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Tears of Milk: Bereaved Mothers’ Motivations to Donate Human Milk to Nonprofit Milk Banks

Wed, July 11, 11:00am to 12:30pm, Room, 11A 24


Sharing of human milk is an ancient practice, still relevant today. Presently, milk banks are the institutionalized form of milk sharing. In the literature on human milk donations, a special group of donors that has received only little attention: bereaved mothers. In the present research I study these women and seek to further understand their motivations for donating their milk.

Although the topic of human milk donations has been explored in other fields (e.g., pediatrics, neonatal medicine, nursing, lactation and nutrition), due to the nature of these fields, the focus of this research has been on the physical, biological and medical aspects of the phenomenon (Gribble, 2014), with little attention to the psychological, cultural and social aspects.

Unlike other types of organ and bodily fluid donations (e.g., blood, sperm), the donation of human milk requires much more effort from the donor. This effort includes the time and energy it takes to express milk and adhere to strict cleaning and hygiene regimes, and to be mindful of one’s diet, as in abstaining from certain medications, caffeine, and alcohol. Women’s willingness to exert these efforts indicates the seriousness with which they see their donor role, and the high levels of motivation they experience to deliver their milk to others’ babies (Carroll, 2015).

To study these women’s motivations I conducted an in-depth analysis of 38 written testimonial, stories and memories from human milk bank’s web sites, and bereaved mothers’ personal blogs, Facebook pages and web sites, as well as initial interviews of bereaved mothers who donated their milk to nonprofit milk banks. Findings point to an array of motivations for donating, some of which are unique to the particular context of the study. The research contributes to the literature on motivation for giving and augments some of the recent research on the act of giving in the context of organs and bodily fluids donations. It further contributes to our understanding of the motivations to donate in times of loss.