Shannon K. Carter is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Central Florida. Her research focuses on social inequalities, reproduction, and mothering. She is currently conducting research on African American mothers’ breastfeeding experiences and peer breast milk sharing in Central Florida. Her collaborative research with Beatriz Reyes-Foster on peer milk sharing is published in several outlets, including articles in Breastfeeding Medicine, The Journal of Human Lactation, Symbolic Interaction, and Health, Risk & Society.
Beatriz M Reyes-Foster is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Central Florida. A medical anthropologist, she has conducted research on mental health in Mexico and peer milk sharing and vaginal birth after C-section (VBAC) in Central Florida. She and collaborator sociologist Shannon Carter have published several articles on their work on milk sharing.
Peer breast milk sharing – the commerce-free transfer of breast milk from one caregiver to another for infant feeding – is growing in the U.S. Many health officials warn against the practice despite lack of empirical research testing the health/safety of peer breast milk sharing, or scholarship reporting how and why parents engage in the practice. Analyses of newspaper reports show milk recipients are portrayed as naïve and uninformed, and milk donors are portrayed as untrustworthy. These representations draw upon broader cultural imagery of women as cognitively inferior to men, and the female reproductive body and its fluids as dirty and polluting. This paper examines ways peer milk sharing can be viewed as resistance to these patriarchal images. Data consist of an online survey, in-depth interviews, and ethnographic engagement with milk-sharing parents in Central Florida. Findings show mothers utilize counter-narratives that depict breast milk donors as knowledgeable about how to manage the quality of their milk, competent in milk handling strategies, and honest and trustworthy. Breast milk donors’ bodies are portrayed as producing milk that is clean, healthy, and pure. By reproducing counter-narratives about mothers and their bodies and using these positive images of women to inform infant feeding practices, we argue that peer breast milk sharing can be viewed as a form of resistance to patriarchal control. However, we suggest that this resistance is made possible by participants’ race and socioeconomic privilege, and facilitates their conformity to hegemonic standards of white, middle-class motherhood.