Earlier this year I had the opportunity to speak at the Breastfeeding and Feminism International Conference in Chapel Hill, NC. The conference is devoted to highlighting breastfeeding-related research, practice, advocacy, and policy. The meeting theme for 2015 was “Breastfeeding, Social Justice, and Equity: Reflecting, Reclaiming, and Re-visioning,” in celebration of the meeting’s tenth anniversary. I presented my research on maternal-child health disparities in Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations in Hawai’i. What follows are some highlights from this presentation.
Understanding demedicalization as acts of resistance is also important in refocusing attention on the ways individuals exercise agency and seek empowerment despite hegemonic influences; a focus on demedicalization leads to an understanding of the everyday practices of resistance to medicalization. This analysis is on the ways in which milk sharing is enacted to demedicalize women’s bodies, the fluids they produce, and the babies they nourish.
It was hard to imagine leaving my baby for a month, and I nearly cancelled the plans for fieldwork entirely when I was feeling particularly worried about how my son, my milk supply, and my heroic stay-at-home Dad was going to handle this absence.
Milk sharing often grows out of the relationships formed within a community of breastfeeding mothers, and in return, the act of sharing milk strengthens these relationships.
Heather’s story teaches us that milk sharing is not simply about nourishing babies – sometimes it’s about mothers caring for other mothers, too.
My brilliant colleague, Kirstie Doehler, and I analyzed a handful of the survey items and then wrote a paper. It was published online in October 2014 in the journal Social Science & Medicine, and is the first to describe who is milk sharing in the U.S.
Milk sharing has deep social (and some might argue biological) roots. It’s not going to just go away because health authorities caution against it. It is part of our past, our present, and most likely our future. What is happening online is just scratching the surface. Clearly, we need a better understanding of the social context of milk sharing risk and risk reduction strategies people use.
At the AAAs in December, we had a stellar line up of anthropologists who discussed the ways that breastfeeding research adds to our understanding of what it means to be human.