MILK: An Intimate History of Breastfeeding
When Joanna Wolfarth was pregnant with her first child, she assumed she would breastfeed, as her mother had fed her. Yet she was unprepared for the startling realities of new motherhood. Then, just four weeks after the birth, she found herself back in hospital with an underweight baby, bewildered by inconsistent advice and overcome with feelings of guilt and isolation.
Months later, her cultural historian's impulse led her to look to the past for guidance. What she discovered, neglected in the archives, amazed and reassured her. By piecing together cultural debris - from fragments of ancient baby bottles to eighteenth-century breast pumps, from the Palaeolithic Woman of Willendorf figurine to the poignantly inventive work of Louise Bourgeois and from mythical accounts of the creation of the Milky Way to advice found in Victorian medical manuals - Joanna began to understand how feeding our babies can be culturally, economically and physiologically determined as well as deeply personal and emotive.
Using the arc of her own experience, Joanna takes us on an intimate journey of discovery beyond mother and baby, asking how the world views caregivers, their bodies, their labour and their communal bonds. By bringing together art, social histories, philosophy, folk wisdom and contemporary interviews with women from across the world, Milk reveals how infant feeding has been represented and repressed, celebrated and censured. In doing so, Joanna charts previously unexplored territory of motherhood.
Praise for MILK
'a brave writer....takes us on an illuminating tour of shifting attitudes and practices'
'a love letter to all who have cradled an infant...the beauty of Wolfarth's story telling is hard to convey...it is a story for us all'
'it's a diverse affair, taking in everything from ancient icons of motherhood and Renaissance views of the sanctity of milk, to Victorian medical manuals and trips to the 21st-century maternity ward...'
Compassionate, compelling and beautifully told, Milk is a fascinating journey through the social, cultural and historical meanings of breastfeeding. Through her intricate, personal and tender research, Wolfarth deftly explores the human complexities of caring, nurturing and nourishing. A sublime book
-- ELINOR CLEGHORN, author of UNWELL WOMEN
Erudite, intimate and compelling, Milk is a long-overdue history of humanity's first food
-- LEAH HAZARD, author of HARD PUSHED
Sensitively drawn and full of insight, this is an intelligent and inventive new approach to a subject that should matter to all humans. Stunning.’ -- JENNIE AGG, author of LIFE, ALMOST.
Milk is a fascinating book, a rigorous and intimate study of something at once essential to life, and yet too often overlooked. Wolfarth uses breastfeeding as a lens through which to examine and critique the structures of motherhood, but it's also a text suffused with love and care, and I felt equal parts enlightened and comforted after reading it
-- MIRANDA WARD, author of ADRIFT