“I Had One Job and That Was To Make Milk”: Mothers’ Experiences Expressing Milk for Their Very-Low-Birth-Weight Infants

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For very-low-birth-weight (VLBW) infants, breastfeeding may no longer be an immediate option. Mothers often turn to mechanically expressing their milk with a breast pump to provide their infants human milk.

Research aim:

This study aimed to describe mothers’ experiences expressing milk for their VLBW infants in a level 3 neonatal intensive care unit.


Qualitative, phenomenological methods were used to better understand the milk expression experiences of 17 mothers of VLBW infants. In-depth interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Transcripts were analyzed using Colaizzi’s seven-step protocol, and themes were identified to illustrate the lived experience of the mothers.


Five global themes emerged from interviews with mothers. However, this article focuses on one global theme, “I had one job and that was to make milk,” and the supporting subthemes: (1) “I was heartbroken,” (2) “Pumping is a full-time thing,” and (3) “I literally sacrificed nights.”


This study provides insight into the complex experience that mothers in the southeastern United States undergo when expressing milk for their VLBW infants.

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