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Disclaimer: The information in this post is for educational purposes only. I am not a doctor. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. None of the opinions are meant to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. You should always consult your healthcare provider.

How to Stop Breast Milk After a Loss

How to Stop Breast Milk After a Loss #babies #nursing #help

As a pregnant mother, you never imagine you might need to know how to stop breast milk after your baby is born. Unfortunately, not all babies are born alive and some die shortly after birth. One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal death. After the baby dies, the mother’s milk still comes in.

I speak from experience on this topic as our second daughter died at two days old. After a successful and lengthy breastfeeding relationship with my first baby, my milk coming in after Violet’s death was one of the most physically and emotionally painful parts of losing her.   Whether you read this as a newly grieving parent, a friend to the bereaved, or a support person wanting to learn more, I am sorry there is any need for this article at all.

What you should know about stopping breast milk after the death of a baby

  • The mother’s body does not recognize that her baby has died. Following the birth her milk comes in. This will be difficult for the grieving mother who may feel betrayed by her body’s painful reminder that there is no longer a baby to nurse.
  • Milk suppression is typically a gradual process as a baby is slowly weaned from the breast. This article is written to help grieving mothers who choose to stop lactation immediately after the death of a baby.
  • The mother may be emotional about the milk drying up as it was one of the last physical signs of her pregnancy. Hormones compound this emotional process. It is imperative that the mother be informed about this hormone surge and supported emotionally, not only regarding the death of her baby, but also about the emotional implications related to her lactation. Please refer the mother to her doctor to discuss the difference between typical grief and diagnosing postpartum depression and/or anxiety.
  • As an alternative to stopping lactation, the mother may choose to pump and donate her milk. Some grieving mothers find this process healing as they help a baby in need. Consult with a doctor about the current regulations and requirements to donate breast milk.

How to stop breast milk when a baby has died:

  • Sage Leaf Tea – It is believed that sage leaves mimic estrogen in the body slowing lactation. (This was included in a thoughtful and healing gift for me when paired with a new mug from a fellow baby loss mother.)
  • Pseudoephedrine – When taken in medications where this drug is the sole ingredient (not together with acetaminophen) the decongestant also dries milk supply.
  • Hormone Based Birth Control – Discuss this option with a doctor.

What to Avoid:

  • Warm showers – Keep breasts out of the warm spray of the shower which can stimulate letdown.
  • Binding – Avoid binding or wearing clothing that is too tight as this can lead to clogged ducts.
  • Pumping – Do not pump milk as it signals the body to produce more as it mimics a baby draining the breast during a feeding.

To Ease Engorgement Pain:

  • Cold Cabbage Leaves – Chill the cabbage and wrap cold leaves around breasts.
  • Hand Express Small Amounts of Milk –  If she must, the mother can gently hand express very small amounts of breast milk to alleviate some of the pressure. DO NOT express a large amount or empty the breast as this will signal the body to produce even more milk. (I chose not to express any milk at all while attempting to stop lactation.)
  • Ibuprofen – Taking 400 mg of ibuprofen every 4 hours will help with pain.
  • Supportive Clothing  – Wear a comfortable sports bra without wires.
  • Ice Packs – Frozen ice packs or bags of vegetables (peas, corn) can be applied to the breasts to ease pain. (I found the cabbage leaves the most helpful as I didn’t have to constantly move them around since they cupped the breast well.)

Hard lumps may be difficult to recognize in the mother’s engorged breasts, but they may be clogged ducts which can lead to infection.  Have any exceptional discomfort or pain checked by a doctor.

It took 10 days after my milk came in following my baby’s death for it to dry up. The time that it takes to stop the breasts from producing milk varies from mother to mother, but the pain of losing a baby combined with the subsequent unneeded lactation is universal. As the mother cries, her breasts will leak as if they too are mourning her loss. Let her know to expect this if she will be in public (such as at a  funeral or memorial service). It’s a natural yet painful reminder of her much loved and missed baby.

Learning how to stop breast milk after a loss is tough – be there for the mother each step of the way. And we’re here for you, too!

Devany LeDrew is a former kindergarten teacher turned write-at-home-mom. She's the mother of three, grieving the loss of one. She is passionate about gentle parenting, literacy education, grief outreach, and breastfeeding, of course! She writes at Still Playing School, as well as at a blog specifically about grief The Beauty of the Bereaved. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


  1. Wonderful article! I wish I’d had some of this advice when C was stillborn. I was told to wear a super tight sports bra, take Benadryl, and avoid the shower spray. It was devastating and painful on so many levels. Thank you for sharing your experience and tips!

    • I’m so sorry, Jana, that you needed it, but it sounds like you had good advice! Do you mind sharing how long it took for your milk to dry up (and if you have breastfed a child before that)?

  2. I hated taking a shower after losing my daughter. She was 7 weeks when she passed away from SIDS. Showers would make my milk flow. I didn’t know that there was a way to relieve it. 🙁

    • I’m so sorry for the death of your sweet daughter, Sarah. Your body was responding to the warmth of the shower by letting down. I would turn away from the water but use the shower as a place to grieve privately as well.

  3. thank you for sharing this. I lost my son at 22 weeks. ( 12 years ago ) This was my first baby, it never occurred to me that this would happen. I had a wonderful friend who realized it might happen, she called the Ask a nurse line, and asked them for advice. She bought me some ice packs to insert into my bra, and helped me through those tough days. I will never forget her kindness, it brings tears to my eyes just thinking of it. Our milk coming in when our child is gone feels like the ultimate slap in the face when you are already down. My prayer is that this article will help many dear , hurting mothers and ease their suffering in some small way.

    • Rachel, what is your grief like 12 years later? I believe it is a life long process for a mother who has lost a child. What a thoughtful and loving friend you had during those first dark and dreadful days.

  4. My baby girl died at 9 months of a rare genetic disorder, so I had been nursing and pumping for a while. I dont remember how long it took me to dry up. I used a lot of these suggestions. It was very difficult to deal with in addition to grieving.

  5. I have to disagree with the advice not to pump, particularly if you have breastfed before and know how to do it. I was advised this by my midwife and doctors as well, but chose to ignore it, as I knew I had weaned my older child off the breast by gradually reducing the number of feeds per day, and it seemed logical to me that I could do it the same way this time without going through engorgement or blocked ducts. I only pumped when my breasts were getting uncomfortably full, and the number of times I needed to quickly dropped from four times a day, to 3, 2 then 1. It was only about 10 days in all to stop, although like others, I almost felt that I didn’t want it to, and in fact I have kept some frozen – no idea why! But I would say, if you know how to pump and you feel up to it, this is gentler than going through the pain of engorgement. I’m not advocating it as such, just saying that there is a choice. Every sympathy for any mother who needs to do this.

    • Thank you for your insight. All decisions are completely at the discretion of the bereaved mother, of course. I also had breastfed before but I wanted to stop my lactation as soon as possible so I didn’t pump at all. Yes, it was more painful as I was engorged but any pumping, especially emptying the breasts, will signal to your body to produce more milk and prolong the weaning process. If and how a mother chooses to pump will depend on her comfort level and how soon she’d prefer her milk to stop. I am sure having some of your baby’s milk in the freezer is comforting as a way to hold on to that child in some way. Hand expression to relieve engorgement is another option (versus pumping) as mentioned in the article.

  6. Thank you for writing this. I am truly sorry for your loss. My first pregnancy ended in a stillbirth at 28 weeks and I was blindsided when my milk came in. I asked my Doctor for help and was told it would go away. The emotional and physical pain was horrible. I wish I had known about donating milk.

    I hope this post will help others.

  7. I lost my first daughter at 28 weeks severe preeclempsia it wasn’t so tough but kidding my second daughter at 32weeks this November on the 2nd its so painful my breasts are so painful to the maximum they are huge nothing is working for me an so disappointed in life

    • I am so sorry for your losses. I can’t even imagine. Have you talked with your doctor about ways to help stop lactation? About your grief process? I’m sorry you are struggling. Do you feel you have clogged ducts or overall engorgement? For clogged ducts, I would suggest massaging and expressing a little to help relieve pain and prevent mastitis. Once the clogs are cleared, cut down on pumping slowly to avoid more clogs. The supplement lecithin can be helpful with clogs as well. Frequent use of cabbage leaves can really help cut down supply. If nothing is helping, you may want to make sure there is no retained placenta or something like that which may cause hormonal imbalances. Hugs to you dear mama.

  8. Its been after six months since I gave birth and lost the baby but still have breastmilk. I do not want to take a drug because I was it flattens the breast. Please is it normal? What othr natural ways to stop it?

  9. My son passed away right after on nov30,2014 and my breast haven’t started leaking milk yet why is that

  10. I lost my 2nd child a baby boy almost 2 weeks ago due to a genetic disorder. We were almost 34 weeks when it happened. My doctor gave me this medicine that is supposed to cut down milk supply. I already completed the 1 week dosage. This afternoon as I was taking a shower, it was a bit hot and my breasts became engorged. Im lactating a bit now and it is really painful to see my milk go away since I breastfed my eldest until she was around 2.5yo, when I found out I was pregnant with my 2nd. Thank you for writing about this. It’s hard enough to lose a child and googling for help is harder when almost all articles assume the baby is alive.

    • soussou soury says

      thanks for your advise !i lost my baby when i was four month precnance and today it is 5 months but lactation still continue !

  11. I just wanted to comment as I am grieving the lost of my son at 4 months old. My breast are very large and sore. I pray that I don’t get an infection. I can’t bring myself to pump to relieve the pressure anyhow or even help myself beyond googling this artic. I am healing slowly from his death and don’t even care about the painful breast as much as I thought. I just try to block them out, kind of refuse to acknowledge them in a way. It is so very painful losing him and watching my breast especially considering how chucky my little boy was and he loved mama’s milk. ~Still grieving~

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