The Portrayal of Breastfeeding in Literature

The Portrayal of Breastfeeding in Literature

By B.J. Woodstein

Analyses the depiction of breastfeeding in literature, what it tells us about how women are perceived in our society and how it matters.

Hardback, 166 Pages


February 2022

£80.00, $125.00

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About This Book

How are breasts and breastfeeding shown in literature? Why does the depiction of breastfeeding in literature matter? What messages do we get from literature about the feeding of infants and children and about women’s bodies? Is this different in different cultures? What causes cultural and historical differences and what can we learn from them?

This cross-cultural study analyses images and descriptions of breasts and breastfeeding in children’s books and literature for adults, in both English and Swedish. It explores how breastfeeding is depicted in literature in the two languages and discusses why there are differences in the cultures. Literary, feminist, anthropological, sociological, historical, and cultural research is used to support this analysis and to suggest explanations for the differing depictions. For example, the book discusses the concepts of women being nude versus women being naked; nakedness, the book argues, is more acceptable in Swedish literature and society, whereas a naked female is immediately perceived as nude in English-speaking cultures, and nudity is always sexualised. It discusses the male gaze and challenges ways of seeing women’s bodies in literature; a question here is whether women can see their bodies without being influenced by the pervasiveness of the male gaze. Another example of a difference between the two cultures is the rise of formula-feeding and supposedly scientific ways of understanding and managing bodies in many Western countries, including English-speaking ones, and this in turn influences decreasing familiarity and comfort with seeing breasts and breastfeeding in literature, whereas rates of breastfeeding are still high in Scandinavia, which suggests more understanding, acceptance and support of natural bodily functions. In addition, issues such as whether a more feminist political approach might affect how breastfeeding is depicted and how it is treated in society are considered.

While this intercultural exploration of breasts and breastfeeding in literature is academic and relies on extensive research, the book also suggests that this reflects popular culture today. Given the rise of the #MeToo movement and our new awareness of people’s rights to their own bodies and to consent, it is important that we explore depictions in the media of women’s bodies and encourage positive representations. Avoiding naked females in literature or primarily showing them in sexualised contexts suggests a sense of shame and fear about female bodies, or emphasises the idea that women are to be objectified.

In short, this book will focus on a topic not yet seen in any depth in academic research and will raise fresh awareness of the power of literature to influence how readers see their own and other people’s bodies, and will also illuminate cultural and historical differences that affect what writers describe and illustrators depict in literature when it comes to breasts and breastfeeding. The book challenges the currently prevailing ways of depicting female bodies in literature and discusses the way societal norms influence the writing and illustrating of literature.


“A thought provoking book exploring how the interconnected aspects of society and imagery shape how we feel about women’s bodies and the biologically normal act of breastfeeding.”—Dr Amy Brown, Swansea University, UK

"An exploration of how breastfeeding is conveyed in literature is a fascinating insight into how a culture values and understands this key part of human life. B.J. Woodstein is the perfect person for the task. Her knowledge of literature, and specifically children's literature, and her ability to compare the literature of Sweden and the UK (two countries with very different attitudes to breastfeeding) is ideal. It is an ambitious task, and it requires the intersection of several disciplines, and her work is successful and illuminating. Her personal experience as a breastfeeding mother and a breastfeeding supporter adds depth to her perspective. As Woodstein writes, "It is time to rewrite the narrative regarding breasts and breastfeeding in our society." By helping us to understand the narratives that are already out there, she has made a valuable contribution." — Emma Pickett, IBCLC (lactation consultant) and chair of the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers

“This is an important and timely book which explores and compares the representation of breastfeeding in children’s books and fiction for adults in both English and Swedish literature, including bestselling novels by Emma Donoghue and Kate Atkinson. Woodstein shows persuasively that the widespread shame around and negative perception of breastfeeding prevalent in British society is mirrored in contemporary literature; she argues for more diversity and positivity in fictional representations of breastfeeding in order to help normalize the practice for real-world parents.” — Dr Muireann Maguire, University of Exeter, UK

Author Information

B.J. Woodstein is a senior lecturer in literature and translation, as well as a writer, editor, Swedish-to-English translator, doula and breastfeeding counsellor.


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Table of Contents

List of Tables; Acknowledgements; Introduction; 1. Background on Breasts and Breastfeeding; 2. Literature for Children; 3. Literature for Adults; 4. Analysis of Differences; Conclusion; References; Index.


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