Breastfeeding and the Pursuit of Happiness

Breastfeeding is a human bodily function that differs in practice across cultural and historical boundaries, yet is framed as “natural” and morally virtuous. Breastfeeding and the Pursuit of Happiness rejects the dichotomy of right vs wrong, exploring the historical, political, and symbolic roots of this sacrosanct belief in “breast is best” – from allusions to biblical milk and honey to contemporary claims of parenting and wellness experts.

Within disparate contexts such as medieval Europe, eighteenth-century France, contemporary Indonesia, and the mommy blogosphere, Phyllis Rippey finds that infant feeding prescriptions often serve the interests of the powerful rather than meeting the needs of women, infants, and families. Upending some of our most cherished beliefs about the maternal breast, Rippey reveals the ways historical and contemporary debates over breast versus bottle feeding distract from underlying issues such as poverty, environmental destruction, and violence against women. Rippey balances science-based and historical analysis with the stories of lesbian mothers and trans fathers, Black and White women breastfeeding advocates, and Indonesian mothers, among other mothers who express feelings of empowerment, pleasure, pain, and moral failure.

At turns witty, heartbreaking, and intellectually compelling, Breastfeeding and the Pursuit of Happiness draws on Hannah Arendt, Black feminist thought, affect theory, the ethics of care, and theories of political humility to offer a new framework for valuing and affirming the human power of giving and receiving care, including through the breast.