won’t like either of those.
If your baby fights the breast and you get frustrated, your baby may sense your reaction and reject the breast more fiercely. This may create a cycle of further stressing you even more.
Be patient with your baby, give him/her time to familiarize themselves with your breasts. If your baby is hesitant, don’t force the process.
Let Baby Lead
Lay back and allow your newborn to take control of how and when he will latch. This method, also known as ‘biological nurturing,’ enables the baby to use his/her instincts to feed.
Try it out skin-to-skin. With this laid-back feeding position, you get to relax and snuggle your baby at the same time.
When is it Too Late to Start Breastfeeding?
Although most babies can eventually breastfeed after weeks or months, some may not. Despite even consistent efforts, the older they are, the more difficult it will be. Don’t despair if your baby never breastfeeds. Pumped milk in a bottle is still beneficial.
If you’re in the process of relactation, you already know that it’s hard work and presents several challenges. If there’s no progress after a month of diligent, consistent effort, it’s okay to stop trying. If the process is stressful and overwhelming, be at peace with stopping. Your mental health matters too.
Hopefully, you now have the answer to your question, when is it too late to start breastfeeding? Every mom has a unique experience with breastfeeding, so do not get caught up in the comparison trap.
Instead, pat yourself on the back for a job well done because any amount of breast milk that you produce is beneficial for your baby.