Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Ann Miles

Second Advisor

Dr. Bilinda Straight

Third Advisor

Dr. Laura Spielvogel


Milk banking, breastfeeding, motherhood, breast milk, altruism

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo is home to one of only 15 certified breast milk banks in the United States. Women have shared breast milk for centuries through wet nurses, but this institutionalized and regulated version of sharing is distinct from previous forms. Breastfeeding has become a symbol of successful motherhood; donor milk adds a new dimension to this aspect of idealized motherhood. This study explores how the milk bank works: its organizational structure within a hospital, how donors are selected, and how recipients qualify for donor milk. It is grounded in Feminist and Medical Anthropology literature. Using semi-structured interviews and discourse analysis, I investigate how giving and using donated milk affects mothers’ understandings of their own femininity and motherhood. Ultimately, I find donated breast milk is a produced good, given with altruistic motivation, valued in economic terms, and monitored and distributed by medical authority.