Breastfeeding, the Church, & Me

The American church is doing a terrible disservice to the mothers of young children. For the umpteenth time, today I was made to feel ashamed, belittled, and embarrassed in a house of worship for taking care of my child and I am not the only woman who has experienced this, not by a long shot. It has gotten to the point where I dread going to church, where I wake up on a Sunday morning and debate if it’s really worth it. I am contemplating just giving up altogether until I no longer have small children because I am so tired of being hurt, chastised, and treated like a second class citizen.

I am, of course, talking about women who have the audacity to breastfeed their children in a church building without choosing to cloister themselves away.

We recently moved and have been searching for a new church home, but this problem began at my previous church, and I have been hurt and disappointed over and over again this past year. It is unconscionable that the church has allowed sex culture to become so pervasive that it has infiltrated our houses of worship. Even though the Bible speaks of breastfeeding as a blessing (Genesis 49:25) and speaks of God’s bosom as a place of safety and comfort (Isaiah 40:11), even though Christ himself specifically invited children into his presence (Matthew 19:14) and the word clearly indicates that nursing infants should be part of the church (Joel 2:16), apparently the sight of women using their breasts as God intended is far too scandalous a sight for the modern church.

Before you get all high and mighty about how immodest it is to feed a child, let me direct you back to the Bible. Modesty doesn’t mean what you think it means. That oft quoted verse about women “adorning themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly”? You have to keep reading the rest of the verse to learn that the proper clothing is good works and that Timothy is cautioning against ostentatious displays of wealth or focusing too much on your appearance (1 Timothy 2:9-10).

Now that we’ve covered some of what the Bible has to say on the subject, I’d like to address some of the ridiculous things that have been said to me in regards to breastfeeding in public and specifically in regards to breastfeeding at church.

  • Just use a cover. This is not an option for me and my child. I originally intended to use one but from day one if her head was covered, my daughter would unlatch and scream bloody murder until it was removed. I don’t really blame her; have you tried to eat under a blanket? It’s hot and uncomfortable. Also, it’s completely unnecessary.
  • Just pump. Not all women respond well to a pump. Some women get nothing at all. Additionally, it takes awhile. Plus, why on earth would I bring a bottle that I have to keep cold and then reheat when I can use the original God given storage containers and my child’s food is always at the perfect temperature and ready to go?
  • You’re doing it for the attention. Never once in my life have I disrobed, announced to the room that I am now breastfeeding, and then demanded that everyone pay attention to me. Usually, I can quietly feed my child and no one even notices. You know what they do notice? A screaming baby.
  • There are children present. Oh really? You mean like the one I’m currently feeding, because I’m pretty sure the very act of breastfeeding requires a child to be present.
    What are you concerned about, that they might learn it is a normal part of life? That you might have to answer the question, “What is she doing?” Do you know how you answer that question? Let me help you.
    “Mommy, what is that woman doing?”
    “She’s feeding her baby.”
    The end.
  • What about the teenagers, especially the teenage boys? What about the men present? Did you know that for the entirety of human history, babies were breastfed by their mothers until the advent of commercially available formula in the 1920s and 30s? For all those thousands of years, men of all ages were constantly exposed to breastfeeding women. And what was the end result? They saw it as normal. It was as common a sight as a bottle fed baby is today. Are we now going to treat men as animals, incapable of controlling themselves around the sight of an exposed breast being used for its biological and intended purpose? Is that what you truly believe about half the population, that they are slaves to their testosterone? Shame on you.
    The more people are exposed to breastfeeding, the more normal it becomes. Continuing to treat it as if it’s something shameful not only discourages today’s young women from nursing their children in the future but doesn’t give men the opportunity to be supportive husbands and fathers who are doing what’s best for their families.
  • You’re leading others into sin. To be quite honest, this one just ticks me off. Are there men who are aroused by the sight of breastfeeding women? Sure. There are also folks with foot fetishes; should I wear orthopedic shoes so as not to arouse them? I’m a plus sized woman; should I wear a burlap sack so as not to arouse a chubby chaser? Heck I’m a woman; maybe I should just cover myself from head to toe so that no man has to look at me and risk lusting uncontrollably. Is the church going to start advocating burkas?
  • As parents we’re required to make sacrifices. I was so taken aback when someone said this to me in the context of nursing in church that it took me a moment to respond. All parents make sacrifices but not attending church isn’t one of them. In fact, the Bible clearly says we need to be very careful to NOT stop meeting together as a body (Hebrews 10:25).
  • Go to the nursing mother’s room. Have you been to these rooms? The vast majority of them are small, dark, uncomfortable. They’re often a neglected area, usually with a couple of creaky rocking chairs and maybe a changing table. They may or may not have the service piped in.
    If I wanted to watch service on TV or listen to it on the radio, I would’ve just stayed home. I came to church because these are my brothers and sisters in Christ and I want to corporately worship with them. While offering a nursing mother’s room is a GREAT thing for mothers who want to use them and who feel more comfortable there, requiring that nursing mothers leave the service to feed their babies is wrong. Asking them to leave the presence of God because you are uncomfortable, even though they are doing NOTHING wrong , is ludicrous.
    Additionally, new babies eat ALL THE TIME. My daughter would nurse at least every two hours, and for the first couple of months those nursing sessions often lasted forty-five minutes. It was not just a matter of stepping out for a few minutes. It literally meant I would miss the entire sermon.
  • Equating breastfeeding to waste products or sex acts. If you really feel that a baby eating is the same as either sex and/or defecation, go read this and then come back.

The church is shooting itself in the foot when it comes to young families. By castigating nursing mothers, by relegating them to an inferior status, by treating them as if they are harlots, the church is losing people. Not only are they losing the parents; they are losing the opportunity to influence the next generation.

In the very first book of the Bible, scripture tells us that God created mankind in his own image, man and woman (Genesis 1:27), and he reinforces the notion of woman having been made in his image when he is referred to as El Shaddai (Genesis 17:1), the many breasted one, the nourisher, the giver of strength. (Don’t believe me? Check out Scofield’s commentary on the subject.) When you shame a mother for nursing in church, you aren’t only disparaging her; you are disparaging the very nature of God, the one whose nature she displays.

Please, Church People, hear my heart. I am hungry for the word of God and hungry for a church home. I desperately want to belong to a community where I am welcomed, where I can bring my children, where they can experience the love of Christ in a real and tangible way. But I have no desire to bring them to a place where they watch their mother be marginalized time and again just for being a mom, just for taking care of their most basic needs, just for doing what God created me to do.

I’ve looked at the blueprints y’all. There was no nursing moms room in the original tabernacle. And you do know Jesus was breastfed, right? If he doesn’t have a problem with it, then neither should you.

**The original version of this post included my interpretation of what happened. It was posted in hurt, and because I fear it may have hurt others or have been misinterpreted, it has been removed.**

4 thoughts on “Breastfeeding, the Church, & Me”

  1. I agree with you there should be no stigma or shame attached to breastfeeding anywhere, anytime at all ever. BUT! So your pastor was uncomfortable talking to you while you were going it. So what? Does he not have that right as much as you have yours to nurse? I woukd also be uncomfortable talking to you while you were nursing… And I’m a mother who has nursed two children thousands of times, uncovered in public. He didn’t say “cover yourself” or “go to the cry room” or “what you are doing is inappropriate” he said “I’ll be down there talk to me when you’re done”… Try not to let your past experiences cloud your present. Don’t pass judgement on this man because of them either.

    1. You have a valid point. It wasn’t what he said; it was the way he said it. And you’re right, perhaps my past experiences did cloud my judgement. But since this is the third incident at this church in as many months, and by incident I mean someone feeling they need to address how I’m feeding my baby, I am choosing to leave a community where I don’t feel welcome.
      I’m sorry you would be uncomfortable speaking to me while I’m nursing. It saddens me that something that was such a normal part of your life is awkward for you when it’s part of someone elses. I honestly don’t even think about the fact that I’m nursing; I’m just trying to take care of my kid. It is as normal and common as holding them or telling them I love them, and it is as automatic.

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