A friend of mine, whose baby was born still nine years ago, mentioned the other day that October is Stillbirth Awareness Month. I know my friend misses her little boy dearly, especially around the anniversary of his entrance into the world. How devastating it must be to excitedly await the birth of a child and then discover that the baby died in utero. As Catholics we believe in eternal life and look forward to the day we will see God and hopefully see loved ones. However, the grief of this type of situation can make it difficult to focus on that. I have never experienced stillbirth, myself, but I am hoping that by writing a blog about the topic, I might bring a little bit of comfort and support to those who have experienced the death of a baby. I also want to provide information on how women can reduce the likelihood of stillbirth.
The first time I remember thinking about stillbirth was when an attendee of my first La Leche League group lost her baby. I attended the funeral service with my first baby son. I remember how the mother was wearing a dress and still had her early postpartum shape. She was grateful that I was there, but it was such a sad funeral :( I can't even begin to imagine what losing a baby was like for her. I think you have to experience it first hand to really understand.
What to do when your milk supply comes in
After birth, a woman's body will produce milk with or without a baby nursing. The milk supply will be depressed and will eventually stop altogether if no breastfeeding is taking place. However, a woman's breasts will still fill up with milk and may become engorged. Some possible ways to reduce engorgement include applying green cabbage leaves every few hours continuously, applying ice packs or frozen vegetable to the breasts to reduce swelling, and hand expressing/pumping just enough to soften the breasts. Also, consuming sage and peppermint have been known to reduce the milk supply.
If you have lost a baby and feel God is calling you to help others, you could consider pumping some of your milk and donating it to a milk bank. There are many babies who could really thrive on your milk. Here is a story of one woman who chose to do just this when her baby died: http://lactationmatters.org/2012/10/04/brysons-legacy-a-story-of-milk-donation-and-the-love-of-a-family/
Ways to support someone who has lost a baby
Tell her you care about her. Hug her (if you think she would appreciate that). Listen to her story and how she is feeling. Bring her a meal. Just be a good friend.
Resources/Comfort for those who have lost a child
Angel Babies Love
After Miscarriage: A Catholic Woman's Companion to Healing and Hope
Sue Elvis' grief book
Lactation After the Loss of a Baby
Ways to prevent stillbirth
One of the easiest ways to reduce the likelihood of stillbirth is to do kick counts while pregnant. Get to know your own unborn baby's particular kick and movement routine and if there is a concerning change, call your healthcare provider. Even if your doctor or midwife feels everything is fine, insist on further testing or investigation if your intuition is telling you there is something wrong. A mother knows her baby best :) Here is a link with information about preventing stillbirth: http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyloss/sbtryingtounderstand.html
Legislation related to stillbirth
Written by Gina M. Peterson, BS, IBCLC