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Coping with Lactation after Stillbirth and Infant Loss

Coping with Lactation after Stillbirth and Infant LossIt’s really painful to lose a pregnancy after all hopes and aspiration especially when you have carried the baby in the womb for nine months and laboured to push out just to realise that the baby is dead. It’s disheartening, and a terrible experience especially for the mother and considering the long term effect it could have on your body due to hormonal changes. Another issue to consider is: What happens to the breast milk after a still birth?

Losing a baby any time after 16-18 weeks of gestation may lead to breast milk “coming in” as the arrival of milk is driven by the drop in hormones irrespective of whether a mother planned to breastfeed or not. A mother may not have anticipated this and may find it very upsetting. While some mothers will want to stop lactation after stillbirth, miscarriage or loss of a baby as quickly as possible, others may take comfort in pumping and donating their breast milk.

Stopping milk production after stillbirth

The key to stopping breast milk production is to express just enough milk to stay comfortable. This will avoid severe engorgement (breasts painfully full of milk and tender) and reduce the risk of mastitis (infection of the breast tissue that results in breast pain, swelling, warmth and redness).

Cold compresses (e.g. frozen peas in a damp cloth or chilled cabbage leaves) against painful areas of the breast for 20 minutes at a time can reduce inflammation and help reduce milk production.

It’s advisable to ‘bind’ the breasts with tight cloths or wear a very tight bra, ignoring sore tender breasts without expressing discomfort can lead to breasts becoming engorged. If engorgement is ignored it can lead to painful blocked ducts or mastitis (‘milk fever’) which could lead to an abscess.

Herbs to dry up breast milk

Kelly Bonyata, an international board certified lactation consultant has written an article that discusses how sage, peppermint, parsley and other herbs are used to help reduce milk supply. She also discusses the use of green cabbage leaves around the breast, wearing jasmine flowers, hormonal birth control pills and certain decongestant medication.

Drugs to dry up breast milk

Years ago it was commonplace to use drugs to dry up breast milk. These drugs interfered with prolactin secretion (one of the hormones needed for producing milk). This type of drug had some undesirable side effects namely gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and neurological side effects. For further information about using drugs to dry up breast milk, consult with your doctor.

Donating breast milk after loss

This is one of the most reliable ways of helping to stop breast milk. As long as a mother keeps pumping, she will keep making milk. When she decides to stop donating milk, she can gradually pump less often and for shorter pumping times over a period of a couple of weeks. In this way her breasts will adjust naturally so that the production of breast milk can come to a gradual end without engorgement. If a mother is interested in pumping and donating breast milk, she can go to her nearest milk bank.

Victoria Haruna

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