Relactation: It Was a War, and I Won

By Lisa Bryan

My son was born three weeks early. My head was in a spin. I was a new Mom, with all the doubts and uncertainties that come with the territory. I had an unexpected cesarean section, my baby had a terrible head cold and I couldn’t get a decent latch out of him. I was feeling like a complete failure because I couldn’t deliver a baby naturally and I couldn’t breastfeed.

I got in touch with some breastfeeding moms online who gave me advice and even phoned me to encourage me. I was so overwhelmed that I just couldn’t “hear” what they had to say. I quit breastfeeding. I was sure it would be easier and at the time I just NEEDED easier.

So here I was with my baby on formula at a month old. We hit a new roadblock. He has HORRIBLE colic. I swallowed my pride and went marching right back to the women whose advice I’d shunned weeks earlier. There WAS a powerful force within me to breastfeed. I’d just temporarily stopped recognizing it. With open arms they began to help me through what would be the hardest three weeks of my life. I was going to relactate and get my baby OFF of formula.

This is how I began. I set a date when I would begin the battle and then set out to get everything ready. I built what I affectionately called a war room. In it I had in inflatable mattress, two gallons of water daily, a TV, a CD player, the TV guide, pillows of many shapes and sizes, toys, clothes, easy to grab foods (bananas, apples, pears, mangos, cheese, milk, crackers) and, of course, my lifeline to support : my computer. Anything I needed to eat I didn’t have to fix.

My next step was sitting down with my husband and telling him that this was something I had to do and I was going to do it. If he wanted clean clothes he had to wash them. If he wanted dinner, he had to cook it. If he wanted the house cleaned, he had to clean it. The only thing I was dedicating my time and energy to over the next month was relactating.

So we began. My house was a wreck, the clothes piled up and my husband ate a lot of fast food. None of that mattered. What mattered was getting my baby back to the breast.

When we started, my baby was eating four ounces every three hours of formula. We breastfed every hour on the hour for two solid weeks. I slept when he slept. Even at night every hour on the hour. We never stopped. He nursed for twenty minutes on each breast every hour. Then he got two ounces of formula every three hours with a dropper. I threw away every bottle I had in the house, just discarded them and didn’t look back. No bottles at all. No artificial nipples at all. The women that were helping me were so right on this score. It will not work if you don’t throw out the bottles. They are too big a temptation when you’ve become accustomed to using them and the baby has, too. In the middle of this battle, the temptation would have been too great. Take them to your Mom’s if you think you can’t make yourself throw them away but get all bottles out of the house.

We worked everyday weaning him off the formula. For four days he was at two ounces with a dropper, then we went down to one ounce every three hours and then after three and a half long weeks, he was solely breastfeeding.

It was the hardest three weeks of my life. I don’t regret it for a moment. What I would have regretted was not trying at all.

I used fenugreek and blessed thistle to help boost my supply. Neither of which tasted very good. I used teas and they tasted awful to me. I learned that if you put enough sugar in anything you can stomach it.

I ate in my war room. I slept only one hour at time for about two weeks. I was exhausted. It was very hard, but it is all so worth it now. I have a breastfeeding baby, just as I always knew and dreamed it should be.

If you are a mom reading this and you’re still in the deciding stages of whether to breastfeed or formula feed, please consider how much better breast feeding is than formula. If you think it will tie you down, let me tell you from experience that it’s a lot easier to pick up and go when you’re breastfeeding than it is if you’re formula feeding. You only need yourself to nourish your baby. Just think, when you formula feed you have to pack bottles, warmer, formula, and cold pack. When you breastfeed all you need is YOU.

I got off on the wrong track, but I didn’t stay there. I won’t kid you. Relactation is extremely difficult, but the key is that it is possible. It is more possible than you may realize. It is more possible than anyone in your life may tell you. If you need the support that isn’t available to you, you can find it here online. There are women like Cynthia, Susan, Cherri, and many others that held me up and kept telling me I could do it as many times as I needed to hear it.

If you got off to the wrong start and are looking down at your bottle feeding baby with regret, DO something about it. It’s not too late. Just take charge and do it. You don’t have to wait for another chance. You don’t have to wait until the next baby. Do it now. Get the support you need, get the information you need, and do it now.