Lactation After a Pregnancy Loss

Way to Better Cope After a Miscarriage or Stillbirth

breastfeeding after pregnancy loss
ballyscanlon/Getty Images

The loss of a pregnancy can be a devastating event. Lactating after a miscarriage or stillbirth only compounds the pain. It can be an isolating experience and a topic that people either fail to discuss or actively try to avoid.

Understanding Lactation After Miscarriage

Women are often surprised to find themselves lactating after a miscarriage. Some women find it distressing and want it to stop immediately.

Others have the opposite reaction and find that it helps them better deal with their loss by either:

  • Acknowledging the existence of the baby
  • Allowing them to feel the weight of her loss and work through the bereavement process rather than shutting it down
  • Turning the loss into something positive by donating milk to others in need

Not every woman who miscarries will lactate. Typically speaking, the further along you were in your pregnancy, the more likely you will be to lactate. Even if you're not actively producing milk, it is still possible to experience leakage, plugged ducts, and engorgement.

In women who have had a stillbirth, the experience may be more profound. By this stage, there may be an established milk supply, and lactation can sometimes carry on for days or even weeks.

Reducing and Stopping the Milk Supply

It is perfectly understandable why some women would want to stop lactating as soon as possible, as much for themselves as their partners who may also be grieving.

If you want to prevent or reduce milk production, the best things to do are:

  • Wear a support bra as much as possible.
  • Avoid touching or stimulating your nipples as this can increase milk flow.
  • Use a cold compress to relieve swelling or pain.
  • Place cold cabbage leaves inside your bra to relieve engorgement.
  • Avoid hot showers which can stimulate milk production.
  • Take a pain reliever such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen).

Women who are trying to suppress milk production can still have problems associated with breastfeeding, such as mastitis or plugged ducts. In the event there is a plugged duct, you may need to massage the nipple to allow milk to unclog the pores. Meanwhile, any inflammation or infection should be looked at by a doctor, especially if accompanied by pain or discharge.

Suppressing Lactation With Medication

The drug Parlodel (bromocriptine) was widely prescribed in the past to stop lactation following a pregnancy loss. Most doctors now avoid it due to the high rate of side effects, including nausea, headaches, and vomiting. If prescribed, they are to be used with extreme caution and avoided in women with high blood pressure or serious mental illness.

Donating Breast Milk

Some women experiencing healing by donating their milk. Donating breast milk is legal, and there are established, non-profit milk banks you can contact through the Human Milk Banking Association of America. Some hospitals also run their own donation and pasteurization programs which use the milk exclusively for babies in the neonatal ICU.

If you do plan pump milk for donation, starts slowly (around 10 to 15 minutes for each breast) and gradually increase the pumping time to avoid unnecessary pain. Depending on how much milk you produce, you can also extend the time between pumping sessions and gradually taper off as your milk production slows and stops.

Source:

Cole, M. "Lactation after Perinatal, Neonatal, or Infant Loss." Clinical Lactation. 2012: 3(3):94-100.

Continue Reading