Relactation after menopause: Is it possible?
Even if a mother is menopausal, due to surgical removal of her reproductive organs or because of age, she can still bring her milk back.
Talk to any woman in menopause and you'll likely hear her complain about hot flashes and constant weight gain. And if she has a baby in this condition (either by adoption or accidentally) then relactation after menopause might seem impossible.
"How will she breastfeed a baby with so much weight and constant hot flashes?" you might ask.
But it's actually quite possible. Even after menopause, a woman can breastfeed with ease.
Relactation after menopause: All you need to know
If a mother is menopausal because of age, or due to surgical removal of her reproductive organs, she can still bring her milk back.
A woman doesn't need ovaries or a uterus to breastfeed. All she needs are functioning breasts and pituitary glands.
After menopause, this is done through the process of relactation.
What is relactation?
Relactation is the process of rebuilding milk supply. Through relactation, a woman can breastfeed again after a gap of a few days, months or even years.
Typically, a mother who is trying to get her baby back to the breast should pump, have skin-to-skin contact with her baby, or switch from bottle to breast. These techniques kickstart the breastfeeding process, increase breast milk supply, and help you produce milk for an adopted baby. Relactation after menopause is possible!
What are the benefits of relactation?
As with breastfeeding, relactation is not just a boon for your baby. It is also beneficial for you.
- Protection for babies. Breastmilk contains antibodies which protect your little one from diarrhoea, colds and sinus and ear infections and other allergies. In addition, immunoglobulins like IgA and anti-infective properties are passed on to the baby through breast milk.
- Brain development. A 2013 study by the Brown University proved that breastfeeding is beneficial for an infant's brain development.
"By age 2, babies who had been breastfed exclusively for at least three months had enhanced development in key parts of the brain compared to children who were fed formula exclusively or who were fed a combination of formula and breast milk," the research stated.
- Breastmilk is liquid gold. Breastmilk is light, and therefore, it is more easily digested than infant formula. A breastfed infant is rarely constipated. Breastmilk is also known to increase a baby’s IQ. DHA ( (docosahexaenoic acid) and other substances found in breastmilk are important for the neurological development of babies.
- Keeps illnesses at bay. One long-term breastfeeding benefit is that it keeps the mother away from breast and ovarian cancer.
- Keeps baby blues away. Breastfeeding produces two hormones. The prolactin hormone keeps baby blues at bay. Meanwhile, the oxytocin hormone helps the uterus to contract, and yes it helps you to burn calories too.
- Helps in weight loss. A lactating mother uses about 500 calories (roughly equivalent to one extra meal) every day. This helps her make 750 ml of breast milk. Also, breastfeeding helps the uterus (that grows enormously during pregnancy) to shrink at a faster rate.
How much milk should I produce when I relactate after menopause?
The amount of milk you produce will depend on your overall health and strength.
Typically, babies feed on demand. So on average, a newborn can consume 45-90 milliliters of milk every two to three hours. After two months, the quantity increases to 120-150 milliliters and the feeding window increases to three to four hours.
At four months your baby can consume 120-180 milliliters and at six months, he can consume 180-230 milliliters every four to five hours.
We at theAsianparent spoke to Kanchan Naikawadi, preventive healthcare specialist, Indus Health Plus, Pune, to understand this crucial information about breastfeeding.
"Initially, a newborn baby should be fed every 1.5 to 3 hours. Once the baby starts to gain weight, the feeding interval can change to once in every 3 to 4 hours. You need to keep in mind that the little ones should be woken up for nursing," briefs Naikawadi.
She adds, "The newborns usually stay up at night and sleep during daytime; hence, the feeding times could change. As a rule, during the initial few weeks, breastfeeding should be 8 to 12 times in a day."
|Weight of the baby (in kg)||Breast milk required (ml)|
What kind of milk should I expect when I relactate after menopause?
You will notice that the arrival of milk on using the pumping method will have a particular pattern.
It will begin with clear drops that turn opaque and white. Eventually, drops will be followed by milk spray. Finally, you will manage to get a steady stream of breast milk.
Now, remember that it may take a few days or even one or two weeks for the mother’s milk to come in. But be patient. Each of us is different.
What are the methods of relactation after menopause?
To begin the process of relactation, a mother must employ a few basic techniques at home. These common methods, as discussed previously in this article are used across the globe and are proven effective at any age.
- Hand express or pump. In this method, you hand express about eight to 12 times per day. You can do this for a minimum of 20 minutes each time.
This method will stimulate prolactin, which is the primary hormone for milk production. To speed up the process (and for more efficient drainage), you can also use a breast pump.
- Skin-to-skin contact. Make skin-to-skin contact with your baby. It will stimulate his natural feeding reflexes.
You can also try bathing together and keeping your baby in between your breasts (just as you did when he was born). Carry your baby in a sling to keep him close, or sleep near him.
- Avoid using bottles. Instead of the bottle, you can try finger feeding. In this method, you use a thin pipe to feed while letting the baby suck on a finger simultaneously. You can also try the cup feeding technique. This will break your baby’s dependency on artificial means.
- Avoid using pacifiers. Encourage your baby to stay away from a pacifier. Instead, use skin-to-skin contact and suckling to pacify him. This will encourage a good latch on the breast and make feeding easier.
Also, keeping him in a sling, especially when you are in the house allows easy access to the breast. This way his dependency on the teat will automatically increase.
- Try the sleeping baby latch. A baby can latch on while still asleep. So bring him close to your full breast and let him suckle. It’s better if you initiate a let down (of milk) beforehand by hand expressing.
- Switch from bottle to breast. A smart way to get your baby back on the breast is to try the bottle to breast relactation technique. When your baby is feeding with a bottle and it is half full, replace it with your breast. It is possible that your baby rejects it initially. But don't worry, he will latch on slowly.
- Try changing your breastfeeding position. Try new positions to help your baby latch on quickly. Laid back postures are a good way to begin. You can try side lying, which is feeding as you lay on your side with your baby’s mouth facing the nipple. You can also try cross cradle and hold your breast as your baby nurses.
What are the ways of relactation after menopause?
As far as relactation after menopause is concerned, the same methods work. However, you will be suggested a few therapies before you begin these methods at home.
- Hormone therapy. The first step would be to stop hormone replacement and keep menopausal symptoms at bay. So for the first 60 days (before relactation) you might be given Domperidone, Microgestin or Ortho 1/35.
These medicines will keep menopausal symptoms at bay and deliver significant breast changes. Your breast size may increase by one. Breasts may also become painful, full and heavy.
- Begin pumping. Once the hormone therapy ends, you will have to start pumping using an electric breast pump. A manual breast pump may not be up for the job. You will be recommended to pump every three hours and even during night.
Pump for 5-6 minutes on a low or medium setting on the pump. Follow it up with a breast massage, maybe even a tickle and jiggle. Pump for 5-7 minutes again. This entire process should take 15 minutes.
- Include breastmilk boosters. Next, you should include galactagogues or breast milk boosters in your diet. These help maintain and increase milk supply, especially if the baby demands milk and you are unable to provide the necessary amount.
How do I monitor my progress in relactation after menopause?
Apart from physical changes in your breast, you may also notice a few visible signs of relactation. So keep an eye on the following:
- A darker coloured areolae (the pigmented area around your nipple)
- Increase in the size of your areolae (usually by diameter)
- Your nipples will become wider
- Your breast size will increase by as much as one or two cups
- You will be able to see more dominant blood vessels right below the surface of your breasts' skin
- You may express fluid from your nipples
- Pain or tingling in your breasts may occur
Once you notice these changes, you should be assured that your hard work is bearing fruit. You may now be in the process of starting breast milk production. However, you may still need some help.
This is where breast milk boosters come into play.
How should I keep my milk supply up?
There are many breastmilk boosters you can include in your diet to ensure that your supply is at its best. The following will certainly help when you are working towards relactation after menopause as well:
- Fenugreek seeds (methi). This is also available as tea. It’s commonly used by Indian mums to increase breastmilk supply.
- Tumeric or haldi powder and turi leaves (both can be bought at Tekka market).
- Dates and Chinese herbs including Dang Gui also improve your milk supply.
- Malunggay is a common Filipino galactagogue and Filipina mums swear by it. You can find it in speciality Filipino stores in Singapore.
- Fish head soup as well as fish maw soup in your diet is also helpful. You can also have pig trotter soup.
- Include nuts like almonds, walnuts and dried figs in your diet. Also try lactation cookies with at least one of these ingredients: rolled oats, brewers yeast, flaxseeds, or fenugreek.
- Drink a minimum of 6-8 glasses of water a day.
- Green papaya.
- Avoid drinks with caffeine because they cause rapid excretion of fluids from the body.
After trying all these methods, if you are able to produce milk easily, then congratulations! Your hard work has paid off.
What if my menopausal symptoms come back?
However, if you notice menopausal symptoms reoccurring, then you can try adding more soya to your diet. Yes, you read that right. Soya based products such as soya milk and soya butter contain the hormone phytoestrogens.
This hormone essentially keeps those hot flashes away. Keep in mind that intake of soya must be done in moderation because they can reduce the breast milk supply.
Our suggestion is that if you notice any menopausal symptoms, head straight to your health care provider so they can recommend medication to help suppress the symptoms while maintaining your milk supply.
Other than that, we hope you enjoy this new phase in your life and experience the closeness and love that breastfeeding can provide.