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Lactation after Loss: What Bereaved Mothers Should Know

Losing a child through miscarriage, stillbirth or after they are born is incredibly difficult – especially when you are producing breast milk. In this post, you will learn several ways to either suppress your milk from fully coming in or drying up your milk supply after loss.

stopping milk after stillborn baby

Losing a baby – either before or after they are born – can feel insurmountable. 

It can feel cruel that the lactation process continues after a loss.

Unfortunately, after the placenta is delivered, your body assumes that you have an infant to feed. If you lost your child after breastfeeding has been established, your body doesn’t realize that. 

Knowing how to approach breastfeeding and your milk supply after the loss of your child can help you to manage any physical pain. Working with an IBCLC who has experience with loss can be really helpful as well.

There are a few different ways to deal with lactation after the loss of a child. There is no right answer for everyone, and it’s important for you to consider your mental health as you go through this process. Sudden weaning can lead to post-weaning depression, which may contribute even more to the grief you are already feeling.

How to Stop Milk Supply After Loss

After a Pregnancy Loss or Stillbirth 

Because the process of milk production is hormonally driven, you will more than likely experience your milk coming in during the first few days after your loss. You may experience leaking of milk, fullness or engorgement, and discomfort.

If your loss is after twenty weeks, you will likely experience some milk coming in, however, it’s still possible that you may go through this with a loss before 20 weeks as well.

Unfortunately there really aren’t any approved medical interventions that will stop lactation from occurring at all. There are comfort measures, however, to try to help ease the discomfort. 

Doing these things will likely help to suppress or stop your milk from fully coming in. Make sure you work with your medical provider and a lactation professional to help you feel as comfortable as possible.

  • Wear a firm, well fitted sports bra
  • Apply ice packs (heat can increase milk flow)
  • Place frozen or cooled cabbage leaves in your bra
  • Drink sage or peppermint tea, or even a “No More Milk Tea” from Earth Mama Organics.
  • Manage any pain or discomfort with pain medications like ibuprofen 
  • Take an over-the-counter decongestant 

Limit how much milk is removed – you may need to do some milk removal to prevent discomfort. However, keep in mind that the more milk you exprses, the more your body will think you need to make milk

I would avoid expressing milk unless you are really feeling uncomfortable or engorged. If you do need to express, try hand expressing versus a pump. 

Stopping Breastfeeding After an Infant Loss

If you lost your child sometime during infancy or while breastfeeding, it may take longer to dry up your milk and stop lactating, especially if you have an established milk supply.

Because loss during infancy is often sudden, you may go from nursing or pumping around the clock to not at all. 

In the beginning, you want to manage the discomfort and risk of getting clogged ducts or mastitis – that is the last thing you want to deal with in the midst of your grief.

At first, you will want to express milk on the same schedule you were on before the loss of your child. You will likely need a breast pump to this, though you may try hand expression.

As soon as you feel ready, you can start the weaning process. You will want to decrease the amount of time you are pumping at each session or try and lengthen the time between pumps. This process might look different for everyone.

As you start the weaning process, you can use the advice I shared above. To help dry up your milk supply more quickly, I recommend reading this article – How to Dry Up Milk Supply Quickly.

Handling Emotions

You are likely going through many different emotions at this time and stopping hte process of lactation can heighten those even more. It’s so important to find support for your mental health during this time – whether it’s through a grief counselor, a support group, or through family and friends – take care of yourself.

It’s okay to feel sad or even angry when you produce milk. Write down your feelings and don’t be afraid to share them with someone else if you feel that would be helpful.

Milk Donation

For many mothers, stopping lactation as soon as possible is what is best for them. However, there are some mothers who want to continue to express breast milk to donate. 

There is no right answer for any mom when it comes to milk donation and pregnancy loss. It can be a painful reminder of what you’ve lost, or it can be a way for you to share your baby’s memory. 

If you have decided that you would like to express breast milk for donation, there are different options – you might be able to donate milk to a milk bank or participate in mom to mom sharing with individuals in your community. This article has a lot of information on milk donation that might be helpful.

You should not feel any pressure or guilt when it comes to this. If you decide it’s too hard, you absolutely do not have to continue to donate breast milk. The most important thing is to protect yourself and do whatever you feel most comfortable with.

If you are going through a loss, my heart goes out to you. Please know there are people who want to help and support you through this time – you don’t have to do this on your own. Please feel free to reach out to me if you need anything – I do offer lactation consults for those who feel they need extra help when it comes to lactation after loss.

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