Relactation: Easing weaned six-month-old baby back to the breast

I have a six month old and have breastfed her from day one. I weaned her because I felt like she was giving me signs that she was ready -- like being distracted during feedings and pulling away several times to look around. This was very frustrating and somewhat painful. I stopped nursing and I miss it so much! Can I transition her back to the breast or is it too late?

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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

I wasn't sure by your letter if your daughter is totally weaned from your breast, or if you are still partially breastfeeding (only at night.) If your little one is still very happy to be at your breast, you are one step ahead of the game.

Begin offering your breast throughout the day. Be very available for her and provide lots of skin-to-skin contact as you are helping her to transition back to your breast. If she is still easily distracted, which is quite common for a baby of this age, choose a couple of times during the day to nurse in a darkened, quiet room, possibly lying down with her to rest.

If you are still nursing your baby several times through the night, she may very well be meeting a good portion of her nutritional requirements at your breast. This is actually common for babies around this age. As they become so interested in exploring their world they seem to have a hard time fitting a good nursing session into their busy schedule.

If you are no longer breastfeeding at night, 10 to 12 ounces a day is not enough milk for a six month old baby. Has her output and weight gain been within the normal range? This will give you a good idea if she is getting enough to eat. A baby between 6 and 12 months of age typically gains 1.5 to 3 ounces per week. Normal output is five to six wet diapers each day, with regular, substantial bowel movements. If either or these are not within the normal range, it is very important to find a way to add nursings or other supplemental feeds. If she isn't interested in your breast or the bottle, try a cup with your expressed milk or formula. (Keep in mind that formula is not very tasty in comparison to human milk, so if you do need to supplement you might want to speak with your baby's healthcare provider about trying other varieties, until you find one more suited to her taste.)

You didn't mention if your baby is eating solids, and if so how much. Solid foods should be making up only a small part of her diet at this time, with breastmilk the priority during her first year of life.

When combining solids with breastfeeding, nurse your baby before meal time. After she nurses, she can enjoy sitting on your lap or in her high chair with the family for meals. At this time, feeding amounts should be measured in tablespoons. If she still seems interested in food after this amount, provide her with some age-appropriate finger foods. They are more difficult for her to pick up and get into her mouth (and she'll have lots of fun trying!) You could try offering little pieces of cubed tofu, softly cooked baby-sized carrots, very ripe banana or avocado, or softly cooked sweet or white potato.

If you have continued nursing at night, you probably will be able to increase your milk supply back to the level that your baby needs. Even if you have totally weaned for a week or so, with regular nursing and expression, your supply should still rebound. If you have totally weaned for more than a couple of days, your milk may begin to taste salty. (Taste your milk if your baby seems reluctant to nurse.) Salty tasting milk is often the reason a baby who has taken a few days off of breastfeeding doesn't choose to return. Once you begin to nurse and express, over the period of a few days to a week, your milk should be back to its normally sweet taste.

The best way to begin increasing your milk supply is feeding your baby at your breast frequently. The next best option, if she is refusing to nurse, is to express your milk at the times she would normally nurse (and feed it to her in a cup or bottle.)

Patience, gentle mothering, along with lots of skin-to-skin contact should help ease your baby back to your breast.

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