bereavement support for physicians
It is essential to give bereaved mothers information about managing their milk production and to support them in the decisions they make about their milk. Although it is painful to keep producing milk, the presence of milk is a reality for most bereaved mothers and continued lactation is often an integral part of their experience of loss (Busta Moore and Catlin, 2003). To acknowledge that lactation is a reality for a bereaved mother validates the bereaved mother's experience, which includes the physiological capacity to produce milk as well as the emotional connection to her baby through lactation. Maintaining physiological comfort and preventing engorgement are a priority when a woman is still producing milk and she is not able to breastfeed.
Some bereaved mothers may want nothing to do with their milk after their baby dies whereas others want to continue to express their milk and eventually donate it to a HMBANA bank. One advantage for a bereaved mother to keep pumping her milk is that the continued presence of prolactin could help lessen the symptoms of depression she may feel while grieving the loss of her baby. Pumping her milk on a regular basis may help her move through the unimaginable pain and grief of losing a baby.
For some bereaved mothers, rituals, such as expressing milk, help them to manage their grief and celebrate their child's life at the same time. It is a way of acknowledging the grief of the loss as well as the significance of that baby's life.
Some bereaved mothers are determined to do something meaningful with their milk. She may wish to donate milk as a contribution to other infants, which in turn helps them heal from their own loss.
The Mothers' Milk Bank (MMB) in San Jose California is the only non profit distributing milk bank that gives bereaved mothers the option to donate their milk. The Mothers' Milk Bank English and Spanish coordinators are trained to help and support bereaved mothers who want to donate their milk. The donor coordinators at MMB are committed to making the donation process as smooth as possible for all bereaved mothers. If the mother does not want to do the full screening or fails the screening, the milk will be provided for research. Staff will follow up on referrals from health professionals to expedite the transfer of the milk donation.
HMBANA Publication: Lactation Support for the Bereaved Mother: A Toolkit, This toolkit is a great resource for healthcare providers who work with bereaved mothers. Information about ordering the toolkit can be found at hmbana.org
Contact Information Jessica Welborn PhD is available to speak to groups and individuals who may want to learn more about lactation support for bereaved mothers. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 415-412-4918 if you have questions or are interested in a presentation/discussion on this important topic.
Please see our resources below for continued support.
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health care providers
milk bank processes
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breast pump support