When Is It Too Late To Start Breastfeeding?


There could be numerous reasons why some mothers might stop breastfeeding or not feed a child after birth. It could be due to some lifestyle issues, post-partum depression, other ailments, use of medications, and much more.

However, in many cases, such issues are temporary. Thus, many mothers would like to start breastfeeding again.

The answer to the primary question is that it is never too late to start breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is not just about providing a child with essential nutrients. It contains many bioactive compounds promoting healthy growth. Even more importantly, it provides passive immunity to a child.

During pregnancy, a child gets antibodies from a mother. However, after birth, the level of these antibodies starts falling quickly. Regretfully, the young immune system requires considerable time and training to start producing an adequate number of immune cells.

However, mother’s milk may help provide passive immunity, and it may even have a role in training the developing immune system [1].

However, there could be another kind of challenge when planning to start breastfeeding late. If mothers do not feed a child for some time, the body gets a signal via negative feedback to stop producing milk. In most cases, milk production would fall considerably after a few weeks without breastfeeding.

There is no hard and fast rule regarding how much milk production would fall and at what pace. There are considerable individual differences. Nevertheless, it would fall in most cases.

Thus, women planning to start breastfeeding at a later time or breastfeeding again may take specific steps like:

  • Stimulate milk production by frequently pumping. If the milk is regularly pumped from the breast, the body will try to meet the increased demand by further boosting milk production. On the contrary, not pumping will send a signal to stop milk production gradually.
  • Making lifestyle changes like a nutrient-rich diet, stress management, ample sleep may help maintain milk production.
  • Increased fluid intake may also help support milk production.
  • Avoid having a gap of more than six months. It is perhaps the single most vital factor. The longer the interval, the more difficult it is going to start breastfeeding.
  • Be determined to breastfeed. Not everything is understood by science. Motherly instincts are pretty powerful. Thus, having a strong wish and determination to breastfeed may work like magic in many cases.

It is vital to understand that it is never too late to start breastfeeding. Moreover, some studies suggest that milk composition changes a bit according to the time of the day and age of the baby to promote healthy growth. Though these changes may be subtle, they are nevertheless vital [2].

However, reduced mild supply could be a challenge when trying to breastfeed after a few months. In some cases, lactation may stop entirely within a few months.

To boost milk production, one may use natural galactagogues. Traditionally, women have used certain types of diets and herbs to increase milk production. Such approaches may vary from country to country. Although most such practices are not studied in clinical trials, they appear to help in many cases.

Further, it is worth understanding that there are some medical options. There are some safe medications known to boost milk production. One may use pharmacological treatment along with natural remedies to increase milk production [3].

How long can re-lactation take?

Those planning to start breastfeeding late for various reasons would often like to know how long it would take to re-lactate.

There is no hard and fast rule here. There are just massive individual differences. Nevertheless, most women would require a few weeks to start producing milk in adequate amounts. In some cases, it may take quite a long time.

In some cases, low milk production may remain a constant problem. In such a case, breastfeeding can be combined with bottle-feeding. However, it is vital to understand that even partial breastfeeding is quite suitable for a child’s health.

It is essential not to be overly worried about it. Stress is not going to help. On the contrary, it is only going to make things worse.

Further, it is vital to understand that breastfeeding is not just about nutrition or milk. It is also about forming an emotional bond with a child. It is even about reducing the risk of allergies, autoimmune disorders, infections in a child. There are even certain health benefits of breastfeeding for mothers. Moreover, not all the benefits of breastfeeding are understood by science.

To sum up, it is never too late to start breastfeeding. Be it after some gap, or it is about beginning to breastfeed after several months of childbirth. The benefits of breastfeeding are numerous, some are understood by science, and others remain a mystery.

It is vital to remember that there is a reason why all mammals breastfeed their young ones. Dolphins and whales might not have external nipples, but even they also breastfeed their young ones. It simply shows how nature has made mammals.

However, humans differ in the way that their children require prolonged nursing. They need care even when they are quite grown up. It is because humans are the most complex among mammals. The human body grows at a slower pace. Humans differ sexually, reproductively, emotionally, and most vitally in intelligence.

Thus, breastfeeding is not only about helping a child in physical growth. It has many hidden or lesser-known benefits.

Those looking to introduce their child to breastfeeding or reintroduce after a gap would need to put in some extra effort. Here the patience is the key.

It is vital to stay relaxed, not worry too much, have a healthy diet, ample sleep, and drink lots of water. In most cases, nature will find its way, and lactation will become normal within a few weeks.

References

  1. Simon AK, Hollander GA, McMichael A. Evolution of the immune system in humans from infancy to old age. Proc Biol Sci. 2015;282(1821):20143085. doi:10.1098/rspb.2014.3085
  2. Why is Breastfeeding Important for your Baby? Accessed December 18, 2021. https://www.health.ny.gov/prevention/nutrition/wic/breastfeeding/importance.htm
  3. Gabay MP. Galactogogues: Medications That Induce Lactation. J Hum Lact. 2002;18(3):274-279. doi:10.1177/089033440201800311
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