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Donating Breast Milk Through Loss
What to Expect Your Breasts to do When You're Not Expecting Anymore
Part 1 of 3
By: Jennifer Pitkin, BS, IBCLC of Ardo USA
For everyone reading this, I just need to tell you how sorry I am. I’m sorry, from the depths of my heart that you’re either personally healing after the death of your little one or you’re supporting parents that are. You’re part of a heartbreaking empty-arms group now that you never asked to be a part of.
Sadly, I’ll be writing about lactation after a baby’s death. After the second trimester of pregnancy, a mother’s body prepares to make milk, and that process makes milk regardless of whether or not your baby comes home. I’m writing to you because this resonates to the depths of my core as a mother that works with mothers. I’m an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (also called an IBCLC or LC), and my job isn’t all successful first latches of Madonna-like recreation and overflowing freezers of frozen milk. I also help moms with lactation after loss.
Ardo USA reached out to me to help give a voice to the mothers who aren’t getting the support and mental preparation that they deserve when their body prepares to feed a baby, and the baby never comes home, or for the baby that leaves this world too soon. Ardo has offered a new resource to these mothers, the option of receiving a FREE breast pump when their insurance doesn’t cover one so the mother can pump to donate milk if she chooses to.
In the US, there’s already great difficulty with many mothers obtaining breast pumps, and lactation care in general. Under the Affordable Care Act, breastfeeding counseling and supplies should be covered. The kicker is...they usually aren’t. Or, to say it more clearly, the coverage is TERRIBLE. Mothers are being referred to providers with no training for lactation support and are often receiving hand pumps. I’ll interrupt this regularly scheduled article to tell you, just about every provider that you’re being referred to (because they can bill for it) likely has received next to nil education in breastfeeding, pumping, and/or stopping milk production and although I hate to say this, hand pumps aren’t adequate for the needs of most mothers.
I along with the team at Ardo, decided that things have gone too far. Mothers from all walks of life aren’t receiving the coverage that they deserve, especially when faced with the death of their baby. This isn’t new to any of us. I work with moms who decide to pump and/or reduce supply without a baby of their own to feed. They paid out of pocket for my services, and they shouldn’t have to. These mothers post on social media looking for used breast pumps because their insurance won’t cover one so they can pump to donate to infants in need. After Ardo received calls from three mothers that suffered the death of their sweet babies, they knew they had to do something. All three mothers were told that they were ineligible to receive a breast pump due to a live birth requirement.
I asked Sheri Wallace, the brand manager for Ardo USA, why this resonated with her, and she said, “Our whole international team at Ardo began talking about this topic after a mom was gifted one of our pumps by a lactation consultant in the hospital after her baby was born still. The mom called customer service for some help and she was really open to talking about why she was pumping. As you can imagine, these conversations stick with you and our team was talking about the challenges US moms face (in general) and that mom came up. We decided we couldn’t let that go and wanted to do something to help – and well, we have pumps, so…”
In the next two parts of this three part series, we’ll talk about available resources that we’ll be putting together for you and your care providers. I’ll be interviewing some very special and qualified women who have offered their expertise to this cause. We’ll talk about how and when to remove milk to donate if this is your choice (including how to talk to your employer about why this is important to them and you). Some mothers might want to or need to pump after a miscarriage, stillbirth, or other baby loss. We’ll talk about why. We’ll talk about reducing supply, if this is your choice, so your body weans comfortably. If you’d like to share your story, I’d love to hear it, and perhaps share it. Email [email protected]
According to Sheri, “When I asked a few experts for their opinion, I found out there wasn’t anything being done to help these moms in an organized way, so we decided to make it our cause. Moms who need a pump to donate milk will be given the pump at no charge and we will facilitate, if necessary, their introduction to the milk bank closest to them. If they need additional support we’ll talk to our “friends and family” to find lactation professionals who can help them with any specific needs. We will also work to raise awareness of the issue of donor milk and bereavement and why it can help, much like organ donation, in the healing process. Our goal is to make sure that any mom who wishes to donate has the support, equipment and knowledge to do so.”
We’ve suffered two early losses, and I still can’t bring myself to throw away the two positive pregnancy tests, much less trying to envision the confusing and painful messages your body is sending after your baby dies. You’re going to make milk now. You may not know that is something you will have to process after your baby dies. You may not know that there are ways to continue or to stop this process, comfortably. You may never have thought about continuing to make milk for the babies that aren’t yours. You will have to think about these things. Your body will remind you. You DO have a support system here. We will help you. Take heart that you will get through this. For more information about the donating through loss program at Ardo, please email: [email protected]