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Relactation and induced lactation

Whether you have breastfed before or not, you can build a milk supply for your child.

adopted baby

Most people think about breastfeeding as something that only occurs after a woman has given birth. However, lactation (the process of making breastmilk) can work in other situations too. 

It is possible to start making milk again after weaning or to make milk even if you have never given birth or been pregnant. 

There are two terms that may apply when bringing in a milk supply: 

  • Inducing lactation is the process of building up a milk supply if you have never given birth or been pregnant. 

  • Relactation occurs when you re-start a milk supply at any time after having been pregnant. You can relactate for a baby you have given birth to or for another baby. 

In both situations, your breast tissue starts from a non-lactating state and needs to be stimulated to make milk. If you have been pregnant (or have fed a baby before) you may find it easier to make milk than if you haven’t, because pregnancy changes your breasts. However, this is not always the case. 

Reasons to relactate or induce lactation

  • You weaned earlier than you wanted to. 

  • Your baby is not doing well on formula. 

  • Your child is sick and breastmilk would provide immune protective factors to help them get better.

  • You are a family member (eg aunt or grandmother) and need to care for a baby or child. 

  • You want to provide breastmilk for a sick relative or friend. 

  • You are adopting a child. 

  • You are in a same-sex relationship and are the non-birthing parent.  

  • You are a trans-gender person but have not given birth to your baby. 

  • Your baby is being born to a surrogate mother. 

Will my baby know what to do?

The simplest way to bring in a milk supply is through a baby sucking at the breast. How successful you are at getting this to happen may depend on: 

  • the age of your baby or child. If your baby is newborn, you are learning together and your baby has instincts which help them to attach.  

  • whether your baby has breastfed before. A baby who ‘knows how’ may not take long to ‘remember’. 

  • if you are relactating, how long it has been since you stopped breastfeeding. If you recently weaned, your breasts will more quickly relactate. If you have not breastfed for some time, your breasts will need time to re-build milk-making tissue but they know how to make milk and you know how to breastfeed! 

  • the reason why you may have weaned. If you had breastfeeding challenges, you may need extra assistance to work through those issues.  

  • your level of support, knowledge about how breastfeeding works and time you have to express and feed your baby.  

If you’d like to bring in your milk supply, you can start expressing.

If your breasts have started making milk and you have your baby with you, you can try putting them to your breast


© Australian Breastfeeding Association April 2022

Read more about relactation and induced lactation

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