On Wednesday I attended a wonderful training sponsored by Empty Arms, the local support group in my area for families who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss. The event included a presentation by a representative of Share and a panel of local parents who had experienced losses.
It was an incredibly moving experience, and I felt so much gratitude to the families who shared their stories. I also learned about Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, an organization which provides volunteer professional photographers to take beautiful pictures of babies who have passed and their families.
One of the things that has been on my mind a lot recently is the experience of making milk after a baby has passed. I've heard from several mothers whose babies were born still that the experience of having their milk come in was extremely difficult emotionally and physically. I've also heard about mothers who have lost babies after weeks or months in the NICU often have pumped tremendous amounts of milk, and aren't sure what to do with it.
I recently found this description of some dissertation research on the topic of breastmilk donation after a loss, and here are some of the themes I gleaned from it and from talking with mothers:
- There is very little support given to bereaved mothers about lactation apart from advice on how to dry up a milk supply. There is little or no acknowledgement that the experience of having milk come in after a loss can be very challenging emotionally and physically. The advice about how to stop lactating is sometimes poor.
- The thought of discarding milk that a mother has pumped for a baby who has passed is devastating, but information about donation is not generally provided in bereavement materials or counseling.
- Some women find that donating milk is helpful in their grief process. Some milk banks accept donations from bereaved mothers whether or not they qualify to donate.
I'm hoping to explore this issue more, with a personal story, information on how bereaved mothers can donate milk if they desire to, and perhaps a podcast on the topic generally. If any of you have experiences or information to share, please do below.