Content warning: baby loss/stillbirth/lactation after baby loss. There is a photo at the end of this post.
You spend time preparing for them. Studying childbirth, hypnobirthing, breastfeeding, harvesting colostrum, bouncing on the birthing ball, helping encourage baby into the correct position, buying all the essentials you require and all the ones you desire.
When I heard those words – there is no heartbeat – my world fell apart. I did not expect to find joy in the days that followed and yet I did.
Upon hearing those words you enter a whole new world of information – there are new rules.
Rules I did not study – trusting the health professionals around me to educate and guide me. Trying to digest what I could while adjusting to navigating this new landscape.
I was 39 weeks pregnant, having regular false starts to my labour and desperate to meet my baby soon. Unable to walk far with pelvic girdle pain and all the usual aches and pains you get in the third trimester, I was ready. I was harvesting colostrum just in case – my first son had to go to special care at birth, missing the golden hour and having to agree to formula if required. While donor milk is now available, expressing helped give me a purpose. I was preparing for my baby in every way I knew how.
While we knew that we had lost our baby – he still had to be born and the drug options were slightly different than what we covered in my antenatal class. While I was induced the amazing midwives did what they could to keep my labour as non medicalised as possible. I discussed my wishes to be mentally present – knowing how precious meeting my sleeping baby would be and my pain relief options were discussed in relation to my needs.
I should add that the second you lose your baby – you get 5 star treatment. Everyone wants to help in any way they can but no one can bring your baby back so they give you all the comfort and support they can. Thanks to the charity Simba and the staff’s amazing fundraising the labour rooms are amazing and kitted out.
Some women say they prepare more for birth than the baby. This was so true for me. It also feels cruel to birth a baby who you know you have lost – however this process was extremely cathartic for me and I was able to heal some wounds from my previous labour.
I expressed the wish to save some milk to make into jewellery – as a memento, perhaps with a lock of his hair. A kind midwife suggested I could express drops of colostrum and put them onto R’s lip as a gesture. I was keen not to miss any opportunities and make all the memories I could.
Other midwives were concerned that expressing would encourage more milk to come in – how would this affect me and could it cause mastitis?
I also got offered some medication to help suppress my milk – not being in a place to think straight, my friend advised me to check the side effects. We had learnt the BRAIN acronym in antenatal class and unable to decide I stuck to the N for ‘do nothing’. Breastfeeding my firstborn had been such a challenge and I was so convinced I would be better educated this time. Whether to suppress my milk with meds was the first real CHOICE I could realistically say no to.
I was hesitant to take any drugs I didn’t have to. I had just spent 9 months nauseous so why would I take a drug that I didn’t have to with that side effect?
My caregivers were concerned – a postpartum Mum grieving her baby with her milk coming in. Would that be too much? I knew my boobs though – oversupply was not a problem I had previously had. I also wasn’t afraid of milk.
In the days that followed I expressed small amounts and had the support of a BfN mothers supporter and other midwives, who reminded me babies feed 12 times a day. Expressing once a day was not going to cause big problems. Expressing my milk felt good, I was and am so proud of my body. This was the right choice for me.
Sadly I was unable to donate to the milk bank due to my medication but I know some other mothers who have successfully donated following baby loss and found great comfort in this.
There are lots of firsts I have missed out on with my baby, but the precious memories will stay with me forever. Breastfeeding creates a bond between mother and child and by producing milk I was able to fulfil part of my mothering need.
This guest blog by Hannah Inman was posted as part of Baby Loss Awareness Week 2021.
If you or someone you know needs support with lactation following the loss of a baby (whether choosing to express milk or stop the supply), the following links may be helpful:
Alternatively you can call the National Breastfeeding Helpline, where our trained volunteers can offer support and information.