Lactation After a Pregnancy Loss

breastfeeding after pregnancy loss
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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.


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, though, women begin the process of lactation between the twelfth and sixteenth week of pregnancy. After a miscarriage, you may express milk for days or weeks.  

Stopping Your Milk Supply

It is perfectly understandable why most 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:

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

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 breast and express milk through the nipple to unclog the pores. Meanwhile, any inflammation or infection should be looked at by a doctor, especially if accompanied by pain or discharge.

Using 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 to pump milk for donation, start 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.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sereshti M, Nahidi F, Simbar M, Bakhtiari M, Zayeri F. An Exploration of the Maternal Experiences of Breast Engorgement and Milk Leakage after Perinatal ‎Loss‎. Glob J Health Sci. 2016;8(9):53876. doi:10.5539%2Fgjhs.v8n9p234

  2. Cole, Melissa. Lactation after Perinatal, Neonatal, or Infant Loss. Clinical Lactation. 2012;3(3):94-100. 

  3. Mastitis. La Leche League International.

  4. Bromocriptine. National Library of Medicine (US). 2006.

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

By Elizabeth Czukas, RN, MSN
Elizabeth Czukas is a writer who who has worked as an RN in high-risk obstetrics, antepartum care, and with women undergoing pregnancy loss.