Lactation after bereavement 

Nurture Information Hub   


Katherine Carroll, PhD, Debbie Noble-Carr, PhD, Lara Sweeney, and Catherine Waldby, PhD

After a stillbirth or death of an infant, many parents will encounter feelings of breast tenderness, engorgement, the onset of lactation, or continuation of established lactation. Some parents may have frozen stores of expressed breast milk at home or at the hospital. Unfortunately, lactation and breast milk can be overlooked with bereaved parents in healthcare settings. Bereaved parents who have recently given birth may need to feel better prepared to handle breast care and lactation when they begin or continue to lactate after the loss of their baby. Bereaved parents need help to be made aware of the range of suppression, expression, or milk donation options that may be available to them. 


If you're reading this page because your baby has passed away, we extend our deepest condolences. We hope that the information provided here offers some support during this incredibly difficult time. 

A woman's breasts typically begin producing colostrum during pregnancy, usually in the last trimester, though sometimes earlier. After a stillbirth it is not uncommon to begin to produce milk. After the death of a young infant, it is also likely to produce milk.  

Whether your breasts produce milk and the amount produced may depend on several factors: 

Timing of Baby's Death: The closer to your baby's due date the loss occurs, the more likely your body is to produce milk. If you were already breastfeeding your baby or child, your breasts will likely continue to produce milk. 

Effects of Shock and Medical Treatment: Your body's response to shock and any medical treatments or surgeries you undergo, as well as the emotional impact of losing your baby, can affect milk production. 

Medications: Certain medications such as anaesthetics, painkillers, sedatives, or antidepressants may influence milk production. 

It's important for you and those around you to understand how to manage these changes in your body during this difficult time. 

Women can experience a range of emotions when their breasts continue to produce milk after the loss of their baby. As a result, there are different options for managing milk production following such a loss. It's helpful to discuss these choices with your family, healthcare providers, or a social worker. 

Here are some options you may consider: 

Pharmacological suppression  

Some mothers are relieved to know that a pill is available that can help to stop or prevent lactation. This means they have one less thing to cope with. 

Non-pharmacological suppression  

Some mothers prefer a more gradual approach to suppression because they don’t want to take medication, or they would prefer to stop lactating slowly in their own time. A health professional such as a midwife or lactation consultant, or a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor at the Australian Breastfeeding Association can guide you in this process 

Some mothers appreciate knowing that their body can produce milk and they may want to experience this. 

Sustained expression  

Some mothers want to continue to produce milk to feed a surviving twin, or sibling, or to share milk with other families. Some mothers find that expressing milk can provide them with special quiet time to connect with and grieve for their baby. A health professional such as a midwife or lactation consultant, or a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor at the Australian Breastfeeding Association can guide you in this process 

Donating breastmilk  

Frozen stores of milk might be able to be donated to a Human Milk Bank. Some mothers choose to do this because it provides a way to honour their baby, whilst also helping other vulnerable babies. Some mothers choose to sustain their lactation for the purpose of donation. Although this is challenging, some appreciate the routine, purpose and meaning expressing milk for donation provides. 

Using milk purposefully, including as a memento  

There are many ways you can use milk, or you can keep it as a memento of your baby. For example, you can use it in the funeral service, make jewellery with it, or pour it under a special tree. Some mothers choose to do this because they don’t want their milk going to waste as it can provide a lasting link to their baby. 

Discarding surplus milk  

Some mothers don’t want anything to do with their milk as it no longer holds any special meaning to them. This is understandable. For parents with stores of expressed breast milk in the hospital or the home, you don’t even have to see it or touch it. You can ask someone to discard it for you. 

Each choice is personal, and what works for one person may not work for another. It's essential to explore your feelings and preferences and discuss them with your support network and healthcare providers to find the best approach for you. 


After the loss of your precious baby, feelings of grief and sadness may come and go as you try to move on with your life. Family and friends will want to show they care even though they may not understand exactly how you feel.  

Your Maternity or Neonatal Unit’s Social Worker can advise on practical issues, such as funeral arrangements, and provide support and counselling for families whose baby has died.  

It may be helpful to speak with others who have lost a child (e.g. Red Nose Grief and Loss) or you may wish to contact a grief counsellor or counselling service (e.g. NALAG - National Association for Loss and Grief). 

Miracle Babies Foundation  

Every year in Australia approximately 48,000 babies are born requiring the help of a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or Special Care Nursery. Of the 48,000 requiring specialist care up to 1,000 of these precious babies lose their fight for life.  

Miracle Babies Foundation offers solace to families who are grieving a loss by providing a Memory Box which includes: 

  • Beautiful keepsake memory box 
  • No-mess, Inkless Footprint Kit
  • Two identical matching memory blanket and pillow sets - allowing the family to wrap their baby in one set and keep the identical set in the memory box provided. 
  • Three Miracle Babies Foundation heart lapel pins - one for baby and one for each of the parents 
  • Organza bags to hold a lock of hair or other tokens of remembrance. 

Memory Boxes are currently available for families at many Neonatal Intensive Care Units.  If you do not receive a memory box from your NICU or SCN please contact us directly on 1300 622 243. 
If you need emotional support, please call our: 
NurtureLine: 24 hour family support helpline 1300 622 243 (1300 MBABIES) 

Useful Links  

Red Nose Grief and Loss 

The Royal Woman’s Hospital 

National Association for Loss and Grief 

The Australian Breast-Feeding Association 

New South Wales Health 

Confirmation Content



Disclaimer: This publication by Miracle Babies Foundation is intended solely for general education and assistance and it is it is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. It should not be used for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual condition. This publication has been developed by our Parent Advisory Team (all who are parents of premature and sick babies) and has been reviewed and approved by a Clinical Advisory Team. This publication is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Miracle Babies Foundation recommends that professional medical advice and services be sought out from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your personal circumstances.To the extent permitted by law, Miracle Babies Foundation excludes and disclaims any liability of any kind (directly or indirectly arising) to any reader of this publication who acts or does not act in reliance wholly or partly on the content of this general publication. If you would like to provide any feedback on the information please email [email protected].