breastfeeding

The Birth of an Explorer - Alegra Ally

Photo:  Alegra Ally ,  Wild Born Project . From “ Women at the End of the Land ” expedition to the Yamal Peninsula.

Photo: Alegra Ally, Wild Born Project. From “Women at the End of the Land” expedition to the Yamal Peninsula.

I would sit in a classroom and I would daydream about me just going and disappearing in a jungle and living with a tribe....These are the most memorable moments of my childhood.
— Alegra Ally

This week, I bring you this much anticipated conversation with ethnographer and award-winning photographer and explorer Alegra Ally. Via her Wild Born Project, Alegra has traveled to the far-flung corners of the globe to document the traditional ecological knowledge of indigenous motherhood—from pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding to rite-of-passage rituals for young girls.

This year, Alegra became a new mother herself. She spoke to me from her native Israel, where she and her husband (free diver and photographer Erez Beatus) were enjoying time with family before embarking with their baby son on their next adventure. For Alegra, the drive to explore seems inborn; here, she shares the remarkable story of her first solo expedition to Papua New Guinea at the age of 17, the near improbable logistics of photographing remote tribal birth, and the “superhuman” power she’s found in the wake of new motherhood.

Here’s the run-down:

  • Traveling to Tonga as a new mother

  • Alegra’s own experience of birth

  • Working as a diving instructor, early travels and how she met Erez

  • Her childhood in Israel, and “planning” her first expedition at age 11

  • Her first solo expedition to Papua New Guinea at age 17

  • The spiritual and intuitive search that led her to Wild Born

  • How she documents indigenous motherhood: the logistics

  • Her forthcoming book, her new nonprofit, and what’s next for Alegra and Wild Born

Photo:  Alegra Ally

Learn more about Alegra (and see her amazing photographs) on her personal and Wild Born Project websites. And don’t miss her must-follow Instagram accounts: @alegraally and @wildbornproject.

Photo:  Alegra Ally ,  Wild Born Project . From “ Women at the End of the Land ” expedition to the Yamal Peninsula.

Photo: Alegra Ally, Wild Born Project. From “Women at the End of the Land” expedition to the Yamal Peninsula.

Photo:  Alegra Ally ,  Wild Born Project . From “ Walking with the Himba ” expedition to Namibia.

Photo: Alegra Ally, Wild Born Project. From “Walking with the Himba” expedition to Namibia.

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The Milk Moonshot - Lars Bode and Alan Daly

Top left: Lars Bode, associate professor of pediatrics at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and director of the newly launched  Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation Mother-Milk-Infant Center of Research Excellence . Bottom right: Alan Daly, chair and professor of the Department of Education studies at UCSD and a member of MoMI CoRE's scientific advisory board. Top right: Flickr CC image via  Summer

Top left: Lars Bode, associate professor of pediatrics at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and director of the newly launched Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation Mother-Milk-Infant Center of Research Excellence. Bottom right: Alan Daly, chair and professor of the Department of Education studies at UCSD and a member of MoMI CoRE's scientific advisory board. Top right: Flickr CC image via Summer

Let’s put it [this] way: We’ll never get to the point where formula will be even close to human milk.
— Lars Bode
We’ve got a lot of great science that’s taking place, but it isn’t moving its way out into the larger world. What’s going on here?
— Alan Daly

It is 2018. Scientists sent a man to the moon half a century ago, they mapped the human genome more than a decade ago, and yet we still have scant scientific understanding about breast milk -- the lifeblood that has sustained humankind for at least the past 7 million years. All of that is about to change, if my guests today have their way. Meet Lars Bode and Alan Daly, two of the scientist powerhouses behind the newly launched Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation Mother-Milk-Infant Center of Research Excellence (LRF MoMI CoRE) at the University of California, San Diego—one of the first research centers in the world focused on unraveling the mystery of human milk. 

Lars, who serves as director of the new center, is a noted human milk researcher who is also the president of the International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactation and an associate professor of pediatrics in UCSD's Division of Neonatology and Division of Gastroenterology and Nutrition. (Some of you may recognize his name from my book, Unlatched, in which I visited his laboratory at UCSD and delved into his groundbreaking research on human milk oligosaccharides and the microbiome.) Alan, who serves on the scientific advisory board of MoMI CoRE, comes to human milk research from the social science side: He is the chair and professor of the Department of Education studies at UCSD, as well as executive editor of the journal Educational Neuroscience.

In short, these two guys are rockstars of the academic world (with the global travel schedules to match), and I was so thrilled to finally get the opportunity to sit down with them and talk about The Milk Moonshot, as we dubbed it; find out the full story of why breast milk is not a food, but a human tissue; and get two male scientists to weigh in on the "mommy wars." You won't want to miss this one! 

Show notes:

  • How two men became involved in human milk research

  • Guilt, shaming, and the "mommy wars": Two male scientists weigh in

  • Why is human milk so powerful? (And human milk as a human tissue, finally explained)

  • The mission of MoMI CoRE

  • The limited science guiding societal decisions on breastfeeding

  • The lack of training for doctors in breastfeeding and human lactation

  • Countering the billions of dollars in formula company messaging

  • The “benefits” of breastfeeding versus human milk as the human norm

  • The current attack on science in our post-truth world

  • The Milk Moonshot: The science in the works

  • Lars’s and Alan’s visions for the future

  • How to get involved in human milk research

You can read more about MoMI CoRE and the mission to unravel the complexity of human milk at milk.ucsd.edu. Want to get involved in the effort? Click here

If you enjoyed this show, subscribe on iTunes so you don’t miss the next one (and don’t forget to leave a rating and review). The theme music is by Paul Damian Hogan. Want to chime in on this episode or have an idea for a future show? Connect with me via my Instagram page, I’d love to hear your thoughts!