One of the worst, physical, postpartum symptoms after a late-term pregnancy loss is the breast engorgement. Breast engorgement can occur after a pregnancy loss, such as a miscarriage or stillbirth, even if the baby is not present to breastfeed. This is because the body still responds to the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy and begins to produce milk.
Experiencing breast engorgement after a pregnancy loss can be emotionally challenging, as it serves as a reminder of the loss and can cause discomfort. It typically occurs a few days after giving birth. Tragically, our bodies do not know the difference between a live birth and a pregnancy loss, and in the painfully horrific circumstance that you are experiencing breast engorgement after pregnancy loss, finding ways to sooth the discomfort is critical for your physical and emotional wellbeing.
When your milk does “come in” after a pregnancy loss or stillbirth, it can be extremely distressing, and alarming. Starting around week 16 of your pregnancy, your breasts were getting ready to produce milk so they may be large and feel hard and sore because there is more milk being produced than is being discharged. This can be very uncomfortable, but only lasts for a few days. You can read more about treating postpartum symptoms after pregnancy loss in my Emergency Postpartum Care Package post.
As a mama, you will make the choice:
As a mama, you will make the choice if you would like to donate your breast milk, or cease the production. It’s an individual choice, and no decision is wrong. I chose to cease milk production which took about 5-7 days. It can be challenging and painful to ride out for the first few days, but breast therapy packs, Cabo Creme and cabbage leaves (yes real cabbage leaves) were my best friend. I did attempt to express a tiny bit of milk to provide some relief, but you have to be careful because your body will continue to produce what is expressed. Be sure only to express enough to provide a tiny bit of comfort.
Here are some suggestions for managing breast engorgement in this situation:
- Cold compresses: Apply cold compresses or ice packs to the breasts to help reduce swelling and discomfort. You can use chilled cabbage leaves or gel packs wrapped in a cloth.
- Supportive bra: Wearing a well-fitted, supportive bra can help provide some relief by reducing pressure on the breasts and minimizing movement.
- Avoid stimulation: Minimize breast stimulation to avoid further milk production. Avoid warm water, breast massage, and any activities that can increase blood flow to the breasts.
- Cabbage leaf compresses: Some women find relief by placing chilled cabbage leaves inside their bra. The natural compounds in cabbage can help reduce milk supply and relieve engorgement. Replace the leaves frequently when they warm up.
- Pain relief: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) may help alleviate the discomfort associated with breast engorgement. However, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider before taking any medication, especially if you are breastfeeding or recovering from a medical procedure.
It’s essential to be gentle with yourself during this time and allow yourself to grieve the loss. If the engorgement persists or becomes increasingly painful, it’s advisable to seek support from a healthcare professional. I was lucky enough to be put in touch with a friend’s lactation consultant who provided more emotional support than anything. They can provide guidance specific to your situation and offer strategies to manage breast engorgement and milk suppression.
I hope this helps, if you have other recommendations for mamas who might be reading, please share!