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.
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.