1st Edition

Breastfeeding in American Women’s Literature Latching On

By Wendy Whelan-Stewart Copyright 2025
    174 Pages
    by Routledge

    Rather than rarities, literary depictions of women breastfeeding infants are more common in American literature than recognized. In some cases, readers have dismissed such portrayals as scenic background or strokes of verisimilitude. In other cases, we have failed to register them at all. By cataloging and closely reading scenes of characters breastfeeding across the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries, this book decodes the beliefs of writers as celebrated as Willa Cather, Toni Morrison, and Louise Erdrich and as current as Camille Dungy, Maggie Nelson, and Torrey Peters. It traces in these authors’ fantasies and fears the consistent and sometimes competing cultural ideologies that accrue over decades and find expression in breastfeeding scenes. Despite the different historical and cultural expectations of what a mother should be and do, twentieth century and twenty-first century women writers have consistently singled out maternal pleasure—a mother’s privileging of her own desire—as the most important theme attending scenes of breastfeeding.



    1.      Caroline Kirkland’s Pioneer Women and the Busy Breast

    2.      Breastfeeding as Good Husbandry in Willa Cather’s Fiction

    3.      Women’s Utopias and the Problem of Breastfeeding

    4.      The Passions of Toni Morrison and Louise Erdrich’s Breastfeeding Mothers

    5.      Nursing an Eco-Maternal Ethics: Maggie Nelson and Camille Dungy


    Work Cited



    Wendy Whelan-Stewart is an associate professor of English and the coordinator of the English Master of Arts Program at McNeese State University. She received her doctorate from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in American Literature with a minor in Feminist Theory and Women's Studies. She teaches American literature and focuses her research on contemporary North American women writers.