Relactation by mothers of sick and premature infants

Pediatrics. 1981 Apr;67(4):565-9.


Relactation, the induction of lactation at any time beyond the immediate postpartum period, has received minimal scientific investigation. In this study, one adoptive mother and six mothers ten to 150 days postpartum, who for a variety of reasons did not initiate or maintain lactation after delivery, attempted relactation. Each suckled her infant at regular feeding intervals. Prior to milk production, formula was provided during suckling through an artificial device. Serum prolactin responses to thyrotropin-releasing hormone infusion and to suckling were measured at the start of the study and to suckling at approximately weekly intervals thereafter. All mothers produced milk; three completely nourished their infants and two others provided at least half of their infants' nutritional needs. The adoptive mother and one other failed to provide significant quantities of milk. Mothers reached their maximum potential for milk production in varying periods of time (eight to 58 days). Shorter postpartum interval and less postpartum breast involution correlated with the likelihood of successful relactation and the rapidity of the onset of lactation. Basal prolactin levels and stimulation tests were of no additional predictive value. Each mother, regardless of milk production, expressed positive feelings about nurturing her infants in this manner. We conclude that relactation frequently is possible and may offer the mother of a sick or premature infant who desires to breast-feed an alternative if she does not maintain lactation in the immediate postpartum period.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant Food / analysis
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / therapy
  • Infant, Premature
  • Lactation* / drug effects
  • Mothers
  • Postpartum Period*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prolactin / blood
  • Prospective Studies
  • Thyrotropin-Releasing Hormone / blood
  • Thyrotropin-Releasing Hormone / pharmacology


  • Thyrotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Prolactin