Is it too late to nurse again?

I began weaning my baby at six months of age, with the plan of gradually introducing one bottle of formula for a few days, followed by two to three bottles at the end of a week. Due to the discomfort of engorgement, raw nipples, and her eagerness to accept the bottle, I went "cold turkey" after her morning feed a few days later. One week later I changed my mind. I nursed my daugher before bed and she drained the remaining milk. The next day I tried to nurse, but there was no milk. I rented the Lactina Plus and began pumping every two to three hours. My efforts seem futile, as I sometimes get one drop from one breast and nothing from the other. Before bed and her nap, my daughter will suckle for a minute or two as she falls asleep, but otherwise she rejects my breast because it's empty. Is it too late to reestablish lactation?

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Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

Your efforts are probably not futile! Your little one was only away from your breast for about a week -- and lactation had already been well established at that time. By the time you receive this letter you may find that your milk supply has already started to increase. A general rule of thumb: Once lactation is well established, it takes about the same amount of time to build back your milk supply as the time your baby was not nursing. In your situation, just one week.

You mentioned that your daughter is refusing to nurse. Fussiness at the breast does not always indicate a low milk supply. After several days of weaning your breasts began to involute and the sodium content of your milk increased. Your daughter may have been unhappy at your breast because of the salty taste of your milk. Following several days of regular milk expression, your milk has probably already reverted to its normally sweet taste.

If your baby still refuses to nurse, plan on spending some extra time wooing her back to your breast. Don't be surprised if she is fussy during this period of time. This is quite common.

Find a quiet place where you and your little one can spend some one-on-one time alone together. Take a warm bath, carry her in a sling - just as you would a newborn, nap with her, cuddle and stroke her, offer your breast. Become reacquainted. Take it slow. If she isn't interested in nursing, don't push her. You might find that offering to nurse when your little one is sleepy does the trick -- and is enough to turn things around.

Frequent milk expression with the Lactina pump is an excellent way to help build your milk supply -- in addition to regularly putting your little one to your breast. If you can get your baby to breast, and if she is a good nurser, she'll be much more effective at building back your supply than even the best pump.

If your baby is not spending much time at your breast, it is very important that she receive the nutrition she needs. You can offer your daughter your expressed milk in a cup.

If your expressed milk is not yet enough to satisfy your little one's hunger, you will need to continue supplementing with formula until your milk supply rebuilds. Then you can begin to gradually wean from the supplement. If you currently supplement with a bottle, try to make bottle feeding as much like breastfeeding as possible. Hold your little one in her favorite nursing position, against your bare breast. You will both benefit from the closeness that you share.

Relactation is hard work. It is really important to take care of yourself so you don't become run down and discouraged. I would highly recommend working with an IBCLC. It will be very helpful to have the support of a Lactation Consultant as you build back your milk supply.

It also concerns me that your nipples were still "raw" at six months. Breastfeeding should be comfortable. Pink, sore nipples are consistent with symptoms of thrush. If it is determined that thrush is the culprit, both you and your little one will need to be treated simultaneously (Lawrence 1994). It is recommended that treatment with an antifungal be continued until you (and baby) have been symptom-free for one to two weeks (Amir, Hoover and Mulford 1995). My very best wishes to you and your family!

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