Breastfeeding And Infant Loss: Best Practices for Lactation Control

There is hope for you after infant loss with lactation decisions

Losing a baby is described as a major life event. It is a sad phenomena that has been lurking our societies for many years. This post is to address this issue and also give you some practical ways of coping, as you suppress your milk supply and come to terms with why you need to do this. We hope that it will answer some of your questions along the way.

Losing a baby is never easy and I would personally like to say I am so sorry for what you are going or had to go through as a result of it. I pray God continue to strengthen and keep you always. Some women can experience leaking breasts after 16-18 weeks of losing their baby . with breast milk coming in to the breasts a few days later.

This is because the arrival of milk is driven by the drop in hormones following the delivery of the placenta—irrespective of whether a mother planned to breastfeed or not. A mother may not have anticipated the presence of breast milk and may find it very upsetting. While some mothers will want to stop lactation as soon as possible after stillbirth, miscarriage or loss of a baby, others may take comfort in pumping and donating breast milk. However your body responds, it is helpful if you, and those around you, understand how to manage the physical and emotional challenges that this can bring.

Here is a list of things you can do to make lactation easier and more comfortable for you:

Express Enough to Stay Comfortable: Wear a Well Fitted Bra

Your bra should be comfortable with no wiring!

For most bereaved mothers, when their milk comes in, they begin the very difficult process of helping their body to stop producing milk. You may be surprised by the sudden engorgement you will feel when your milk comes in, and how quickly you may become physically uncomfortable. In the past, mothers were told to wear a very tight bra, or bind their breasts to help to cease milk production. I do not recommend this
practice, as it can be very painful, can lead to infection, and does not substantially affect the decrease in milk production. We recommend
wearing a bra that is supportive but does not restrict your circulation. (PAID LINK)

Make Good Use Of Your Shower

Showering is a great tool to express milk to comfort
  • Stand in a hot shower and let the water run over your breasts. This can stimulate some milk release and help you to feel less full. Sit in a warm bath and lean into the water. This will allow some milk to leak out. Express just enough milk, by hand or with abreast pump, to make yourself feel more comfortable. To hand express, hold your breast with your fingers a few inches back from the areola. Push your hand back toward
    the chest wall, then roll your fingers forward toward the nipple, taking care not to slide yourfingers over the skin. Wear a comfortable but supportive bra that does not restrict your circulation.
  • Use breast pads to soak up any leaking milk. Change them as they become wet.
  • Relieve pain and swelling by putting cold/gel packs in your bra, or use cold compresses after a shower or bath.
  • Cold cabbage leaves worn inside the bra can also be soothing. Wash and dry the leaves before use and cut out any large, bumpy veins. Keep them in the fridge as they need to be cold. Change the leaves every 2 hours or when they become limp. Continue using the leaves until the breasts stop feeling overfull. Cold compresses (e.g. frozen peas in a damp cloth or chilled cabbage leaves) held against painful areas of the breast for twenty minutes at a time can reduce any pain or inflammation. There is some evidence that cabbage leaves may be better than cool gel packs for reducing engorgement1.
  • Be gentle with your breasts:
  • Handle your breasts very gently as they can bruise easily.
  • Whenever your breasts feel too full, express a little milk. Express only enough to make you comfortable.
  • Use your prescribed pain killers:
  • Mild painkiller medications may help relieve pain. Your doctor will be able to advise you about this.
  • Stay hydrated:
  • Drink when you are thirsty. Cutting down fluids will not help reduce your milk supply.
  • Rest when you feel like:
  • For the first few days you may be uncomfortable lying in bed because your breasts are so full. Try lying on your back or on one side with an extra pillow supporting your breasts. If you like to lie on your front, place a pillow under your hips and stomach to ease the pressure on your breasts. Place a soft towel or cloth nappy across your breasts to soak up any leaking milk.
  • Discuss with your doctor drugs to help suppress your milk:
  • There are some prescribed drugs that have been used to suppress lactation. Talk over the pros and cons of using lactation suppression drugs with your doctor before making a decision about whether they are necessary in your case.

Use Sage And Other Herbs To Help Suppress Milk Production

Sage: Effective for Reducing Milk Supply

This is best used only if you are in the process of weaning, though it may also be used in extreme cases of oversupply when the usual measures are not effective. Be careful with this if you are not in the weaning process! Don’t overdo it once you’re seeing some results.

To use dried sage (Salvia officinalis) for reducing milk supply, take 1/4 teaspoon of sage 3x per day for 1-3 days. You can mix the sage in vegetable juice (for example, V-8), but it won’t mix well into other juices. You can also mix it into other foods or a broth. If you don’t like the taste of sage, try putting it into a tiny piece of sandwich and swallowing it whole – peanut butter or something else a bit sticky seems to work best for holding the sage in place. Tear off the corner of the sandwich containing the sage (it should be a very small section) and swallow it without chewing (that’s why you need a very small section). To use sage tea for decreasing milk supply, infuse 1 tablespoon of dried sage in 1 cup of boiling water. Steep for 5-15 minutes. Drink 1 cup, 2 – 6 times per day.

Jasmine: Great For Decreasing Milk Flow

Another effective treatment is to apply fresh, crushed jasmine flowers (Jasminum sambac) to the breasts to decrease milk flow. A study has shown this to be effective: Shrivastav P, George K, Balasubramaniam N, Jasper MP, Thomas M, Kanagasabhapathy AS. Suppression of puerperal lactation using jasmine flowers (Jasminum sambac). Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol. 1988 Feb;28(1):68-71.

Other Herbs

Other herbs that can decrease milk supply: Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Spearmint, Parsley (Petroselinum crispum), Chickweed, Black Walnut, stinging nettles (not nettle – that increases milk supply), Yarrow, Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum), Lemon Balm, Oregano, Periwinkle Herb (Vinca minor), Sorrel (Rumex acetosa).

Sage, peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm, oregano, and cabbage leaves can all be incorporated into a pressed oil (cold pressed or hot) to make massage oils for milk suppression.

Most mothers will be able to suppress their lactation by limiting the volume of milk removed, wearing a firm bra, using cold packs or cabbage leaves and medication for pain and inflammation if required.

What To Look Out For After Having Baby

Milk leakage

At times, you may experience milk leaking from your breasts during the lactation suppression process. Here are some tips to help with leaking breasts:

  • Use breast pads. (PAID LINK). Avoid any breast pads that hold moisture against the skin. Make sure your bra is roomy enough to hold whatever sort of pad you choose without putting pressure on your breasts. If you wear your bra to bed, take care that it doesn’t dig in when you are lying down as this may lead to blocked milk ducts.
  • Stop the flow when necessary. If your milk starts to leak out strongly (ie your milk ‘lets down’) you can stop the overflow by pressing firmly on your nipple with your hand or forearm for several seconds.

Engorgement (painful, overfull breasts)

Breast engorgement is breast swelling that results in painful, tender breasts. It’s caused by an increase in blood flow and milk supply in your breasts, and it occurs in the first days after childbirth. If your breasts become engorged and the ideas given above do not ease your discomfort, it may help to express all the milk in the breasts, just once, with an electric breast pump. This can relieve the pressure and from then on, you may be able to prevent it building up to that point again.

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Certain conditions or events may make you more likely to experience the swollen fullness that’s commonly associated with breast engorgement. These causes include:

  • missing a feeding
  • skipping a pumping session
  • creating an overabundance of milk for the baby’s appetite
  • supplementing with formula between nursing sessions, which may reduce nursing later
  • weaning too quickly
  • nursing a baby that’s ill
  • difficulty with latching and sucking
  • not expressing breast milk when it first comes in because you don’t plan to breastfeed.

How to resolve this issue:

Applying a cold compress or ice pack to relieve pain and swelling.

Excellent treatment for engorged breasts
  • Use of cabbage as above

Remember to wear a firm bra and express only for comfort as vigorous pumping can increase your milk supply.

Blocked ducts and mastitis

When breasts are left very full, there is a risk that one or more of the ducts that carry milk to the nipple will become blocked. A lump forms and the breast begins to feel sore. Sometimes there is a red patch on the skin or the breast may feel hot which will appear as tender and painful lumps in your breast, or a breast infection which would manifest itself in a tender, reddened area and would be accompanied by a fever or chills.

If the blockage remains, milk can be forced out of the duct and into the breast tissue, which becomes inflamed. You may get the shivers and aches and feel like you are getting the ‘flu’. This is called mastitis and can come on very quickly. See your doctor if you get the flu-like symptoms or if you cannot clear a blockage within a few days. If this happens, you will need to express more milk than usual to clear the blockage. If mastitis is not treated, a breast abscess may develop. Thank goodness, these are now quite rare. Should either of these conditions present, contact your doctor, midwife or a lactation consultant for further assistance. Getting help as soon as possible decreases your risk of more complications.

What If I Want To Sustain My Breast Milk?

I understand that not all mothers want to express their breast milk after the loss of their baby and this is fine. This actually can help some mothers to better grieve for their baby.

Some mothers may not want to suppress their milk production after the loss of their baby. These mothers may appreciate the time expressing gives them to connect with and grieve for their baby. Mothers may want to continue to express their milk for days, weeks or even months. You can express as often each day as you like for as long as it suits you. The lactational amenorrhea method is an accepted and effective method of family planning and is a factor which may be relevant for some mothers to consider when expressing. Avoiding significant and sudden changes to your expressing regime can help reduce the risk of your breasts becoming engorged and blocked ducts.

When you decide to wean from expressing, doing so gradually (eg by dropping one expressing session every few days or so) can help your breasts adjust more comfortably. For tips of expressing and storing breastmilk, see Expressing and storing breastmilk.

There may be stores of your frozen milk at home or in the hospitalIf you have frozen breastmilk stored in the hospital, you can approach the hospital staff to make decisions about what to do with these frozen stores of milk such as to discard it, keep it as a memento or donate it (if possible).

Some women have used their breastmilk in an activity or item to help create a memory. For example defrosting it and pouring it on a special plant in the garden, using it to make breastmilk jewelry, burying some milk with the baby, using breastmilk as a symbol in the funeral service, donating it. You do not have to make these decisions quickly. You can keep your milk in a freezer and take it with you if you move house.

Hormonal birth control pills and certain decongestant medication : Reduces Breast Milk

Decongestants can reduce your milk supply

There are some birth control and decongestants (sudafed)that (containing pseudoephedrine) can also reduce a milk supply in some mothers. For further information about using any of these drugs to dry up breast milk consult with your doctor.

What About Milk Banking And Donation? Another Option

Breast milk donation is another option

Some bereaved mothers find that the presence of milk is upsetting and want to eliminate it as quickly as possible, while other mothers find
the milk to be a comforting reminder of their body’s ability to care for the baby they so love and had wished to care for. There is no right or wrong way to feel. It is your choice to follow. If a mother is interested in pumping and donating breast milk she can find her nearest milk bank in the country where she lives. When you decide to stop donating milk, you can gradually pump less often and for shorter pumping times over a period of a couple of weeks. In this way your breasts will adjust naturally so that the production of breast milk can come to a gradual end without engorgement.

Take One Day At A Time

It can take a long time to recover from the death of a baby. There will be times when you feel you have made some headway, only to fall back into the deep sadness of it all. You may find it hard to get to sleep or you may wake often. This is quite normal.

This is the time to be kind to yourself. Talking with others who have also have lost a baby may give you support and some comfort. Details of support groups are listed below. (PAID LINK)

Helpful resources

There are many other support websites that a mother or her supporters may find helpful including Glow in the Woods and Still Standing Magazine.

Bottom Line

Whatever decision you make concerning your lactation Mama is totally up to you. I hope you are able to remain as comfortable as possible. As you grieve I want you to know that God loves you. Ask Him to stay with you during this hard journey. Find family and friends who support and love you. Thank you for stopping by today. Do visit again. I wish you a happy, healthy, and successful breastfeeding journey. Here is a video that talks about breastfeeding and infant loss. Let me know if you’ve ever tried these methods out and how they worked out for you.(PAID LINK)

Great treatments for drying up your milk!