Discreet breastfeeding? What would Jesus do?

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Oh what a hot button topic! Nursing in public. Can you imagine that some women actually go into public places, pull out their breasts and *gasp* nurse their babies?? Right there in front of God and everyone! Sometimes they don’t even cover up!! What if my children see that? Or worse, what if my husband sees it and it causes him to fall into lust? Can you imagine the nerve of some women?

….But wait. Wasn’t Jesus himself breastfed? History will tell you that he was. There are no mention of bottles in the Bible. They simply didn’t exist.

I realize that not all of my followers are Christians and some don’t believe in anything at all, and that is ok. I still support you in your breastfeeding journey. However, there are many breastfeeding mothers that are Christian, and the scathing glares, hateful comments, and all around lack of support even from their fellow Christians is appalling. This is an area that Christian breastfeeding mothers desperately need support in and providing support is why I am here.
I know the need from first hand experience. When I had my youngest son, I remember going to church for the first time after delivery. I did not take a bottle since I didn’t plan to give bottles. There was no need. I stayed at home with him and rarely left him for more than an hour or so. The first question that I was asked when I dropped him off in the nursery was not, “How are you feeling?” and there was no statement about how sweet the baby was. It was “Where is his bottle?” When I told them that I did not give bottles, you would have thought that I had brought in Satan himself for them to watch by the look on their faces. Oh the horror! They would have to alert me should he get fussy. Worse yet, they might have to see me nurse him! Another mother brought in her baby and told them to just give him a bottle should he get fussy. The nursery worker made a point to say “Now THAT’s a good mother!”, referring to the non-breastfeeding mother who was ok with them giving her child a bottle, suggesting that I was not a good mother because I preferred not to. This happened Sunday after Sunday…
Right then, my thoughts were, “If I can’t breastfeed my baby in my own church, among my “friends” and church family, then I have no chance out in the real world. This is supposed to be my support system. These are the people who pray for me when I’m sick. The people who go out of their way to speak to me at the ball fields or at the grocery store. My second family.
For that reason, I haven’t been back to my church since the birth of my daughter. I have been to other churches and have breastfed during service & without a cover without even a glance. I didn’t want to deal with it, I didn’t feel like seeing the unapproving glances at my percieved lust inducing act. But is seeing a breastfeeding mother lust inducing? How many times do we see men turn their heads at a pretty woman crossing the street or passing by them at the mall? Some men have fetishes with feet and women walk around in flip flops and open toed sandals every day. Should we ban those acts in public also? Don’t get me started on the things that men, Christian men, see on television.
The fact is, breasts are not sexual organs. Their sole purpose is for lactation. Whatever our culture has made out of them is NOT what they were intended for. They are made up of ducts and lobules. Breasts are not genitals. By medical definition, the sex organs are “any organ involved in sexual reproduction”. Guess what? You can make a baby without any involvement of the breasts! As a matter of fact, without muscle tissue, sex, conception, and birth would be impossible! However, breasts have ZERO muscle tissue in them!
But just in case you’re not convinced that breasts aren’t sexual organs, perhaps this quick lesson in breast anatomy & physiology might be helpful.

So now that we have established that breasts are not sexual organs, let’s talk about why women should not be forced to “use discretion” while breastfeeding. I’m not saying that women shouldn’t cover if they choose. I’m saying that women should not feel shunned when they don’t. Women should be able to feed their babies whenever they get hungry & without disapproving comments or disgusted looks . Even at church. After all, all throughout the Bible, there are unashamed and beautiful references to breastfeeding. There are no references to mothers being required to cover. Breastfeeding is seen as the normal and natural thing that it is. But not only that…

Genesis 49:25
New King James Version (NKJV)
25 By the God of your father who will help you,
And by the Almighty who will bless you
With blessings of heaven above,
Blessings of the deep that lies beneath,
Blessings of the breasts and of the womb.

Did you hear that? Blessings. According to the word of God, breasts are blessings.
They bring life sustaining nourishment and in 1 Peter 2:2 2

As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby

we are even told to be like newborn babies. We are to crave spirituality as a baby craves his mothers milk! How profound is it that loving and desiring God is compared to a newborns desire for his mothers breast?!
In Joel, we are told to gather…

Joel 2:16
King James Version (KJV)
16 Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet.

Gather everyone for the glory and worshiping of our Lord! Even nursing babies!!! No mention of pumping a bottle for church. No mention of bringing a cover for church so that the elders, bridegroom, and children won’t see breasts! Just gather and bring the nurslings! Wow! I can just see them all gathered eager to worship The Lord, babies happily latched onto the breasts, and can’t help but think that if some Christians held on to verses like these as they do others, we might not be having this conversation at all.
In 1 Thessalonians we are told

But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.

which indicates that a breastfeeding mother gives her child the ULTIMATE gentleness. Why else would it be compared? After all, this particular chapter is telling us that we are Gods glory and joy.
Christians should refrain from shunning breastfeeding mothers. Not only should that, but we should support it. We should embrace it even when it isn’t done with our definition of discretion. Just as Jesus himself would have, as indicated in the word of God. Every single reference to breastfeeding in the Bible, and there are many, is written without any shame or stigma. If our ultimate goal as Christians is to live and behave as Jesus would, this is one area that will be easy to achieve that goal.

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About Latch The Babes

I am a crunchy mama of four children who is passionate about providing research based breastfeeding education. I live in Mississippi with my husband, Brian, my three sons, Gabe, Justin, & Bryson, and my daughter, Kynli, who I often refer to as "Miss Ma'am". I breastfed all of my boys and Miss Ma'am is still going strong! I worked as a lactation specialist with WIC for a few years and am currently working on my IBCLC requirements. I have been involved with La Leche League since my oldest son was born in 1997.

21 responses »

  1. This is the first time I have responded to this issue. I nursed 7 babies. I have lived in other cultures where breastfeeding anywhere is totally acceptable. One issue I have is with the word discrete. Some women-in an attempt to “make a point” flip it out and stick the baby on. Baby pulls away and she’s exposed but oh well she’s breastfeeding. We also need to keep the concept of modesty in mind. We can certainly breastfeed in public-I did, anywhere-but we need to keep in mind modesty. Not exerting our “right” to breastfeed-no matter how uncomfortable it makes someone. That’s their problem right? The fact is we can breastfeed anywhere with hardly anyone taking notice! We can use coverups (which hadn’t been invented when I had my babies) or just use one’s shirt. I have seen loose shirts, saris, and shawls used to cover up. Yes, Jesus was breastfeed but you can be sure Mary did so modestly.

    • I agree with Katherine, modesty is good. I do not judge anyone who chooses to nurse uncovered, but choose to cover myself when nursing. Scripture tells us to avoid things that could cause a brother to stumble, and if our society sexualizes breasts… Then modesty to keep anyone from stumbling.

      • Thank you for your comment, Danielle. While I see nothing wrong with using a cover for your own comfort, some women and some babies are more comfortable without one. I’m one of those women. I live in Mississippi where it is hot most of the time & a cover is just not practical or comfortable.
        1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that no man will be tempted beyond his control to resist:
        “13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
        Therefore, is it our responsibility to avoid the possibility to tempt men at the cost of our babies comfort? Should we dress head to toe in clothing that shows absolutely no skin? Should we also cover our faces since that could also be tempting to a man?
        Oswald Chambers said this:
        “A man’s disposition on the inside, i.e., what he possesses in his personality, determines what he is tempted by on the outside. The temptation fits the nature of the one tempted, and reveals the possibilities of that nature. Every man has the setting of this own temptation, and the temptation will come along the line of the ruling disposition. Temptation yielded to… is a proof that it was timidity that prevented the sin before.”
        And I completely agree. It is not the responsibility of the breastfeeding mother to control the temptation that men *might* have while she breastfeeds. That is his own responsibility.
        Also, there is temptation everywhere.
        At the mall you see windows of lingerie. At the pool or lake you see scantily clad women in bathing suits. Do you avoid those places because there might be temptation? Do you turn off the television because of the likely chance that your husband might see a hamburger commercial featuring a swimsuit model?
        Of all things that could lead a man into temptation, I highly doubt that seeing a woman breastfeeding her baby is high on that list.

    • The oldest-known image of Mary, dated from the 2nd century, was found in the Catacomb of Priscilla, and it shows her nursing Jesus without a cover. Actually, the way he’s sitting in her lap, her breast would have been mostly exposed. So, no, Mary did not “modestly” feed her baby. At least, not by early 21st century American standards of modesty.

  2. I’m not Christian…in fact, I’m Pagan. We revere all things of a natural state. Whether it’s the wind in the trees, or the babe on the breast. If only the entirety of our society could be as comfortable with nature, in all it’s forms, as we are, and as you ladies seem to be. Regardless of what dieties we speak to, I think asking them all to enlighten all others is a good idea. I’ve nursed with and without a cover. Depends on where I’m at or who’s around at the time. So far, so good. But I’m sure there will come a point where someone decides to flip out on me. Especially since I live in a state that forwards ZERO protection to a nursing mother in public. We can still be cited for indecent exposure, thrown out of any and all locations that are not our home, and the law will not back us. In fact, all we are allowed is a postponement of jury duty due to breastfeeding. And they expect proof. PROOF of breastfeeding. Which means a trip to either your doctor, or baby’s pediatrician for a note that certifies you are, in fact, milking for your child. Ridiculous. Things need to change. And soon.

    • Thank you for your comment! I wholeheartedly agree with you on the comment about embracing nature. Our society has gotten so far away from using things for the way that they were designed. No matter what one’s faith or belief system is, there is undeniable beauty on this earth and so many natural resources that can be utilized. However, we rely so much on synthetic things, whether it be infant formula, medications, etc. that those who chose to use natural methods are viewed as strange. It really should be the opposite!
      I hope that your state changes it’s law & soon! It is so ridiculous that we need laws in place to protect our right to naturally feed our babies!!! What state do you live in?

      • I love your comments, @LatchtheBabes, they are so awesome and supportive! I am sad that everyone doesn’t see it that way, but it’s the world we live in! I do understand some men really are sexually excited by breasts, but that’s not really my problem. If I knew a man had that issue I would be more “discreet” around him for my own comfort. But honestly I do believe it’s that person’s responsibility to teach themselves how to avoid that confusion between sexual image/practical use. Or they can walk away!

  3. “LatchTheBabes” –

    You are conflating breastfeeding with breastfeeding, uncovered, and in public. While Jesus was no doubt breastfed, and while there is also no doubt it is a beautiful and natural action, there is absolutely nothing in scripture (certainly nothing you have referenced above) that indicates this happened in an uncovered manner – in the manner that you personally find “practical”.

    You mention that breasts are not sexual organs (as in, they are not required for reproduction). While this is true, it is not at all true that they have nothing to do with sexual arousal in men. There is a reason it is against the law in many (perhaps most) locations for a women to walk around without a top on. There is a reason there are “topless bars” and places like “Hooters”. There is a reason why many have breast augmentation surgery. Why? Because breasts are one part of the female anatomy that arouse men.

    While the act of breastfeeding itself may not arouse men, the site of a bare breast most likely does, regardless of how upright the man may be, and how closely he attempts to guard his heart. You point out the fact that men “turn their heads” when a pretty woman walks by, and that men … “Christian men” … watch these terrible things on TV. While all of this is (unfortunately) true, it is no excuse for you to engage in an activity that is likely to cause a male to have an impure thought who happens to be looking your way when you expose your nipples. As to your comments about foot-fetishes and such, please keep in mind that you don’t know who is turned on by bare feet, but you can bet that any normal male is turned on by a bare breast. Why not, as a sister in Christ, take your brother’s natural means of being aroused into account when you are deciding what is and is not “practical” for yourself.

    • When I first read your comment Christian male, I was very angry and really wanted to respond with a string of expletives due to your stupidity. But upon rereading your comment, I feel very sad for you that our society’s rape culture is so ingrained in your heart that you would rather a child be denied nourishment than control your own feelings and urges. You are in control of your own thoughts and how you act on them. Not anyone else. Not how a woman is dressed. Not how a mother feeds her child. Breastfeeding mothers are not deciding what is practical for themselves. They are providing nourishment for their child. And by the way you cannot speak for every male and what does and doesn’t turn them on. Breasts are not a natural means of being aroused. We are taught in this society that it should be.

  4. This is an awesome article! I wonder if you would go so far as to say that women should be able to remove their shirts anywhere a man would? I mean, first and foremost, we need to get over this “nursing your babies in public is immodest” thing. But I can only hope that eventually, we will also get over this “women need to cover their breasts in public” thing. And anyone having a problem with that would do well to read the above-mentioned breast anatomy lesson: breasts are not sexual organs, both men and women have them (and sometimes, men have more of them!). So what’s the big deal??

  5. FYI, Mary probably never covered, or nursed “modestly”. Middle eastern cultures do not view breasfeeding as immodest…even cultures where women are required to have their heads covered do not see anything wrong with exposing the breast to feed a baby.

  6. Saying that breasts sole purpose is for lactation is biblically unsound. Read Song of Solomon. And culture can’t just be discarded- imagine what would happen if missionaries did that all around the world- if Paul had done that! Breast feeding mothers should not be shunned, but we SHOULD consider our weaker brothers and be compassionate on their failings.

    • Song of Solomon also talks quite a bit about lips and necks and a whole host of other body parts… I don’t hear anyone advocating that they all be covered for the sake of men who struggle with lust. The parts that are practical to cover, cover, and cover some parts even if it is impractical out of deference to others, to the extent that you and the holy spirit inside you have decided you’re most comfortable with (I spend more money and time looking to buy a modest bathing suit, because I’m not okay with wearing bikinis in public). But I’m not going to wear a long sleeved turtle neck in 90 degree weather, because I would overheat, even if the sight of my neck makes someone struggle. I am pregnant and plan to use a cover. BUT I might decide I’m not going to cover my baby when I breastfeed if it makes the baby uncomfortable, makes it harder to see and thus to get the right latch, makes it harder for me and the baby to look at each other and bond during, I forgot the nursing cover or didn’t have room in the bag or can’t afford one that works for us, or its 90 degrees outside and I don’t want to sit under a blanket… I also think that breastfeeding becoming more common in culture will make it easier for women to breastfeed, which is beneficial (something you’ve seen many times before is easier to figure out, and you don’t feel awkward asking questions) and public breastfeeding would eventually desexualize breasts and humanize women (I want my future sons to see women as more that sexual objects, and what better way than for them to see women using their breasts to be mothers). here are lots of situations where I think the reasons to not cover outweigh the reasons to cover.

  7. I love this article, and have definitely felt the dissonance in realizing that breastfeeding is most uncomfortable and open to judgement….in church. Something wrong there. Thanks for writing about it! DId want to point out, more for the sake of your argument keeping its power and integrity than anything else, that it might be more accurate to say that breasts are for BOTH sexuality and nurturing a baby. Proverbs 5:18-19 refers to rejoicing in your wife, and says “may her breasts satisfy you always”….So, while your scripture references definitely support the idea that breasts (even and especially Christian ones! 😉 haha) should be respected as part of NURTURE, even in church, it may not be entirely accurate to say they have nothing to do with sex. Like many aspects of our bodies as women, they have a role in multiple aspects of our life. And that may be even MORE powerful and empowering to women: To realize that breastfeeding is part of reminding our culture that a woman’s body (ALL of it) is indeed beautiful and sexual, but it is way, WAY MORE than that, as well.

    • Thank you for commenting Shannon. I agree that breasts can serve a dual purpose with nurturing our young and also also for sexuality. I was referring mostly about the biological function in the post. The problem is, of course, society not accepting the original purpose for our breasts but being completely ok with seeing them on tv commercials. After all, our mouths can also be used for sexual purposes but I’ve never heard of anyone being asked to cover their mouths while eating for the “comfort” of those who might not be able to control themselves while seeing exposed lips.

  8. Applying the term ‘modesty’ to breastfeeding misunderstands modesty. Modesty is about acknowledging that sexuality is part of our nature and not behaving in ways that display and exhibit our sexuality and incite it in others. A visibile breast, areola, or nipple while breastfeeding is not ever intended to incite sexual urges. Breastfeeding is first and foremost a maternal activity. Mothers nursing in public aren’t attempting to exhibit thier sexuality subversively. For others to assume that to be the case, please refer to the parable about removing the plank in your own eye before attempting to remove the speck in your brother’s.

  9. I am a Bible believing Christian, and I am a mother who breastfed her first and plans to breastfeed this second child Jesus has blessed us with when she makes her debut. While I agree with many of your points, there are a few issues that I disagree strongly about.

    Firstly, you claim that breasts are not sexual organs. I understand that they technically serve no function in the actual reproductive process (meaning the sperm reaching the egg), they are most certainly a part of the act leading up to the moment of fertilization. Whether or not God intended for breasts’ “sole purpose to be lactation” (our genius Creator is so skilled at creating things that are both beautiful to behold and also functional for life), the fact is that the vast majority of men are aroused by breasts, and arousal is 100% necessary for reproduction to occur. There are many beautiful passages in Scripture that support and encourage the idea of a husband finding pleasure and comfort in his wife’s breasts (“Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight, be intoxicated always with her love” – Prov. 5:19, “Your breasts are like two fawns, like twins of a gazelle” – Song of Solomon 7:3 [A passage speaking of the beauty of his bride in which he also mentions several other body parts that are not primarily sexual organs in nature, but do bring him sexual arousal.])

    Secondly, and perhaps I am misinterpreting your sentiment, but I disagree with the idea that it’s the man’s (or young boy’s) issue if he is aroused by the sight of your breast (because you are feeding your child and not partaking in any sexual act or being sexually suggestive) and you are not responsible for any part of his temptation. While I agree that people are responsible to “take every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and that no one is tempted “beyond what they will be able to endure” (2 Corinthians 10:13), what is our responsibility as sisters in Christ? Paul gave the example of not eating meat in front of brothers who could be stumbled by his actions (1 Corinthians 8:13). Is eating meat inherently wrong? Certainly not. But Jesus clearly calls us to “as far as you are able, live at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18, Hebrews 12:14). If this means that I have to cover my baby when I need to nurse at church, or if I need to find a private room so that my brother does not stumble, I should do so gladly. Is it sad that we live in a world that has so overly-sexualized women’s bodies that the sight of a mother nursing her child can potentially trigger sexual and lustful thoughts in men? Absolutely. I do not disagree with you on that point. However, it IS the world in which we live. If I can do something to help my brothers in Christ avoid temptation, I’m going to do it.

    Lastly, I am very sorry that you seem to be receiving no support from your church family with regards to your decision to breastfeed. It saddens me that not all churches would attempt to provide at least some sort of accommodation for breastfeeding mothers, and at the very least be supportive with their words! I am the Nursery/Preschool Coordinator at my church, and we have worked hard to provide a plush, comfortable “Nursing Mothers’ Room” for the women at our church who choose to breastfeed. We have couches and Boppy’s and speakers so they can relax and nourish their babies, covered or uncovered, without having to miss out on worship and the message. It is also private, so men who would be tempted by the possibility of an exposed breast can completely avoid the room. We have found that this can be our compromise and our way of doing our best “to live at peace with all men”. I hope and pray that you will be able to find yours.

    • First off, kuddos to you for breastfeeding your children. But please read my comment above about ingrained rape culture. This certainly applies to your comment. Some men are aroused by breasts. Not majority. You cannot speak for a majority of people. There are many parts of our bodies that can be arousing. See the authors post response about mouths. Mouths can be arousing. So can hair, toes, eyes and many other things. But they are not sexual organs. Are you implying that a woman who has had a mastectomy is less of a woman and cannot arouse her man bc she has no breasts?
      Again, our responsibility as breastfeeding mothers is to provide nourishment to our children. Not hide ourselves from men who have been incorrectly taught that a woman’s body is solely for their pleasure. It is their responsibility to know that that attitude is wrong.
      That is great that your church provides a nursing room. But it sounds like women are ostracized there which would be no more supportive than the poster’s church. There shouldn’t need to be a compromise. It is a woman feeding her baby. How about a sermon to men. Don’t be a pervert. These breasts are for the babies. Let’s normalize breastfeeding for the health of our children. A woman’s body is not here on this earth for the sole purpose of your enjoyment. Normalizing breastfeeding would “help your brothers in Christ” not hiding in a room separated from the congregation.

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