University Of Tasmania

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Misshapen motherhood: placing breastfeeding distress

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 06:56 authored by Catherine RobinsonCatherine Robinson
In this article, my general aim is to give place to the experiences of breastfeeding distress which emerged during narrative research with mothers in Australia. I suggest that breastfeeding distress must be read not only in terms of the specific socio-spatial landscape through which it takes hold but also in terms of the lived and often non-compliant landscape of the body itself. Informed by accounts of the dominant context of idealized or exclusive motherhood in nations such as Australia, the UK and USA, and drawing on conceptual work concerned with connecting the cultural and corporeal through thinking about place, I explore two instances of breastfeeding distress: pain and inauthenticity. In both of these contexts women battle with the shameful fallout of being unable to perform what Rebecca Kukla describes as ‘proximate mothering’, exemplified in the figure of the breastfeeding mother exclusively able to latch her baby directly to her breasts. As I discuss, women's experiences of extreme pain during breastfeeding and their use of alternative ‘inauthentic’ modes of feeding (such as bottled pumped breastmilk or formula) shatter their expectations of living the ideal of extended maternal embodiment. Also emerging through these distressing experiences, however, is a potentially resilient awareness of the inherently misshapen nature of motherhood which always overflows its idealized state.


Publication title

Emotion, Space and Society








School of Social Sciences


Elsevier BV

Place of publication


Rights statement

Copyright 2016 Elsevier Ltd.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Women's and maternal health