Lactation After Infant Death: Partners’ Experiences

Author/editor: Katherine Carroll, Simon Copland, Debbie Noble-Carr & Catherine Waldby
Year published: 2021


Funded by: Newborn Intensive Care Foundation

This publication reports on the findings of a pilot study funded by the Newborn Intensive Care Foundation. Researchers interviewed seven bereaved fathers, in the ACT and Queensland, in order to examine their experiences, perspectives and practices toward their partner’s lactation after still birth and infant death. Five fathers reported on their experiences of supporting their partner with donation of breastmilk to a Human Milk Bank after loss. This study is one of the first projects worldwide that has sought the experiences and perspectives of fathers on lactation after infant death and bereaved milk donation. The report draws attention to the significant grief experienced by fathers and highlights the following key findings:

  • Fathers assume a significant support role for their partner and children following infant death.
  • Breastmilk and involvement in infant feeding holds significant meaning for fathers especially when their infant is receiving care within the Newborn Intensive Care Units or Palliative Care settings.
  • Fathers often have limited awareness of, and role in lactation after infant death except in cases where the mother continues expression of breastmilk after infant death for the purpose of gentle suppression or donation to a Human Milk Bank.
  • Fathers provide a great deal of practical and emotional support to their partners throughout the bereaved donation process, often acting as the sole or main supporter to their partner.
  • Bereaved breastmilk donation is meaningful to fathers and may assist in their grief and meaning-making post loss, due to them being able to find something positive amidst their painful loss experiences by helping their partner and other families.
  • Fathers and their partners require enhanced lactation care information and support regardless of their chosen lactation management options.

A number of recommendations have been made in this report that detail the need for an enhanced focus on family-centred bereaved lactation care and acknowledgement of the positive role that bereaved donation can play in families’ grief following infant loss.

Updated:  10 May 2021/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications