Today, I was stunned to see a press release for a new breastfeeding measurement tool, the MilkSense. From a research standpoint, I will admit that any handheld device that allows me to accurately measure milk transfer and is small enough to fit in my backpack makes me excited. Those highly accurate baby scales are heavy when they have to be moved by hand at altitudes greater than >10,000 feet. But, when I see devices like this, I, the researcher, want to be the product’s intended audience. Sadly, I, and other researchers, am never the target audience. It is always mothers. And that is a huge problem. Why? Because what devices like the MilkSense and the recently discontinued Milk Screen test strips actually serve to do is not to increase maternal confidence in the capacity to produce milk, but to call into question the ability of breastfeeding to meet an infant’s needs. Human milk and human babies evolved together, and hands
Compared to most other, non-aquatic animals, we give birth to infants with relatively amounts of body fat. This has been hypothesized to explain why our infants can sustain a weight loss of 8-10% after birth while receiving immune factor rich colostrum. Infant body fat frequently increases across the first few months of life, and it is generally thought that this is in anticipation of nutritional stresses that may be associated with weaning and independent motor development (crawling, walking). However, baby fat is not all the same – babies actually have multiple different types of fat (also called adipose tissue). When it comes to BAT, BeAT, and babies, we actually know very little about the production and maintenance of BAT and BeAT (this is actually true for all ages). What can explain the differences seen in rates of BAT and BeAT decline in different infants based on the handful of studies? The answer may be BREAST MILK.
It is well established that with very few exceptions, human milk is the preferred first food for infants. While the benefits of breastfeeding/receiving human milk are considerable and influence the development of multiple systems in the infant, perhaps the best known benefits of human milk are its immunoprotective properties. Worldwide, breastfeeding is associated with reduced risk of infectious diseases in infants, and these protections persist even in highly hygienic conditions such as the United States (Bartick & Reinhold 2010). Many immune factors are found in human milk, including immune cells, cytokines that regulate immune responses, and secretory Immunoglobulin-A (sIgA), perhaps the most common immunoprotein in human milk. It is well established that there is considerable variation in the immune factors in milk between individual mothers and between populations. It is also known that many of the immune factors in milk are highly responsive, changing in response to active infection of either the mother or infant (blog post on this topic
Breastfeeding belongs in our modern understanding of what public health is.
This month, Anthrolactology welcomes Dr. Charlotte King. Dr. King is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Otago, New
Our new book is here! Breastfeeding: New Anthropological Approaches is an edited volume featuring contributions by anthropologists working across the sub-fields. This book seeks to produce transformative knowledge and novel conversations about human lactation, breastfeeding, and human milk.
Pumping experiences survey – Post 1 of the Series First off, a giant THANK YOU to all the mothers who participated in the online survey. Your assistance was amazing! We started the pumping experiences survey to see how mothers would respond to differences in pump output, based on their normal pumping experiences. We had predicted that mothers who had dramatic changes in output in the experiment – either randomized to much more or much less than they typically produced – would have strong reactions to the images and the responses would tell us a lot about how women perceive their milk supply. The survey randomly assigned each mother to one of three images showing expressed breast milk– one photo showed 1 ounce of pumped milk, the second photo showed 6 ounces of milk, and the final photo showed 12+ ounces of milk. The volumes were classified as “low”, “intermediate”, and “high” volume. The photos created an experimental condition where
We’re happy to announce that Anthrolactology is coming back to your regularly scheduled blogging. But, it is going to be EVEN BETTER!!
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.