Breastmilk Consubstantiation and Kinship Negotiations

Emily Apadula


Faculty Advisor: Caroline Bledsoe


I’m a rising senior majoring in Global Health and Anthropology. I’m passionate about reproductive health and am preparing this year to apply to graduate school to become a Nurse Midwife.


In this research I applied a symbolic anthropology lens to breastmilk as a substance in order to investigate how the many meanings of breastmilk are created cross-culturally. While the action of breastfeeding predominates in Euro-American conversations regarding lactation, such that cultural attitudes and legislation often focus on the exposure of the breast as the defining characteristic of breastfeeding, I wanted to consider how the substance itself plays a role in interpretations of the action. 

As an aspiring nurse-midwife, the topic of lactation is central to my interests. Reduced breastfeeding rates in contemporary Euro-American societies force those interested in infant health to consider how and why various readings of breastmilk develop so as to understand how best to support families seeking to feed their infants breastmilk. As the ways in which people access breastmilk expand, so too must the lens of research regarding infant feeding if health care is to match the pace of families’ changing needs. 

My hope for the future of breastfeeding research is that we will gain a better understanding of how people understand breastmilk and infant health. Public health interventions designed to increase breastfeeding rates or improve infant health are hindered by a failure to appropriately meet parents’ needs–a shortcoming that is rooted in a lack of ethnographic research investigating the beliefs and attitudes of people seeking to feed their infants. While my research is aimed at creating an overview for the purpose of comparison, I hope that the field will build more specialized approaches to local and personal understandings of breastfeeding in the future. 

I will be attending graduate school to complete a Master of Science in Nursing with a specialization for advanced nursing practice in midwifery. I hope to integrate lactation consultation into my future work developing personalized prenatal, gynecological, and infant care.