When Is It Too Late To Start Breastfeeding After You Stop? | Step by Step

One of the most stressful things I encountered as a new mom five years ago was figuring out how to best feed my son.  I’d read about all of the differing opinions.  Fed is best.  Breast is best. 

With essentially no sleep and a newborn in my arms, my mind was racing with anxiety. He ultimately wouldn’t latch and we had no choice but to give him formula on day two so that he ate something.   

My youngest was another story.  He’s 14 months currently and has essentially been latched onto my breast since the moment he was born.  The ease at which breastfeeding came so naturally this time around has often left me wondering whether or not I could have nursed my oldest in the weeks or months following his birth, even if there had been a gap. 

If I had wanted to try again, was it ever too late to start breastfeeding?

Luckily, experts advise that it is never too late to start breastfeeding.  Re-lactation, or the process of re-stimulating a milk supply, is always possible. 

There are several techniques you can implement in order to re-stimulate your recent milk supply, including manual expression, pumping, frequent nursing attempts, skin-to-skin sessions, and/or lactation cookies. 

Women can go weeks, months, even years without nursing and re-lactation is still possible. In fact, believe it or not, women who have never even been pregnant are able to breastfeed with enough effort and consistency.  

When Is It Too Late To Start Breastfeeding After Stopping?

Since it is never too late to physically start breastfeeding, the new concern becomes when the process loses its benefits for the baby’s sake.  The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that babies should be exclusively breastfed until at least six months of age, but one year is ideal. 

Afterwards, the bulk of the baby’s nutrition should come from solids.  Breast milk remains beneficial for the baby’s health on a supplemental basis in the years that follow.  

Most women stop breastfeeding during different milestones according to their personal circumstances or the baby’s preferences, such as baby-led weaning, the baby going into childcare, or the baby beginning to bite too much while teething.  

Some babies end up having a taste of cow’s milk at the one-year mark and they never look back.

While you can physically induce breastfeeding years after giving birth, it is unnecessary to begin to produce for a school-aged child who is already receiving all of their nutrients from solid foods. 

Developmentally, it’s not something you’d want to introduce when the child is 4 years or older.

Why Do Some Mothers Need To Re-lactate?

Why do some mothers need to re-lactate?

There are numerous reasons why mothers may need to re-lactate, which is the process of demanding that your body produce milk after a gap in time.  Your baby might be struggling with various types of formulas or experiencing allergies that are difficult to determine. 

You may have had a postpartum medical condition, hospital stay, or prescription that prevented you from safely encouraging breastfeeding.  Your baby may have had an inability to latch at all. 

Perhaps formula has gotten too expensive.  Maybe you’ve just changed your mind altogether.  Perhaps the benefits of breastfeeding were only recently realized.

Alternatively, mothers who adopt may have the desire or need to breastfeed their adopted babies. Fascinatingly enough, the female body is so amazing that women who have never even been pregnant are able to produce milk with enough stimulation tactics in place.

Can Breast Milk Come Back After Drying Up?

Women often use the term “dried up” to refer to when their breasts are no longer seemingly producing milk. 

Beyond the obvious lack of milk at the tip of the nipple or the baby’s lack of wet diapers, breasts might decrease in size to indicate that they no longer have an instant supply to any potential demand.

Fortunately, women’s bodies never fully dry up.  Think of it like your body houses a milk machine that you can turn off and on with certain tactics.  Even if you once switched it off, you can turn it back on.

Re-lactation After One Year Or More

Even if it’s been a year since you gave birth, re-lactation is still possible.  As noted, women who have never even been pregnant can begin to lactate if the right efforts are performed consistently!  

See below for tips and tricks on how to stimulate your milk supply, depending on the circumstances.

How To Stimulate The Milk Supply?

You can send hormonal signals to your body to begin producing milk simply with breast stimulation.  The more recent that you stopped breastfeeding, the easier this process will be, but, again, it is never too late to get started.

If Your Baby Is Unable To Latch

Encourage plenty of closeness also helps your body recognize that it needs to produce milk to feed another source. 

Amazingly, some moms can get to a point where they hear another crying baby somewhere in public, and they will soak through their nursing bras! 

The female body’s instinct is to nurture and provide nourishment to the offspring, so you have the upper hand going into re-lactating as it is.

Use Plenty Of Skin-To-Skin Time

As was probably encouraged in the hospital to help teach the baby where mommy and/or daddy are, practice skin-to-skin time to maintain that closeness.   Your body will take this as a cue to release milk-producing hormones.

You can also use a breast-shaped bottle to mock bottle-feeding.  You can even “assume the position” by feeding your baby with a bottle as close to the breast as possible.  This will help them associate suckling in this area in order to acquire nourishment.

Ask The Experts

Consider working with a lactation consultant to establish a deep latch for your little. 

Their expertise lies entirely in getting your little one to latch and ensure that breastfeeding takes off, however possible.  They are familiar with techniques, tactics, and positioning that can encourage milk flow.

Hospitals often have lactation courses and experts for new mommies (or new situation mommies!) since the benefits of breastfeeding are so undeniable.

Ask the experts

Express On Your Own

Using either your hand, a manual pump, or an electric pump, spend at least 15 minutes every few hours (~8 times in 24 hours) in order to get the milk flowing.

Tip: performing these tactics at night is most beneficial since prolactin is the highest at this time.

Feed On Demand

The more you supplement with formula, use other stored breast milk, or pass the baby off to someone else for feeding, the less demand you’ll be providing at the breast.

Whenever possible, ensure that you are attempting a latch and nursing session each and every time your baby shows hunger cues.

Hydrate And Nourish Yourself

Breast milk suffers largely from dehydration and starvation.  Much of your stored fat gets processed into breast milk, which is why some women tend to lose excess weight when exclusively breastfeeding.

Milk supplies have been shown to dwindle without consistent water replenishment, so drink up! On a daily basis, your water goal should always behalf of your body weight in ounces of water.

How To Start Breastfeeding After Bottle Feeding?

In addition to the tips above, if your baby is used to being bottle-fed, it might be helpful to introduce your baby to the taste of breastmilk by using what you’re able to express on your own and mixing it with formula or purees.

This will get your baby used to the taste.  It’s also a great segue to the association that eating time = breast milk.

What Can I Take To Increase My Milk Supply?

Certain herbs and medications can help increase milk production.  Lactation cookies can also promote the process.  There are plenty of homemade recipes that you can make in the comfort of your own home.

These options stimulate the same lactation hormones that are triggered by the tactics noted above.  At best, these methods are supplemental. 

With enough closeness, stimulation, pumping, expressing, and latching, your body is equipped to efficiently respond, unless there is an underlying medical condition.

At What Age Is Breastfeeding No Longer Beneficial?

The benefits of breastmilk are innumerous during the first few years of your baby’s life.

As noted previously, the American Academy of Pediatrics generally recommends that breastfeeding can continue for as long as it suits mommy and baby, so long as the baby’s nutritional needs are consistently being met.

At one year, babies should be getting the bulk of their nutrition from solid foods and purees. However, certain situations might require the need for breastmilk on an extended basis. 

During the pandemic, for example, some mothers have opted to continue breastfeeding at a higher volume since breast milk contains natural antibodies.  Breast milk, even on a supplemental basis, provides unparalleled health benefits and preventatives for your baby.

Don’t Give Up

Whatever you do, don’t give up.  If you recently stopped breastfeeding, you’ll have an easier time re-producing milk. 

If it’s been a while or if you’ve never been pregnant at all, it will take some time, effort, and consistency to get things going. 

Think of an old car stored in a garage. It might not happen overnight but it will still turn on if you work on it piece by piece.

The female body is wondrous.  Your instinctual response to nurture a baby in need (whether it’s yours or not!) is a natural enough foundation to launch the re-lactation process.

If all else fails, don’t get too hard on yourself. Parenting (especially a baby!) is hard enough and breastfeeding or not is only one droplet in their overall growth and development.

If weeks pass by and no milk comes, there may be an underlying medical condition that is preventing production.  Feeding your baby, however that may be, is all that matters.

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