The ways in which infants are fed are public health and human rights issues. When a mother cannot provide her own breastmilk, international health authorities recommend ‘breast milk from a healthy wet-nurse or a human milk bank’ (WHO/UNICEF, 2003) as alternatives to feeding infant formula.
Australian infant feeding policy pays scant attention to these milk sharing options despite the recent establishment of milk banks and the use of cross-feeding and social media to exchange breastmilk in the community. Research on this policy gap shows that milk sharing operates in defiance of dichotomized institutional norms to breastfeed or use infant formula and social norms for an individual mother to be the exclusive provider for her child.
This study investigates how mothers who share milk in Australia engage in a collective response to these problems and navigate a web of biological, legal, social and market rules for infant food and human tissue. How do different forms of milk sharing address questions about safety, ethics and competition for supply of breastmilk? What are appropriate public policy responses to these alternative “economies” and the challenges they face from corporate interests?
Libby Salmon is a PhD candidate who joined RegNet in 2016 to research regulatory regimes affecting women’s food production for infants and young children through breastfeeding. Her research investigates the contribution of human milk sharing to infant food security and health policy in Australia, under the supervision of Sharon Friel, Julie Smith and Ibi Losoncz. With qualifications and experience in agricultural and veterinary science policy and practice, Libby worked with Julie Smith from 2013 as a research associate at the Australian Centre for Economic Research on Health at ANU on a study of breastfeeding and childcare, and rapid evidence reviews for WHO on marketing of breastmilk substitutes and complementary foods and the Australian Government’s upcoming revised National Breastfeeding Strategy