When did we start talking about breastfeeding as if it was akin to playing a full contact sport? (Like when a feed at the breast is called a “bout.”) And, why are some lactation technologies referred to as body armor? You know, nipple shields, breast shells, and breast pumps called the DEFENDER. Are we talking about going into battle here or nursing a baby? How did the lactating breast become a combat zone between mothers and their babies?
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.
From where I’m standing, the regulation of anonymous online milk sales is a red herring. Our efforts and resources should be poured into making breastfeeding an attainable reality for all mothers, not just the privileged few. Critically ill infants need human milk to survive and thrive, but all infants in need should have access to human milk. If regulation or policy can help to level the playing field so that increased breastfeeding and access to safe donor milk may become a reality, then that’s a conversation worth having. But, I would rather get busy tearing down barriers that stand in the way of mothers breastfeeding their own babies and figuring out ways of delivering breast milk from healthy donors, wherever and whenever it is needed.
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.
Providing mothers with a supportive workplace, safe and sanitary places to pump, and time to practice this small, but significant, act of caregiving while they are at work, just doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
Dr. King’s legacy continues to shape the fight for health equity within African American communities. What better day than today to reflect on birth justice and breastfeeding?
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.