There are so many unspoken taboos surrounding pregnancy loss. Even as people are becoming more comfortable discussing miscarriage and stillbirth, there are certain aspects of pregnancy loss that no one talks about. One of those aspects is lactation and breast milk.
Although each one of these FAQs is an extensive topic, which you can learn more about by clicking through, you’ll get an overview of lactation and pregnancy loss here.
Will My Milk Come In?
Not every woman who miscarries will have breast milk come in, but the further along you are in your pregnancy at the time of your loss, the more likely it is you will have some lactation. Although not breastfeeding should help keep your supply of breast milk low, it is still possible to experience leaking, plugged ducts, or engorgement, which can be very painful.
For women whose babies die shortly after birth, lactation can be a very significant and difficult issue. Often, in the first few days of life, women spend hours trying to stimulate milk production. An already established milk supply can be especially difficult to cope with, but it is possible to use some simple techniques to make yourself more comfortable while safely reducing your supply.
- Techniques you can use to treat engorgement, including the use of chilled cabbage leaves
- Different styles of breast pads
Breastfeeding is an emotionally charged issue, even for women with healthy children. If you’d already made the decision to breastfeed when your baby was born still, or if you were already breastfeeding your newborn at the time of his or her death, you may feel like you’ve been robbed of another connection to your baby.
Some women want to do everything they can to stop milk production as quickly as possible, while others enjoy the last physical connection to their baby and are sad to see it go. As with all aspects of grieving, there is no right or wrong answer about what to do.
What Can I Do with the Milk I Already Have?
If you’ve been pumping for a while, you may have a store of milk in your refrigerator or freezer. While it is perfectly acceptable to dispose of it as you would out-of-date milk, some women struggle with the idea of wasting such an important resource.
Donating and selling breast milk are legal, since breast milk is categorized as a food. There are several ways to donate, from the nationally registered milk banks, to person-to-person donations, often set up through the Internet.
There is some controversy over donating breast milk, especially privately. There are concerns about potential infection, and the composition of milk, but it’s an option many women embrace. Several websites and Facebook groups allow women to post their milk for sale or donation.
How Do I Stop My Milk From Coming In?
If you’re trying to prevent a milk supply from ever coming in, the best things to do are:
- wear a supportive bra as much as possible
- avoid stimulating any “let down” or release of milk
If you’re trying to reduce an existing supply, you may need to relieve the pressure of built-up milk through pumping or hand-expression. Start by cutting down the length of your pumping sessions, then reduce the number of sessions until your supply decreases.
Are There Any Medications I Can Take to Stop Producing Milk?
Years ago, doctors used to prescribe a medication called bromocriptine for women who wanted to stop lactation; however, there were a lot of unpleasant side effects. Some women have reported success with B6 vitamins, and the herbal supplement sage tea.
What If I Have Problems?
Women who are trying to suppress milk production can still have problems commonly associated with breastfeeding, like mastitis or plugged ducts. For women who have never breastfed, it is generally advised not to stimulate any let-down reflex, but if you have hard, painful lumps in your breasts (a sign of a plugged duct), massaging them and allowing the milk to come down can be very helpful. If you have any of the signs or symptoms of these problems, contact your doctor or another lactation professional.
There are plenty of resources available for women who need help with breastfeeding issues, from the many kinds of lactation professionals, to La Leche League. Any of these people will be familiar with stopping lactation due to the death of your baby, so don’t hesitate to contact them with questions or concerns.
Varney, H., Kriebs, J., et al. Varney's Midwifery, Fourth Edition. 2003.