Bereaved mothers' experience of expressing and donating breast milk: an interpretative phenomenological study

Gráinne Ward*, Pauline Adair, Nicola Doherty, David McCormack

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
65 Downloads (Pure)


Perinatal loss is a devastating event for any mother. What is often overlooked is a mothers continued ability to lactate following the death of her child. Donor breast milk is a commodity highly sought after given its value for feeding sick babies resident in Neonatal Intensive Care Units. This study aimed to explore the lived experience of mothers who have expressed and donated their breast milk following the loss of their infant. Seven bereaved mothers who donated milk to the Human Milk Bank in Northern Ireland were recruited. These women took part in semistructured interviews, which explored their experiences of perinatal loss and the role that expression/donation played for them in their grief. Their accounts were analysed using a qualitative interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) method. After transcription and analysis, three superordinate themes emerged; (1) fulfilling the mother role; (2) the power of being able to ‘Do’; (3) making good from the bad. The stories of these women reflect the independent and individual nature of grief. Each mother gained a great deal of comfort in having the ability to express milk. For some this created a physical connection to their child, for others, it created time alone to process what had happened and for all, it created a sense of autonomy and ownership in what was otherwise a very turbulent time in their lives.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13473
Number of pages12
JournalMaternal & Child Nutrition
Issue number3
Early online date16 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023


  • breast milk
  • milk banking
  • neonatal mortality
  • parent
  • postpartum
  • qualitative methods
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology and Child Health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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