Life After Loss: Managing Milk Production After Loss

managing milk

Our bodies treat the birth of our silent children the same as it would a living child. Second trimester miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death brings with it an added trigger of milk production. Typically, 2-7 days after birth, milk production starts and it can not only be a big trigger, but physically painful as well. There are ways to ease the engorgement and transition to drying your milk, or other options that may be a help to your grief.

The Why’s & Hows:

Hormones after a full-term pregnancy are the same after late miscarriage and stillbirth and with that comes the body’s natural hormones and preparations for a newborn. It’s an especially delicate time for those who have just experienced loss as both the trauma, the hormones and the new changes are being thrown at you all at once.

Tips for Comfort:

If you will not be expressing or pumping your milk, it should take about 1-2 weeks to dry up. Initial engorgement may be quite painful but there are some ways you can ease the transition:

  • Ibuprofen can be taken for the pain (please check with your doctor or pharmacist if you are on other medications)
  • Wear a bra that fits — not too tight because that can cause blockage
  • Refrigerated cabbage leaves placed on your breast helps ease the pain
  • Avoid heat as it can stimulate milk letdown and increase milk production
  • Sage tea has  been thought to help inhibit milk production

What To Watch For:

  • Avoid dehydration and make sure you are getting enough water. Limiting your fluids will not help dry out your milk
  • Watch for red, hard and painful areas of your breast, it could indicate a clogged duct.
  • If you develop a fever and painful breasts, see your health care provider.

Other Options:

There are some people who want to find meaning in their loss and may find comfort in being able to donate their breast milk to a baby in need. If you choose to do this, it’s a wonderful gift, but be sure to realize that you do not need to make sense of your loss in this way. It’s a personal choice and decision that some may feel helps them cope and manage their grief.

For information on how and where to donate breast milk, visit Human Milk Banking Association of North America

Photo credit: adapted from Suraya_M | Flickr


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