During the tender time after the loss of a baby, families go through many challenges. One of the hardships a mother faces is what to do with her breast milk. We have gathered some information to help you support the mother to make the decision that is right for all involved.

An Unexpected Decision

In addition to other decisions to be made, a mother has several options for her breast milk. If she doesn’t have milk yet, she may find that her milk “comes in” even though there is no baby to feed. This can be surprising and painful, both emotionally and physically. Some mothers have a full milk supply. The options for what to do with her breastmilk include:

  • Donate milk she has stored or/or continues to express to a milk bank
  • Continue to express milk regularly and either donate or discard
  • Wean (dry up) her milk supply
  • Discard her expressed or stored milk as she would any liquid or frozen food

The mother can safely store her milk until she decides. There is no right or wrong decision, just the choice that feels right to her. You may be surprised at your role in this journey through loss. You may not be sure how to help during this time1. You can find more information about the options for what mothers can do with her breast milk and the physical changes2 she may experience in the “Help for You Both” section below and in the handout Breast Milk After the Loss of A Baby2.

How You Can Be Supportive

As you will see, in the early days following the loss of the baby, managing her milk supply will occupy a large part of the mother’s time. In order to maintain good breast health she will need to focus on a task that was supposed to provide life-giving nourishment for the baby, but has become a painful reminder of what has been lost. Watching her engage in this process may bring up feelings of grief and loss for you as well.

  • This loss will affect you as much as her, but you may find it difficult to find the same support. Keep trying.
  • You may feel helpless and frustrated. These feelings are normal. Talk to her about them.
  • Offer to read to her or put on a favorite tv show or movie while she pumps.
  • Remember that hydration is still very important and bring her a glass of water.
  • Her breasts may be tender or sore and she may not want them touched. Be patient. The breast tissue will return to normal in time.
  • You and she will probably experience many different emotions throughout this process. All your emotions are valid, however a few, like helplessness and frustration, can seem unrelated to your sadness and grief. You may find you have less patience than usual; this is an aspect of grief that may take you by surprise.
  • You may be able to help her with pump assembly and washing, and/or taking care of the milk she expresses.
  • You may offer to coordinate the donation of her milk.
  • You may find that you need to be somewhere else while she is pumping. This is normal – and allowed.
  • Help her to understand that you may need to express your grief in a different way, like going for a walk, engaging in a sport, writing, or working outside.
  • Ask her if she would like you to call someone to sit with her while she is pumping if you will not be there and she doesn’t want to be alone.
  • Men and women, husbands and wives, partners and family members often grieve at different times and in different ways. You might need to look outside your relationship for support from a friend for a little while. This does not mean your relationship is in trouble, but you need to talk and listen carefully to each other.

Physiological Aspects of Breast Care After Loss – Options and Choices Mothers Can Make

The mother has been given detailed instructions about how to care for her breasts and milk supply in a separate topic called Breast Milk After the Loss of A Baby. You may want to read this as well.

Help for You Both

The mother’s health care provider will be able to help you both with many of the challenges you will face after your loss.

We at Cincinnati Children’s are also here to help you:

1If you received the above information as a printout, and would like to view it online, it can be found at cincinnatichildrens.org/milkandloss-supporter

2 You can refer to the mother’s guide online here- cincinnatichildrens.org/milkandloss