The grief ritual of extracting and donating human milk after perinatal loss

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18 Scopus citations


Perinatal loss is a major life crisis involving multiple losses, including the loss of future hopes and dreams, of being pregnant, and of self-esteem, to name a few. In the present study I focus on mothers who experienced perinatal loss and chose to extract and donate their human milk to nonprofit milk banks. Through an analysis of 88 women's personal testimonials, collected between 2017 and 2019, I uncover the ritualistic attributes of the extraction and donation process. The bereaved mothers in this study experienced ambiguous loss, comprising the combination of the physical absence and psychological presence of their baby. The process of extracting and donating their milk constitutes a grief ritual, allowing mothers to maintain and reconstruct the continuing bonds with their babies. The present study extends current understandings of organ donation in times of loss, highlighting the unique nature and consequences of the milk donation process through its conceptualization as a grief ritual.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113312
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Nov 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd


  • Ambiguous loss
  • Continuing bonds
  • Grief rituals
  • Meaning-making in loss
  • Milk donation
  • Perinatal loss


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