Relactation During Emergencies
Relactation is defined as the process of resuming breastfeeding after a period of no breastfeeding or very little breastfeeding. If someone has been delivered a baby, they have experienced the stages of lactation even if they did not breastfeed after birth. In an emergency situation, someone who did not breastfeed or who has weaned may wish to breastfeed. While typically, relactation may take time to see full results, there are abbreviated protocols that can be used in an emergency situation.
Relactation in an emergency involves several components:
The following strategies for relactation and induced lactation to stimulate milk production:
- Putting baby to breast to suck at each feeding and for comfort between feedings as often as possible.
- Using hand expression or a breast pump.
- Using a nursing supplementer to provide expressed milk or breastmilk substitute at the breast while baby sucks at the breast.
- Stopping the use of all bottles and pacifiers
- Optionally, taking herbs/medication that increase milk supply. If you do use herbs or medications to increase your supply, be sure to consult a lactation-focused health care professional about your specific medical history as well as your breastfeeding goals.
Relactation can often be achieved without medications, especially if:
- Relactation is attempted within two months of cessation of nipple stimulation
- The infant is two months old or younger
Relactation can be achieved in older infants, but it may be more difficult to get the baby interested in nursing at the breast.
Other considerations for relactation during an emergency
- Babies benefit from the action and closeness of nursing even when their consumption of milk is limited. Skin-to-skin contact reduces stress in both the nursling and the person inducing lactation.
- Even a little bit of breastmilk is a benefit to your child. It offers nutritional and immunological benefits which are especially important in an emergency situation.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics states, “In situations where the mother’s own milk is not available, the best option is donor human milk. While pasteurized donor milk from a regulated milk bank is preferred, it is often not available during a disaster. If formula is given, recommend ready-to-feed standard formula. Use concentrated or powdered formula only if bottled or boiled water is available.”
The AAP continues, “For some mothers and babies, once breastfeeding has stopped, it may be resumed successfully.
- Encourage skin-to-skin contact and frequent suckling (every 2 hours).
- Supply increases gradually over days to weeks and supplementation should decrease accordingly.
- Careful assessment of the infant’s nutritional and hydration status is critical.
- A full milk supply is established more rapidly with the younger infant.
- Mothers need encouragement during this process.”
Do you have questions about relactation? Your local LLL Leader can help.
For our more detailed article on Induced Lactation and Relactation, click here.
Infant Feeding in Disasters and Emergencies, American Academy of Pediatrics
Breastfeeding in an Emergency, LLL USA
Milk Donation and Milk Sharing, LLL USA
Is my baby getting enough milk?, LLL USA
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Medical questions and legal questions should be directed to appropriate health care and legal professionals.
Page updated March 2020