About the Study
“Milk sharing” is a term used to describe the practice in which a donor gives expressed breast milk to an infant who is not a gestational offspring. Milk sharing is different from commercial milk markets in that donors give their milk without collecting a fee. It is also unique from human milk banking, which produces the only source of donor milk currently endorsed by U.S. health authorities. Milk sharing has sparked heated controversy over the risks of feeding babies raw human milk from donors who have not been systematically screened by a trained health care professional.
Very little is known about families’ milk sharing experiences and the ways milk sharing fits into the everyday lives of mothers, others, and their babies. The Anthropological Contexts of Milk Sharing (AnthroCOMS) study is a comprehensive investigation of the intersecting biological, sociocultural, political economic, historical, and technological contexts of Internet milk sharing.
The AnthroCOMS study will explore questions such as: Why are so many parents interested in feeding their infants with donor breast milk? Why do some people produce enough breast milk for two or three babies and others barely produce any? What is the social significance of milk sharing communities in empowering members through breastfeeding advocacy? How does milk sharing reflect emergent expressions of gender identity, parenting, and family? The study combines careful biocultural assessment of lactation with in-depth inquiry into the stories and experiences of those involved in milk sharing.
About the Investigator
Dr. Palmquist is a medical anthropologist and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She studied clinical lactation at the Mary Rose Tully Training Initiative, Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute (CGBI), University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She has been conducting research on Internet milk sharing since 2011 and has previous experience as a breast milk donor.
A major goal of this research is to replace speculation about milk sharing with empirical data. The AnthroCOMS study will contribute to efforts designed to educate health care professionals, policy makers, and the general public about milk sharing. News for presentations, publications, and reports based on this research may be found on the Anthro-COMS study Facebook Page.
This project has received ethics approval for research with human subjects by the Institutional Review Board at Elon University. It is made possible by an Elon University Faculty Research and Development Grant and a Post-PhD grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation.
Ways to Participate
From September 2013 – May 2014 over 1,000 respondents completed an online survey about their milk sharing experiences. A small team of interviewers also completed nearly 150 telephone interviews with both donors and recipients!
Beginning in June 2014, Dr. Palmquist will be conducting a multi-sited, qualitative study with donors and recipients across the U.S. to learn about the ways in which milk sharing fits into everyday life. If you have an interesting story that you would like to share and think that you might be willing to participate in a home visit, please contact Dr. Palmquist at AnthroCOMS@gmail.com for more information.