chapter  2
14 Pages

Beyond passive immunity

Breastfeeding, milk and collaborative mother-infant immune systems
ByElizabeth M. Miller

Breastfeeding protects and promotes the infant immune system by transferring mothers’ accumulated immunological memory to infants through milk. By conceptualizing this process as “passive immunity,” scientists portray milk as invariant and infants as unresponsive. This chapter suggests an alternative approach: to view the maternal-infant breastfeeding link as a dynamic system in which infant biology actively modifies milk. This flexible system represents a “collaborative immunity” between mother and infant that allows infants to develop culturally and ecologically embedded immune “selves.” This review discusses how researchers can incorporate anthropological perspectives on the study of collaborative immunity in milk, including literature on embodiment and the biocultural synthesis.