For Mothers Who Lose Their Babies, Donating Breast Milk Is A Healing Ritual


Published:

Stillbirth and neonatal loss are painful in many ways.

But increasingly, some of the more than 24,000 American women whose pregnancies end with the loss of their babies are choosing to do something they find both demanding and healing – giving their breast milk away.

As a social worker, a scholar of philanthropy and a mother who has lost a baby myself, I wanted to learn more about what these women experience. So I embarked on a research project.

In the first phase of my study, I analyzed personal written stories and testimonials of bereaved donors who donated their milk. Currently, I’m conducting in-depth interviews with these women to understand what motivates them to give during their time of personal loss.

Tradition And Trauma

From the dawn of humanity, women have shared their breast milk – often for the survival of babies whose mothers could not nurse. Until the 20th century, this was usually done by directly nursing the babies. In 2017, a network of 27 nonprofit milk banks screened, pasteurized and distributed nearly 6 million ounces of donated milk.

Most of this donated milk comes from mothers who are breastfeeding their own healthy babies, but a significant number of grieving mothers donate as well. For example, more than 300 grieving mothers have shared their milk through the Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin since it opened in Texas in 1999.

This system has emerged as a way to help ensure that more babies can get their ideal source of nutrition. The World Health Organization and pediatricians recommend that all newborns be exclusively breastfed for at least the first six months of their lives. Studies have shown that breastfeeding has many benefits, such as making children less prone to obesity, diabetes and other illnesses and reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

Research also indicates that breastfeeding benefits maternal health, even for women who have lost their babies. And for premature or medically fragile infants breast milk can save lives.

Losing a baby before or after giving birth is a major life crisis that involves multiple losses for these women: the too-early end of their pregnancy, the dashing of their motherhood expectations and sometimes even of trust in their own bodies.

All the mothers in my study lost their babies through stillbirth during labor or died as newborns. But despite their baby’s death, their bodies produced the milk that was destined for their child. It was a recurring physical reminder of their loss.

A Ritual In Grief

Even for women who aren’t grieving, extracting breast milk without a baby’s help is hard.

It involves an elaborate routine of using and cleaning a breast pump, finding somewhere private and comfortable for pumping and preparing oneself emotionally for this activity.

In addition to what is often a state of emotional discomfort, pumping is sometimes physically painful. When a woman is pumping but not nursing a baby, she has to extract milk every few hours, throughout the day and night. Skipping as little as a day or two or failing to pump regularly will cause the milk supply to cease.

For the grieving mothers in my study, the process of pumping and donating breast milk became a repetitive ritual, during which they reflected on their loss.

“Pumping my milk is more healing than I thought it would be,” a bereaved mother identified as Kim blogged on the Indiana Mothers’ Milk Bank website. “I do it four times a day for 10 minutes. Those 40 minutes have become very precious to me. It allows me to reflect upon everything that has happened, cry, and pray. It’s very therapeutic to have something positive come from such a traumatic event.”

This act can also help these bereaved women hold onto, and share with others, the memory of their deceased children.

“The milk bank sent us a picture of a quilt that they’ve created to honor the babies gone too soon whose milk has provided life for other fragile lives,” said Chelsea, a bereaved mother from Massachusetts, on the Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast website. “This was another reminder that all life, no matter how small, is loved and valued.”

From bereaved women’s stories like these, I have sensed that the recurring act of pumping served as a private and intimate memorial ceremony for honoring the babies they lost. And that their ability to help save other babies’ lives by donating milk made recovering from their loss easier.The Conversation

Ayelet Oreg is a Ph.D. Candidate at Binghamton University, State University of New York. Her research focuses on the motivations for philanthropic giving in response to personal loss. In her dissertation research, she studies the motivations of bereaved mothers to donate their human milk to nonprofit milk banks. She finds that the process of expressing and donating the milk helps these women reframe the meanings of their loss.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

See also:
Mothers Dying After Childbirth Is A Medical Issue—But Cultural, Too
When A Mom Feels Depressed, Her Baby’s Cells Might Feel It Too

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

May 26, 2019

During the wee hours of the morning the Moon arrives in Pisces. Moods grow fickle and sensitivities increase. Imaginations are also fertile as a lunar sextile to Uranus implores and inspires curious souls to explore new horizons. The uneasy Last Quarter…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

May 2019

Sunday afternoon: 3–4:30pm at Hillside Herbals Healing herbs for women's health part I: tonic herbs for hormonal balance—normal cycling and aging. Rachel has created a 10...

Cost: Drop in Fee $10 includes all materials and handouts.

Where:
Hillside Herbals
Jefferson, MA


Sponsor: Hillside Herbals
Telephone: 508-847-8615
Contact Name: Rachel Ross
Website »

More information

Sunday Reiki treatments with Reiki master and practitioner Linda Simons in Brookline, MA. Start your week off on a more balanced note with a Reiki treatment on a Sunday afternoon. Please join me...

Cost: Sliding Scale $25-45

Where:
233 Harvard Street
Suite 36
Brookline, MA  02446
View map »


Telephone: 617-304-2205
Contact Name: Linda Simons
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events
No Events

This is a light fun evening to help get you going into the summer season. This evening we will be discussing and working with Geraniums and Pelargoniums. We will be discussing the plants, their...

Cost: $ 20 includes material, pre-reg required

Where:
Brookside Farms
8 Mammoth Rd
Sute #A
Pelham, NH  03076
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey Smith
Website »

More information

Instructor: Pam Driscoll Wednesdays, April 17, May 8, 22, June 5, 19, 6:30pm–7:30pm Join us for the Mid-Week Meditation Sampler at Creative Spirit…an opportunity to pause,...

Cost: $20 per class

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Sponsor: Creative Spirit
Telephone: 781-797-0389
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Be An “Eat to Thrive” Graduate This Summer. Come to an introductory class for the summer session from June 6–August 15 in Point of Pines, Revere, MA. Congratulations to the...

Cost: Free—all are welcome!

Where:
Point of Pines
Revere, MA


Sponsor: Eat to Thrive
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Activists and artists will create inspiring chalk imagery encouraging kindness to animals On May 31, people around the world will gather to create colorful chalk imagery promoting compassion for...

Cost: Free

Where:
Worcester City Common
Worcester, MA  01604


Telephone: 617-5430189
Contact Name: Melissa Scher
Website »

More information

Experience the process to a past life. Learn why it is beneficial and potentially: Clear emotional trauma and physical issues Calm feelings of stress and/or sadness Get insight into...

Cost: $50

Where:
Voice of Clay
16 Meetinghouse Hill Rd
Brookline , NH  03033
View map »


Sponsor: Voice of Clay
Telephone: 603-672-2626
Contact Name: Wendy
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

You do not need any musical background but please be sure to register early! Class is limited to 16 students. 6-hole flutes in G are provided for use during class. You are welcome to bring...

Cost: $35

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street, Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Learn an intro to the magick and science of dowsing. Tools, techniques for information, clearing, balancing, healing, and more. Bob will introduce you to dowsing and basic radiesthesia,...

Cost: Class is $45

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd
Suite #A
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey Smith
Website »

More information

In celebration of ushering in the Strawberry Moon Cycle and we will be doing a new moon planting. This is a great opportunity to literally sow the seeds for some of our other upcoming workshops...

Cost: Pre-reg $35, $40 at the door, materials included

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd
Sute #A
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey Smith
Website »

More information

June 1–2 Join other like-minded seekers as we take a journey through the concepts of the new Earth paradigm, higher self and soul sovereignty, ascension mechanics, and spiritual alchemy.

Where:
Chester, VT


Telephone: (617) 366-6042
Website »

More information

Using Lessons from Music to Harmonize Your Life You know how you want to show up in the world—expressing yourself through your essence, centered in your heart, effective in your life and...

Cost: $90 prepaid by May 30th, $100 at the door

Where:
Center at Westwoods
590 Gay Street
Westwoods, MA
View map »


Telephone: 617-784-4426
Contact Name: Janet Kessenich
Website »

More information

May 4–June 8, 2019 Saturdays 10am–11:30am Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) is a healing martial art using breath and movement. It is just one way to stay young and healthy. It...

Cost: $120

Where:
Metta Wellness
679 Pleasant Street
Paxton, MA  01612
View map »


Sponsor: Metta Wellness
Telephone: 774-245-5487
Contact Name: Rick Rocha
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags