Lactation After Loss
Our hearts go out to you as you grieve your loss. Losing your baby is one of the most devastating experiences a parent can have. You may be surprised, and perhaps dismayed, to find that your body is making milk for a baby who no longer can benefit from it. Although it is the normal physiological process that occurs after a pregnancy, it can seem unfair and an impediment to grieving. Each parent, each family, each situation is unique. For some parents, ending the milk production is important, as not every person can or may even wish to donate their milk after such a shattering loss. For others, donating milk can be a special way to honor their baby as well as to help others, and many people have found that donating helps with their grief. Milk donation is not a choice that fits for every family. We honor your decision and respect that you are the expert on your family and know your situation best. LLL Leaders are able to assist you with whatever you choose. Information to help you make the best decision for you and your family is included here.
In the first few days following delivery, your body will begin to transition to producing mature milk. This is commonly referred to as milk “coming in.” Historically, parents were given an injection that would stop the lactation process. Healthcare providers no longer offer these medications because of the health risks that are now known. If you would like to stop the process of lactation, you can work on lactation suppression through a gentler process for your body.
As milk begins to fill your breasts, it can lead to engorgement. Some ideas for comfort during the milk suppression process include:
- Hand express or pump just enough milk to feel less engorged. Expressing for long periods of time will encourage milk production.
- Stand in a warm shower or sit in a warm bath. The warm water running over your back or surrounding the breasts can cause milk to letdown and decrease engorgement. (Note: Warmth can increase swelling and inflammation; use heat for only a few minutes at a time.)
- Use ice or cold packs to reduce engorgement swelling and pain.
- Take Ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help decrease pain and discomfort.
- Some parents have found that regularly drinking sage or peppermint tea decreases their milk production.
- Some parents have found that placing raw cabbage leaves in their bra against their breasts to be both cooling and soothing. (If you are allergic to cabbage, please check with your physician before trying this technique.)
- Note: Binding breasts is no longer recommended and can lead to painful plugged ducts.
Be on the lookout for signs of mastitis which may include fever, body aches, redness or pain in the breasts. If you experience any symptoms, reach out to your healthcare provider. Be aware that breasts continue to produce small amounts of milk for weeks, months, or longer. Avoid nipple stimulation, as this may cause a small supply of milk to continue.
Milk Donation After Loss
A local hospital, a nearby milk bank, or a lactation support provider may be able to help you find a way to donate your milk. Some hospitals have established perinatal bereavement programs that facilitate milk donation after the loss of a baby. For example, in California, the Mothers’ Milk Bank, which is part of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), offers bereavement support while assisting parents like you to gain some measure of comfort by sharing their milk with other babies. The Advocate Lutheran General Children’s Hospital in Illinois also supports grieving parents in breast milk donation. If you are not located in California or Illinois, ask your NICU staff or contact the nearest milk bank to enquire about this possibility. Check Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) for links to find other milk banks that may be near you. For more ways to donate, find info on our Milk Sharing and Donation page.
Lactation After Loss Resources
Lactation Suppression, KellyMom
Personal Stories of Lactation After Loss
Feeding Charlie’s Memory, LLL USA blog
How donating breast milk helped me heal and nourished babies in need, Dallas Morning News
IS YOUR CONCERN OR QUESTION NOT COVERED HERE?
Please contact a local LLL Leader with your specific questions.
Medical questions and legal questions should be directed to appropriate health care and legal professionals.
Page updated January 2020