EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination

Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010


The breast milk problem: cultural considerations when mother's own milk is unavailable

Location JHT4
Date and Start Time 27 Aug, 2010 at 11:30


Tanya Cassidy (Maynooth University) email
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Long Abstract

Identified specifically as a "problem" by influential early pediatricians at the turn of the twentieth century, constructions about how to deal with issues associated with reduced breast milk supplies due to economic, medical and/or social considerations have been imagined not only by the medical community but also multi-national corporations. The familiar slogan "breast is best" has recently been challenged by voices at either extreme of the breast milk-formula feeding continuum. Those who legitimate formula feeding argue for a more holistic lifestyle-orientated displacement of the primacy of breast milk feeding while breast milk advocates have suggested that "best" fails to convey either the routinized normalcy of breastfeeding or the negative qualities of formula feeding.

This year's World Breastfeeding Week took as its theme, "breastfeeding in emergency situations", capturing one context where breastfeeding can save lives. Other more medicalized global circumstances include the increasing rates of prematurity and low birth weights within an economy of stretched resources. Connected to these issues is the WHO recognition of donor human milk banking which is experiencing an unprecedented growth world wide, while traditional cultural systems of milk sharing such as the Islamic milk kinship system are being displaced in nations at war such as the Sudan.

This workshop offers an opportunity to consider anthropological issues when we look at how we imagine not only how infants have been, are being, and will be fed when they are not given milk from their mother's own breast. What questions arise when mother's own breast is not best?

Discussant: Professor Vanessa Maher

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.


Ireland, Irish Women and Lactation Surrogacy: Imagining a world where it takes a community to feed a child.

Author: Tanya Cassidy (Maynooth University)  email
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Long Abstract

Using other people's breast milk has been an answer to the problem of when mother's own milk is not available cross-culturally and throughout history. From casual, often hidden, cross-nursing experiences, to more formalized and now often not recognized paid employment associated with wet nursing, Irish women have given literally of themselves around the world to feed other people's infants. The modern human milk bank located in Northern Ireland is the only community based milk bank in the UK Association of Milk Banks, and therefore is not only able to accept donations from women on either side of the border, but also is able to provide milk to infants in need island wide. This exemplar of cross border health co-operation could help to imagine a world in which all infants have the opportunity to receive breast milk.

"I have to know this baby, he will be like my son": considerations on migration and milk banking in Italy

Author: Rossella Cevese (University of Verona)  email
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Long Abstract

During the hospitalization of her daughter, Fatema was asked by a nurse if she wanted to donate her milk to the bank, and Fatema refused.I must know the baby who will have my milk, she explained. Fatema is a young Moroccan woman who arrived in Verona in 2004. Migration brings to light differences in meanings of bodily substances and social practices, such as breastfeeding; as Fatema shows, breast milk can be seen as a substance that both feeds and creates ties. Comparing the experiences of Moroccan and Italian women, this paper, based on research into the ideas of health, the body and healing among Moraccan women migrants in Verona, is concerned with the cultural meanings and representations of breast milk.

Breast feeding versus formula feeding: which views do mothers refer to?

Authors: Gervaise Debucquet (AUDENCIA-Nantes. School of Management)  email
Valérie Adt (Centre Edgar Morin (EHESS-CNRS, Paris) et LESMA (AUDENCIA, Nantes))  email
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Long Abstract

This communication focuses on the influence of social, cultural and anthropological determinants on mothers' feeding related choice. On the basis of interviews with 40 French mothers (face-to-face and, for a certain number, through chat rooms and 4 months of follow-up), we analyze how medical view, further to the numerous changes and contradictions relating to recommendations on the feeding of newborn children, has recently been challenged by the naturalist view, encompassing mostly educated women. When talking about their choice, mothers who breast-feed frequently emphasize the importance of maternal milk on food education (taste widening, food intake regulation and prevention of obesity) and child autonomy acquisition, above nutritional considerations. Conversely, mothers who choose exclusively to bottle-feed have less confidence in their body and their child's ability to "know" what they need. They thus rely on science to provide well-balanced milk. The analysis suggests the existence of two conceptions of the body: one symbiotic and one performative.

This research has been conducted within the context of a French research program (NUPEM), headed up by the CRNH de Nantes, dedicated to the effects of perinatal diet on adult health.

Mixed messages? An examination of some cultural and socio-political concerns raised by international guidelines on infant feeding for women who are HIV positive

Author: Anne Matthews (Dublin City University)  email
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Long Abstract

International guidelines have been developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other international organisations for women who wish to breastfeed and are HIV positive. These guidelines and their recommendations are directed at national and local health planners and health professionals in low-income countries. They draw on quality-graded evidence to calculate the relative risks of breastfeeding and its alternatives for women in these countries. Consideration is given in the most recent WHO (2009) guidelines to 'cultures' and context, but these considerations lose their meaningfulness against the implicit and stark socio-political injustices underpinning the recommendations (for example, continued limited access to anti retro viral medication). The evolution of the content and the language of these guidelines, will be explored. In particular, the cultural issues embedded in breastfeeding practices, HIV testing and disclosure of HIV status will be highlighted. This paper will also draw on my experiences and reflections from working within a global health networking project, currently taking place with partners in Malawi.

Best or worst? Diverging interpretations on breastfeeding amongst African HIV positive mothers in the era of 'normalization' of AIDS prevention

Authors: Alice Desclaux (University Paul Cézanne d'Aix-Marseille, IRD)  email
Chiara Alfieri (Université Paul Cézanne d'Aix-Marseille)  email
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Long Abstract

As epidemiological evidence has shown that breastfeeding transmits HIV to 1/3 infants of HIV positive mothers, public health discourses about breastfeeding amongst HIV women, and about overall breastfeeding, are diverse. They reflect partly the diversity of epidemiological, social, sanitary and medical contexts that impact on infant feeding possibilities and transmission rates. In 2009, WHO recommendations proposed to prevent HIV transmission by combining breastfeeding with prophylactic antiretroviral therapy. This new schedule that aims at « normalizing » infant feeding in resource-poor settings confronted to HIV was not approved by all African mothers. This presentation, based on ethnographic data from Burkina Faso and Senegal, will analyze how discourses at various levels, from international agencies to public health programs, health workers and HIV positive women, build breastfeeding practices either as « at risk » or as protective.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.