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Margaret Butler

PhD Candidate and Certified Lactation Counselor

Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University

My research uses biosocial approaches and mixed methods to examine birthing peoples' health in the United States, focusing on human lactation and postpartum mental health. I expect to defend and graduate with my PhD in 2023.

I am a four-field trained anthropologist with concentrations in biological anthropology and human biology. I received my M.A. and a certificate in Society, Biology, and Health from Northwestern in 2019. My research and teaching interests are at the intersections of anthropology, reproductive health and justice, public health, and medicine. 

I am a member of Dr. Sera Young's Research Group (YRG), the Evolutionary & Ecological Approaches to Human Health and Development (E2HD) research collective, the Society, Biology, and Health (SBH) interdisciplinary cluster, and the Stress Pregnancy and Health (SPAH) study research team. In addition to my graduate studies, I am a certified lactation counselor (CLC) and I aspire to become a full-spectrum doula.

I received my B.A. in Anthropology from Ithaca College in 2017, graduating summa cum laude. My honors thesis explored the complexities of choosing to breastfeed among mothers in Ithaca, New York. Additionally, I conducted research examining fetal and infant skeletal remains from the Johns Hopkins Fetal Collection, as well as juvenile skeletal remains from the Erie Country Poorhouse, with my advisor and mentor Dr. Jennifer Muller. 

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Research Projects

Dissertation Fieldwork Project - Identifying biosocial drivers of postpartum depression and breastfeeding among Chicagoland mothers


Examining the roles prenatal authoritative knowledge and perinatal inflammation may have in shaping these postpartum experiences. This project used mixed methods and consisted of two phases. Between November 2020 and March 2021, I interviewed (n=25) pregnant people to inform the development of a survey measuring prenatal authoritative knowledge about breastfeeding and postpartum depression. Survey administration (n=75) and biomarker collection (n=45) were completed July 2022. 

Police Brutality and Pregnancy


Semi-structured interviews (n=15) and focus group discussions (n=3) are used to examine views and opinions on police brutality and violence in a sample of pregnant and recently delivered patients who identify as Black/African American at NorthShore University HealthSystem and Cook County Health.

A retrospective examination of postpartum depression experiences among Chicagoland mothers


A pilot study consisting of in-depth interviews with self-identified mothers in Cook County (n=10) to learn more about their interpretations and perceptions of postpartum depression. This project greatly informed the conception of my dissertation research.

Predictors of inflammation during pregnancy among a pregnancy cohort from Cebu City, the Philippines


A secondary analysis of data from the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey (CLHNS) examining the role of early life socio-economic status on levels of inflammation during pregnancy.​

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Peer-reviewed articles & book chapters

Butler M, Allen JA, Hoskins-Wroten J, Sanders-Bey T, Venegas RN, Webb I, and Ragland K. 2020. "Structural racism and barriers to breastfeeding on Chicagoland's South Side." Breastfeeding Medicine.

Butler MS, Young SL, and Tuthill EL. 2020. "Perinatal depressive symptoms and breastfeeding behaviors: A systematic literature review and biosocial research agenda." Journal of Affective Disorders. 

Schuster RC, Butler MS, Wutich A, Miller JD, Young SL, and HWISE-RCN. 2020. “If there is no water, we cannot feed our children”: The far-reaching consequences of water insecurity on infant feeding practices and infant health across 16 low- and middle-income countries. American Journal of Human Biology.

Muller JL and Butler MS. 2018. "At the Intersections of Race, Poverty, Gender, and Science: A Museum Mortuary for Twentieth-Century Fetuses and Infants" In: P Stone (ed.) Bodies of Evidence in Bioarchaeological Analysis: New Ways of Knowing Anatomical and Skeletal Collections. Bioarchaeology and Social Theory Series. Springer.

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last updated August 2022

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1810 Hinman Ave. Evanston, IL 60208

Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University

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