The study aimed to identify and map the factors that shape the delivery of hospital-based lactation care for bereaved mothers to inform quality improvement initiatives targeting hospital-based lactation care.
Focus groups and interviews were conducted at three large hospitals in Australia with 113 health professionals including obstetricians, neonatologists, midwives, neonatal nurses, lactation consultants, social workers or pastoral care workers, Human Milk Bank (HMB) staff, and perinatal bereavement nurses. Thematic and interactional data analysis identified the nature, scope, and pattern of bereavement lactation care. A bereaved lactation care pathway was generated from health professionals’ reports.
Bereaved lactation care, if provided, was limited to brief encounters aimed at facilitating lactation suppression. The type of lactation care offered, and any exploration of the variable biopsychosocial significance of lactation after infant death, was conditional on (i) availability of health professionals with suitable awareness, knowledge, capacity, confidence, and comfort to discuss lactation; (ii) hospital culture and mode of suppression primarily practiced; (iii) mother’s breast milk being visible to hospital staff; (iv) mother expressing interest in expanded lactation management options; (v) availability of, and eligibility to, donate to a HMB; and (vi) support beyond the hospital setting being facilitated.
Mothers should be presented with the full array of lactation management options available after stillbirth or infant death. Inclusion of evidence-based, biopsychosocial and patient-centered approaches to lactation care is urgently required in health professionals’ bereavement training and in the policies of hospitals and HMBs.