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Mothers’ experiences of sharing breastfeeding or breastmilk, part 2: the early 21st century

Virginia Thorley

Abstract

While women who informally shared breastfeeding or breastmilk (also called cross-nursing or co-feeding) in the latter part of the twentieth century were often reluctant to disclose this practice, media attention in the last few years has resulted in this practice being discussed more. Nurses may, therefore, encounter mothers who have shared or are sharing breastfeeding or their breastmilk at least once. This paper is the second of two to explore the experiences of mothers co-feeding in a variety of situations. Twenty-two mothers who had co-fed, and the coordinator of an online milk-sharing network, were recruited from online breastfeeding discussion networks, personal contacts and word of mouth. Sampling stopped when eight countries were included. Respondents came from a range of cultures and gave different reasons for this practice. They could choose whether to respond to a set of open-ended questions by email or telephone. A number of different situations were identified in which the women had cross-fed on one or more occasions. Cultural issues, including milk siblingship in Islamic and other cultures, were explored. Consent was important, but fully informed consent was not necessarily obtained. Although no formal screening was conducted, it was clear that the women informally screened those with whom they shared their milk. In this study, sharing of breastfeeding or breastmilk mostly occurred in kinship or close female relationships, or at least between women with similar lifestyles and values, and seldom through casual contacts. In most cases, there was informal screening and the women would not have cross-fed indiscriminately.

Keywords

breastfeeding, cross-nursing, culture, milk siblingship.

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Submitted: 2011-09-29 06:33:05
Published: 2011-12-13 17:25:21
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