The decision to breastfeed or not is one that many women consider when they are pregnant and, for some, things may not go plan once the baby arrives.
Whether you change your mind about breastfeeding or a medical condition hinders the beginning of your breastfeeding journey, you may be asking when is it too late to start breastfeeding?
If your baby is 4 months and under the chances of relactation or induced lactation is good and your baby should be able to breastfeed within 4 weeks.
There are many reasons why women cannot or do not start breastfeeding as soon as their baby is born, such as a baby being in NICU, mom being too unwell to feed or mom’s milk was not coming in.
You may also have started to formula feed but then changed your mind about wanting to breastfeed. There are many other reasons babies are not breastfed from the start infusing surrogacy, adoption, and family circumstances.
If you are looking into breastfeeding after initially formula feeding then we take a look at the best ways in which you can introduce breastfeeding and when it may be too late.
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How Breastmilk Is Produced
It is important to understand when and how breastmilk is produced to know when it may be possible to start breastfeeding.
While the body produces breastmilk while pregnant when the prolactin hormone is produced and stimulates the production of milk. The first breastmilk that is produced when women are pregnant is known as colostrum and this production goes on until the first few days of a baby’s life.
The mature breastmilk begins to come in 2-4 days after birth and then begins to change to your baby’s needs. If you do not want to or you are unable to breastfeed when your baby is first born then the milk will naturally ‘dry up) in around a week to 10 days.
Once your baby begins to feed milk is produced on demand so when your baby suckles they stimulate your breast to produce milk and as a baby reduces their milk intake the milk production begins to slow too.
Relactation vs. Induced Lactation
When you start to look to see if breastfeeding is still possible you are likely to be met with the terms relaxation and induced lactation.
Relactation is the term used for people who did begin to breastfeed then stopped and are wanting to start up again. Induced lacation is when a person has never breastfed and wants to start. For induced lactation you may need to seek professional advice from a doctor or infant feeding team.
When is it Too Late To Start Breastfeeding?
As a guide, babies who are younger than four months are likely to take to breastfeeding. If you breastfed for the first 4- weeks after giving birth then relactation will be easier to accomplish.
If you have not breastfed within the first 6 weeks postpartum there is still a possibility that you can breastfeed as many parents who start late do succeed with the right support.
Starting Breastfeeding Again
Whether you decided to stop breastfeeding out of choice or there were medical reasons for not being able to breastfeed, there is a chance to try again if you want to.
For many moms, breastfeeding does not come easy or is not possible but when there is a change in circumstances and you have the right support there are ways to successfully reintroduce breastfeeding.
8 Successful Relactation Tips
Using a breast pump to pump milk helps to stimulate milk production and is one of the most important things for you to do when attempting relactation.
If you pump every 2-3 hours then you will begin to see your milk supply increase even if it is only a few drops at a time during the early stages of pumping. You will need to have a lot of patience for this as some women take longer to start reproducing milk when they pump.
Eat a Healthy Diet including Foods that Promote Milk Production
Lactation cookies, lactic nation smoothies, herbal tea, fenugreek seeds, Ovaltine, oily fish, yogurt, and lean meat are all great for increasing milk supply in breastfeeding moms.
It is also essential to stay hydrated by drinking lots of water and decreasing your caffeine intake.
Offer the Breast
Your baby may not latch on at first but if you keep offering them your breast they will become familiar with it and eventually begin feeding from you once your milk supply inverses after pumping.
Bedtimes and nap times are good times to try to offer your baby your breast or when they are relaxed and enjoying cuddles after a bath.
Once your baby begins to show interest in your breast offer them it frequently and let them lead the way. You may need support from a lactation consultant if your baby is having problems latching on.
Supplement with Formula
Your baby may take a while to take to the beast again, even if they look very interested and start to suckle.
This means that it is important to supplement with formula to ensure your baby is getting adequate nutrition. You will want to do this until you know that you have a significant amount of milk production to fulfill your baby’s needs.
Add Breastmilk To Formula Gradually
If your baby is not taking to your breastmilk you can try to add a little bit to their formula and gradually increase the amount in each bottle you make up.
As a guide, you can add 1 ounce of breastmilk and increase it by an ounce each day. Your baby will eventually get used to the different taste and will likely take to full breastmilk within a few days.
Decrease the use of Bottles and Pacifiers
Bottles and pacifiers can confuse your baby if you are trying to get your baby used to the feel of your breast.
Limiting the use of bottles and pacifiers by first offering the breast instead of a bottle and when your baby needs comforting allow them to use your breast instead of a pacifier.
You may need to manually squeeze your breast to allow a drop of milk to be released from the nipple which will encourage your baby to take your breast. When you do use a bottle look for a teat that mimics the nipple and releases milk slowly so that it is as close to your baby feeding from your breast as possible.
Skin to Skin
Skin-to-skin contact is always encouraged as soon as your baby is born as this allows for oxytocin to be released which helps to regulate your baby’s body blood sugar and temperature.
This hormone also manages stress and regulates your baby’s heart rate as well as stimulating your body to let down milk.
As you can see from all of the above hints and tips, relactating can be overwhelming so you will need a lot of pf patience. If your baby resists breastfeeding in the first few days be persistent and gently encourage your baby using the above methods.
Successful Relactation Success
If you use all of the above tips to introduce breastmilk again you can be successful but how successful and in what space of time will differ between moms. For some moms, relactation may happen within a week and for other moms, it may take up to 4 weeks or it may be that you are unable to relactate.
The best chances of relactating are as follows:
- A good milk production prior to stopping breast-feeding will generally indicate a good level of success
- The younger the baby the better as babies over 4 months may struggle to adjust to breastfeeding again
- Getting full information about relactating, including taking the above advice on successful relactation and support from a lactation consultant if you have one in your area
- Regular pumping
- A good support network of friends and family as this can be an emotional journey and any advice from friends with babies will be particularly helpful
It is important to know that milk production will vary from mom to mom and even if you only manage to supplement formula with 1 ounce of milk per day it is still beneficial to your baby so it is a success.
Look for A Lactation Expert
The best chance that you have of successfully relactating or inducing lactation is to work with a professional. A lactation expert is experienced in working with many moms who are at different stages of the breastfeeding journey.
These experts are particularly good if your baby is struggling to latch on or is feeling distressed.
When is it Too Late to Start Breastfeeding?
The majority of babies will be able to successfully breastfeed even after a long break. However, some may not take to breastfeeding and will, instead, thrive on formula.
Even the most persistent and patient moms may need to bring their breastfeeding journey to an end and embrace formula. You may also be a mom that can successfully relactate or induce lactation but your baby does not want to feed from you.
In this instance, you can pump your milk and feed your baby from a bottle, which is still beneficial to them.
As long as you are happy with the things that you have tried and that you are doing the best you can then if you need to stop breastfeeding that is perfectly ok.