Breastfeeding and Church

By Krista Gray, IBCLC

I have spent the majority of the past ten years living overseas.  Since my oldest child is just turning eight, you can imagine the culture shock I’ve experienced since returning to the states at the end of last year.  There is no area this shock is more pronounced than in my views of parenting – I am a huge breastfeeding and baby wearing fan – and no place I feel more discriminated in than the church itself.  As an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and mom who has had (and breastfed) four babies overseas, I am secure in who I am and can withstand the comments, stares, and outright glares.  But my heart goes out to all the new moms who experience, on a daily basis, the incredible underlying pressure that is heaped on them when it comes to breastfeeding in public.

Let me say this outright – I am a passionate follower of Jesus Christ.  But gently nurturing and parenting your child through breastfeeding in public – at church even – is not contradictory to the Bible.  It drives me crazy that many churches put up more (nursing in public) breastfeeding barriers than anywhere else.  It may be filled with breastfeeding moms, but they are encouraged to be “modest” and go to a special room – (we’re told because they will be more comfortable) rather than continue to worship in the service with everyone else.  Mothers who bottle feed are welcome though.  We’re told it makes others feel uncomfortable…and the teens…oh we definitely would not want our teenagers to know that a mother is using her breasts for what they were designed for!  We’re told it may cause a visual image in a man’s mind that he will never be able to rid himself of.  (Does anyone know of a breastfeeding mom flashing herself in church…ever?!) So new moms cover and receive glares, leave the service, desperately try to get their little one to nurse beforehand, try to pump a bottle, or miss church entirely so that others won’t feel uncomfortable.  For the record, I am all about not being a stumbling block for someone else in their faith but this is not one of the times I feel this argument is valid.  Let’s think about it this way:

1. Boobs were made for nursing babies.  This is normal.  This is His design.  He doesn’t think nursing is immodest.

2. By making moms uncomfortable enough they feel they mustn’t tend to their babies’ needs in a service we are putting an adult’s [wrong] thoughts about breastfeeding above a baby’s God-designed need for breastfeeding.  We are putting up barriers to a mother’s God-designed parenting through breastfeeding; and we are making a statement that the presence of the person offended by the most natural thing on earth is more important than a mother tending to the most primordial need of her baby.

3. Teens NEED to see this.  That way they can learn that boobs are for breastfeeding and not sexual perversion.  (And when I say “need to see this” I’m really saying, “Need to know a mom is nursing” because, let’s face it, moms are not showing anything for them to see!)  If we want to change a culture’s perception of something you start with the youth not the adults.  Same for breastfeeding; the more children see it the more natural and normal the idea will become.

4. Churches can have all kinds of social events around sugary desserts, cheap hot dogs, and complete junk food given to children and youth (seems to be an essential component)…which perpetuates people inside the church being just as unhealthy and not taking care of their bodies like the rest of society. But give a baby breast milk at the breast…a mom is vilified.  What would happen if those within the church took care of their bodies and were healthier than the general public?  Would this alone not be a testimony?  Where does health and nutrition begin?  Absolutely, hands down, without hesitation through breastfeeding!

5. The Bible talks about breastfeeding.  It is not taboo.  Jesus was breastfed.  Samuel was breastfed. Moses was breastfed. For a long time.  He wasn’t weaned at 12 months either. (I just did a simple Logos search for the word “nursing” and effortlessly brought up over 20 references related to breastfeeding.)

And what about the issue of saying moms can nurse but they must cover?  Relegating a mother to be required to cover is like saying she can’t nurse at all.  Let me start by saying this:  if someone is more comfortable with a cover then please use one…there is nothing at all wrong with that.  But there are many mothers and babies where a cover just creates another barrier that makes nursing harder – if not impossible.  Let’s face it, there are ways to nurse in public that are more or less modest.  I have no problem with saying that there are public places (churches included) where one should try to nurse with modesty…but these are places I would advocate dressing more modestly as well.  (Wear clothes that don’t leave you feeling naked and don’t sit front and center where everyone must look at you in order to see the worship leader for example.)

It’s never going to be normal until the majority are doing it.  If you are uncomfortable with a mom nursing in church…please use this as food for thought.

unnamedKrista Gray is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), La Leche League Leader, and mother of four breastfed children, including preemie twins. She has a Private Practice for Lactation in the upstate of South Carolina as well as around the world via Skype and FaceTime.  At Nursing Nurture Krista shares research-based information and experience to help moms in their breastfeeding journeys.  You can also connect with Krista on Twitter {@nursingnurture} and on Facebook {fb.com/nursingnurture}.

Comments

  1. Christina says:

    Thank you!

  2. Tabitha Clark says:

    I get what you’re saying here and I would like to agree! However, in our church there is one person who does it and I have in fact seen her boob more than once and her baby sounds like a piglet eating! She is so very distracting during a time when everyone else is quiet. I guess it should be a personal decision she makes to be kind to those around her but she doesn’t so all ladies are made to go out. I’ve seen others that do it so discreetly that you don’t even know its happening and I think it’s great they feel comfortable doing it

    • Please. The baby is a baby. Who cares how it sounds eating. Get over it. It’s not like you can tell an infant shhhh it’s church sip a little quieter. Support bf don’t be a “I support it but… Or if…” Support all situations.

    • If you weren’t looking you wouldn’t see. -_-

    • Lindsay H says:

      Wouldn’t a baby who sucks noisily be just as noisy if sucking on a bottle? This seems irrelevant to the discussion of appropriateness of breastfeeding in church…

    • Diane Davies says:

      You have “…seen her boob more than once..” and what happened? Did you combust? Did the roof fall in? May I suggest you were paying way too much attention. As for “… her baby sounds like a piglet eating!” Really!? I don’t know how old the baby was but are you expecting that the baby should have better table manners? Have you thought that perhaps the baby just can’t help it (and why should she?), perhaps her mother was a little embarrassed by the noise and any attention it may attract but she can’t do anything about it either. Again, perhaps you are paying too much attention to her and should focus on your worship, after all, isn’t that why you are there.
      May I also add, in my opinion, it’s more important that the children feel comfortable in the church in order for them be able to relax and WANT to be there as they grow older rather than somewhere where they will be judged.
      And yes, I nurse in church on a weekly basis. Fortunately my church is welcoming and supportive.

    • If I were in your shoes, I would feel so proud to have a sister in God who brings her children to church despite how distracted and stressed she may be. She, and her children, obviously need to hear God’s word (just like you do). It’s tough being a new mom. Maybe attending fellowship is exactly what she needs to keep her sanity.

      Your negative thoughts may discourage her from attending church.

    • Do you feel the same way about people who slurp their morning coffee through a straw? It’s so loud and gargling when they get to the bottom. Oh, so disturbing!!! Send them out at once. Of course this line of thinking is ridiculous. Isn’t it?

  3. Teresa Youngblood says:

    It has taken me until my fourth child to feel comfortable sitting in the pew nursing without a cover, or sitting on my blanket at an outdoor evening service. I am over it. God made it, and it is good. I plan my clothing so I can nurse modestly for my comfort, usually wearing a shirt I can pull up with a tank underneath rather than a dress I have to pull down. I figure if everyone is looking forward toward the speaker as they should be, they won’t see me anyway.
    I’ve been through the whole “pump a bottle, nurse before going, go to the nursery” business. I am too busy with my other children to think that far ahead. That is a beauty of breastfeeding. I don’t have to plan ahead. I meet the needs as they arise. After putting out the effort to get the 6 of us out of the house to get to church, I want to be IN church, not hiding in the nursery week after week. I love sitting next to my husband, holding his hand, singing together. It’s the closest we get to a date these days :)

  4. While I don’t think it is right under any circumstances to shame a woman for giving her child food (whether by formula or breastmilk) I do wish that everyone would understand that nudity is a triggar for many people, no matter if there is a baby in the equation or sexy underwear. Yet I am also made to feel like the villian when I have to leave the room because a woman has exposed herself in front of me. I have been told that bare breasts shouldn’t bother me because I am a woman. I have been told that “I don’t have to look”. And I have been made to feel like I shoukd apologize for my discomfort. Yet, I have been triggared by breastfeeding as well as immodest ads and it takes me a day to a week to heal from the memories of my past. I wish people understood that once memories of abuse have been triggered “looking away” becomes irrelevant. Now it’s become a matter of counseling myself to react wisely and not let my past own me. I am not blaming women for openly breastfeeding but I do wish that my discomfort wasn’t invalidated as though I were some uneducated swine. If we were all a little more compassionate and truly sought to make others comfortable instead of trying to teach everyone else a lesson, I think we’d be happier in our churches and in public.

    • I, for one, do not think that you’re swine. I think that you leaving is a perfect response. I would much rather have someone leave the room if they are uncomfortable, as oppose to asking me to leave or cover. You’re doing good, even if others make you feel otherwise. :)

  5. Love this! I think the excuse that we need to cover up because it might trigger sexual thoughts in men is ridiculous. Why should I be punished because some perverted man can’t control how he thinks when he sees a woman nursing?

  6. If seeing a woman breastfeeding triggers uncomfortable feelings than perhaps you need some therapy. Im pretty sure you would have a hard time living day to day. Most women show more cleavage in regular clothes. Most commercials on tv, billboards on the side of the road, ads on products are more sexual than a breastfeeding mother. If you cant distinguish between a baby eating and sexual thoughts and triggers, than that is really sad. Please get help.

    • And this is the inconsideration I am talking about. Thank you for proving my point.

      • Diane Davies says:

        To be fair, I honestly don’t think that Becky was meaning to be inconsiderate, I think she had a valid point. Perhaps you do need some help with what is obviously a serious problem for you, this must be an issue that you face on a daily basis and must be debilitating, and I hope that you can find peace.
        We must be surrounded by people who have ‘issues’ (I’m sorry if this is an insensitive choice of word, I can’t seem to find a better one). For example, there must be people everywhere who have phobias about things we do not know about but we can not change our behaviour ‘just in case’ in order to avoid offending somebody. I personally suffer from misophonia but I do not expect people not to eat in my presence, it in not feasible.
        Also, without meaning to be cold, but it is a mother’s responsibility to tend to her baby’s needs and not to tend to other people’s comfort.
        I hope you can read this with the care that is intended.

  7. I am sorry that these experiences have occurred for you. It makes me feel even more grateful that I belong to a church that supports women breastfeeding and baby wearing. I have not once felt uncomfortable feeding my son during service when he got hungry.

  8. I am very lucky in the fact that my church is very accommodating to nursing moms! They do offer the nursing room (which I used all the time when we were first starting out!) but never once have they said that we have to go in there. I’m pretty sure there are more nursing moms than not at my church so they may have a riot on their hands if they do ever require that. ;)

  9. I don’t think any of you truly mean to, but the amount of ignorance in this article and on these comments blows me away, especially due to the fact that you are christians. Let me start off by saying that I am for a mother and her rights, without a doubt. But just focusing on you and your rights (and not on the bigger picture) is very short sighted and self centered. When you have a child, there are certain things that become more difficult. You can no longer go to the grocery store conveniently without thinking about your babies schedule. With that said, there is also the fact that you may need to slip out of a worship service to feed your baby. I understand that people “need to not see breasts as a sex object” but you whipping out your boob isn’t going to do it. This is specifically a stumbling block for young men and teens when women visually breast feeding. This is. Split responsibility, yes. But you excusing yourself to breastfeed by dismissing the teen who may look at you with lustful eyes is ignorant.

    • I have 3 kids and things seem to move non-stop in my house. Finding time for God has never been harder for me – but it has also never been needed more. I go to church every week because I desperately *need* to be there worshipping. I need to reconnect with Him and with my faith family. I need to have my children there learning about God and worship. I do not go to church to hide somewhere if my child needs to nurse. I don’t use a cover, but I breastfeed modestly and sit near the back (if there are seats open there). Rarely does anyone notice when I’m nursing. But if I don’t nurse? You can bet there are a LOT of disapproving eyes looking back at a loud hungry child.

  10. Michelle Robertson says:

    Thank you! I feel like nobody understands!

  11. George Robertson says:

    As a dude myself, I’m surprised that men can somehow handle all the sexual bombardment in society but when they’re in a church, they lose that ability. It’s really an education issue, not a self control issue; it’s all about context.

    As a father and husband, I support breastfeeding because it’s good for my family. So is knowing Christ. I don’t see how these are exclusive or contradictory.

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