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Episode 2 Breast Milk Sharing and “Good” Mommies with Dr. Beatriz Reyes-Foster

Anthropologist on the Street
Anthropologist on the Street
Episode 2 Breast Milk Sharing and "Good" Mommies with Dr. Beatriz Reyes-Foster

Dr. Beatriz Reyes-Foster Assistant Professor, Socio-Cultural Anthropology University of Central Florida

Human breast milk has become a hot commodity in the U.S., and parents have become creative in networking among moms who have milk to spare. Yet health officials, who continue to promote the standard that “breast is best”, are characterizing informal milk sharing as dangerous and risky; a depiction based not in fact but in assumption and a desire to control the circulation of this “liquid gold”.

In this episode, I talk to medical anthropologist Beatriz Reyes-Foster, a professor at the University of Central Florida. Dr. Reyes-Foster explains the new forms milk sharing is taking today, how “peer breast milk sharing” is rooted in a lack of support for new parents, and why we need to pay careful attention to the moralities hidden in how milk, moms, donors, and sharing practices are being discussed by health professionals.

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More information on Dr. Reyes-Foster:

Academic webpage: https://sciences.ucf.edu/anthropology/people/reyes-foster-beatriz/

Published works: https://ucf.academia.edu/BeatrizReyesFoster

Dr. Reyes-Foster’s colleague and co-author Dr. Shannon Carter: https://sciences.ucf.edu/sociology/people/carter-shannon/

Blogs and other readings on the anthropology of breast milk:

Anthropologist Dr. Aunchalee Palmquist’s blog which “features musings on breastfeeding at the intersection of biology and culture”: https://anthrolactology.com/

“3Qs: Banking on the Body”, a university news article featuring the work of Law professor Kara Swanson: http://www.northeastern.edu/news/2014/05/swansonbodybanks/

Kara Swanson’s book, Banking on the Body: The Market in Blood, Milk, and Sperm in Modern America, referenced in Dr. Reyes-Foster’s interview: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674281431

Anthropologist Dr. Katie Hinde’s blog on “milk research from the molecule to the organism to the population to the taxon, with implications for nutrition, medicine, psychology, and evolutionary biology”: http://mammalssuck.blogspot.com/

Biological Anthropologist Dr. E. A. Quinn’s blog on the science and culture of human breast milk and breastfeeding: http://biomarkersandmilk.blogspot.com/

A blog by an anthropologist and doula on topics related to childbirth, breastfeeding, and doulas, among other things: http://anthrodoula.blogspot.com/

Other important links:

Human Milk Banking Association of North America: https://www.hmbana.org/

Eats on Feets (community based breast milk sharing): http://www.eatsonfeets.org/

Human Milk 4 Human Babies (informed milk sharing network): http://www.hm4hb.net/

**Featured image is adapted from Shellie Johnson’s photograph “Breast milk that is frozen”, creative commons license.

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  1. An additional note on breast milk banking and/or breast milk sharing: women who have had a fetal demise often choose to donate their milk because it helps them in the grieving process to know they are supporting the life of another infant. It can be difficult to approach a woman who just lost a baby, but in the process of educating them on their changes in bodily functions you must share that they will more than likely produce breast milk and then offer them the chance to assist in the life of another–more than likely a preemie in the NICU. Many women have chosen this life affirming process as a means to alleviate their grief.

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