About this project
Mother’s Milk: Breastfeeding
from Metaphor to Practice
The overarching goal of the Mother’s Milk Project is to build and sustain a dialogue across disciplines and backgrounds—creative artists and writers, scholars of the humanities and social sciences, medical practitioners and alternative caregivers—around breastfeeding and its central role in how parenthood has long been understood, regulated and performed in society.
Breastfeeding—or nursing or, more recently, chestfeeding—is a particularly fraught cultural practice. Its presence in religious tradition, art, and literature is central and massive, understood as vital to human survival and also viewed as suspicious and occasionally perverse. Views on breastfeeding in American culture have gone through many different phases, and the practice has a long and revealing social history tied up in race, gender and class.
In our first conference in October 2022, we sought to foster a conversation in which participants could consider breastfeeding from multiple viewpoints, including lived experience, humanistic research, health services, creative expression, and public policy. We believe that approaching breastfeeding as both a practice and an idea, with attention to the interrelated questions of class, feminism, racial justice, disability, and politics, and with consideration of societies from antiquity through to the present day, can transform our understanding of public health, of reproductive justice, and of the myriad systemic pressures faced by those with birthing bodies. The speakers who participated represented markedly different perspectives and research backgrounds, because we believe this broad approach is crucial to achieve social change.
In the next phase of this project, we aim to focus on the complicated interplay between language, gender identity, and lactation. “Mother’s milk” is a term that belies the fact that what some describe as “liquid gold” has never fully belonged to those producing the milk. The relatively new, intentional use of less gendered terminology by many practitioners and laypeople—chestfeeding, nursing parents, birthing parents—has been an important step toward countering the histories of exclusion that surround infant feeding. Yet we also want to acknowledge that inclusive language does not allow us to fully escape misogynist and transphobic attitudes toward caregiving.
To hear more from the organizers and presenters at the 2022 conference, click here.