Corporate Lactation Services (CLS) would like to extend our deepest condolences to you with the loss of your baby. This is a difficult time and we want to share some ideas for coping with the possible changes you may experience in relation to lactation. Our goal is to provide information about the breast changes that may occur, how to manage this transition and to provide any support needed.
WHAT YOU MAY EXPERIENCE
Your first days and weeks at home without your baby in your arms will be extremely difficult. One of the most challenging times for many bereaved mothers is when their milk comes in. Sometimes this comes as a surprise and filled with a lot of emotion.
Throughout your pregnancy, your breasts have been preparing to feed your baby. When your baby dies, your body will not know that the milk is not needed. After delivery, you will notice a thick, yellowish substance called colostrum. During this time, your breasts may continue to feel soft. It is usually on the second or third day that your milk will begin to come in. This is when your breasts may feel full and uncomfortable.
When your milk comes in, you will feel fullness from the increasing amount of milk as well as swelling of the breast tissue during the process. The combination of the fullness and swelling may be physically uncomfortable. Mothers often also deal with a variety of emotions during this time. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Our CLS Lactation Consultants are here to help you with these aspects of this difficult time. Below you will find some suggestions for finding physical comfort.
HOW YOU CAN HELP YOUR BODY TO STOP MAKING MILK
In the past, mothers were told to wear a very tight bra or bind their breasts to stop milk production. We do not recommend this as it can be very painful and can lead to a breast infection. Wearing a supportive bra that is not restrictive, such as a sports bra, is often the most comfortable.
When your breasts feel painful from the pressure of the milk, there are some things you can do:
- Express just enough milk, by hand or with a breast pump to make yourself feel more comfortable. Avoid “emptying” breasts as this will tell your body to keep making milk.
- To hand express, hold your breast with your fingers a few inches back from the darkened area (areola). Push your fingers back toward your chest wall, then roll your fingers forward toward the nipple. Sometimes it takes a few tries and repositioning hands to get the hang of it. Move your fingers around your areola to soften different areas of your breast.
- A video (in Norwegian and English) that shows this technique can be found at: https://ammehjelpen.no/handmelking?id=907
- If you are having difficulty releasing your milk, it may help to allow warm water to run on your breasts or sit in a warm bath to stimulate release of your milk. Generally, avoiding this stimulation is helpful in decreasing your supply but sometimes is necessary for temporary relief.
- A remedy that many mothers have found helpful for the swelling and to help dry up the milk is the use of green cabbage leaves. Wash cold, raw cabbage leaves and crush the leaf veins and wear inside your bra. Change out the leaf every 2 – 3 hours as they wilt.
- Cold compresses such as frozen peas/corn in a damp cloth on painful areas for 20 minutes at a time can reduce inflammation and help reduce milk production.
- Take Tylenol or Ibuprofen for pain relief as directed if it is generally safe you to take these medications.
- Be sure to drink to thirst; limiting fluids will not help with the swelling but lowering salt intake might.
- Herbs that have been used to decrease milk supply are sage tea, peppermint and parsley. As always, discuss taking herbs with your medical provider.
- If milk production continues despite measures to stop, you may want to contact your primary healthcare provider to discuss medication use for lactation suppression. Over the counter antihistamines with pseudoephedrine and hormonal contraceptives with estrogen can be helpful.
- Signs of a blocked milk duct are tender, painful lumps that do not improve with release of milk. Contact your lactation consultant or midwife for assistance to clear.
- Signs of a breast infection (mastitis) are a tender, reddened area along with a fever or chills. Contact your midwife or Primary Healthcare provider to evaluate the need for antibiotics.
- If you have an established milk production with pumping or nursing your baby before he or she died, you will need to continue pumping and decrease slowly in a weaning pattern. It is ideal to adjust your schedule so that over time you pump less and less. A sample schedule might be to go from pumping 6 times a day to 5 times a day. Give your body a few days to adjust and then go to pumping 4 times a day. Continue to this process until you are no longer pumping. Allow your body to guide how quickly you can wean.
Please contact your CLS lactation consultant to develop a gradual, safe plan to avoid plugged ducts and mastitis. If you have a supply of frozen milk, you can see below if interested in donating your breastmilk.
DONATING YOUR MILK CAN BE HEALING
As mentioned above, if you have been pumping your breastmilk, it is possible to donate to the milk bank. Some mothers find comfort in the idea of their baby’s milk helping an ill or premature baby.
To begin the donation process, visit the website of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America at: www.hmbana.org
Becoming a milk donor involves a screening process. When you start the process, be sure to indicate that you have experienced a loss of your baby. In this case, they will waive the minimum donation amount of milk.
SUPPORT THROUGH CORPORATE LACTATION SERVICES
We are here to help you develop a customized plan. Call your lactation consultant at 888-818- 5653 For any lactation concerns
RESOURCES AND REFERENCES
First Candle – www.firstcandle.org/bereavement
Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss –www. nationalshare.org/share-chapter/
Book – Grieving Dads by Kelly Farley – https://grievingdads.com/
Lauwers, J., Swisher, A. Counseling the Nursing Mother:A Lactation Consultant’s Guide, 6 th ed. Burlington, MA:Jones & Bartlett Learning:2016.
Thompson, L. When a Mother Experiences Infant Loss; Leader Today – A La Leche International Journal for Leaders http://leadertoday.breastfeedingtoday-llli.org/when-a-mother-experiences-infant-loss/
Hale, T.W., & Hartmann, P. E. Textbook of Human Lactation, 1 st ed. Amarillo, TX: Hale Publishing: 2007.