Experiences of breastmilk donation and breastfeeding in the UK and Ireland

  • Grainne Ward

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctorate in Clinical Psychology


The attached thesis contains two separate research papers to include a systematic review and empirical research project, followed by a reflective appendix. These papers are focused on the subject of breastfeeding and breastmilk donation with Ireland and the UK.

The systematic review sought to identify the current barriers and facilitators to breastfeeding within the UK and Ireland. This paper reports the vast array of influencing factors on breastfeeding activity. Significant determinants were split into four influencing categories: sociodemographic, psychosocial, clinical, and experiential factors. This review was able to identify the determinants of low rates of breastfeeding and thus create a signpost for where medical staff can provide increased support and aid.

The empirical research study aimed to explore the lived experience of mothers who have expressed and donated their breastmilk following the loss of their infant. Seven bereaved mothers who donated milk to the Human Milk Bank (HMB) located in Northern Ireland were recruited. These women took part in semi-structured interviews which explored their experiences of perinatal loss and the role that expression/donation played for them in their grief. These interviews were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis as a qualitative methodology. Three superordinate themes emerged from the analysis; (1) Fulfilling the mother role; (2) The power of being able to ‘Do’; (3) Making good from the bad. 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 stage of their lives.
Date of AwardDec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorPauline Adair (Supervisor) & David McCormack (Supervisor)


  • Breastmilk
  • Donation
  • UK
  • Ireland

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