Receiving screened donor human milk for their infant supports parental wellbeing: a mixed-methods study

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Background: Access to donor human milk (DHM) has primarily been based on the health and development outcomes of premature infants but there has been little examination of the broader impact of an infant receiving it upon parental mental health. Breastfeeding and mental health are closely tied with women who experience breastfeeding difficulties or are unable to meet their own breastfeeding goals often experiencing feelings of guilt, sadness and anger, alongside an increased risk of postnatal depression. The aim of the current study was to explore how experience of receiving DHM for their baby affected the wellbeing of parents. Methods: UK parents of infants aged 0 – 12 months who had received screened DHM from a milk bank (typically on the neonatal unit or in some cases in the community) completed an online questionnaire exploring their experiences. The questionnaire included Likert scale items examining perceived impact upon infant health, own wellbeing and family functioning alongside open-ended questions exploring perceptions of how receiving DHM affected wellbeing. Results: Almost all of the 107 participants (women = 102) agreed that receiving DHM had a positive impact upon infant health and development, their own mental and physical health, and their family’s wellbeing. Parents felt relieved that their infant was receiving DHM for health reasons but also due to the experience of being listened to, supported and having their infant feeding decisions facilitated. Receiving DHM helped mothers to process some of their emotions at not being able to breastfeed, in part because knowing their baby was being fed gave them the space to focus on recovery and bonding with their baby. Some parents did experience challenges, feeling guilty at receiving DHM, insecure that another woman was able to feed their baby when they could not, or negative reactions from family. Although the impact of receiving DHM upon breastfeeding was not measured, some women who were working to build their own milk supply noted that it helped motivate them to continue. Conclusions: DHM may play an important role not only in protecting infant health and development but in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of mothers for whom their infant receiving human milk is important.




Brown, A., & Shenker, N. (2022). Receiving screened donor human milk for their infant supports parental wellbeing: a mixed-methods study. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 22(1).

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