Hello ducklings!

Someone recently asked me about the appropriateness of breastfeeding in church.
My response is simple: would we worry about handing a sandwich to a hungry child in church? Even in the sanctuary if the kid was really hungry?
I would hope not. Children need to be fed. Babies need to be fed when they’re hungry; not according to our worship or program schedule.

In my imperious and not at all humble opinion on this mater [sic], pastors should treat any discomfort or pushback around breastfeeding in the church as a pastoral issue, not as a policy issue. Just because we live in a body-phobic society at the end of thousands of years of misogyny and superstitious fear and dominance over women’s bodies doesn’t mean we shouldn’t name that nonsense for what it is. Choose your language, but do name it. It’s nonsense.

Nursing mothers should be provided a comfortable place to feed their children and they should be made to feel that the church wants to accommodate them and their babies, not hide them away. A woman who is breastfeeding shouldn’t be made to feel any less welcome or comfortable than someone feeding a baby a bottle is made to feel. Just because the food delivery system in one case is a female breast isn’t the mother’s problem — it’s the problem of anyone for whom an accidental glimpse of a breast is a cause for complaint.

If the breastfeeding mom is the pastor, the same thing applies. I think we all understand the issues of boundaries, professional image, intimacy and privacy present in the situation, but I don’t think the world needs more centuries of telling women that our reproductive faculties are an unfit sight or subject for polite society.

Breasts are one means by which adult women feed hungry children. Certainly the church is committed to feeding hungry children.

The only inappropriate boobs in this argument are not those of nursing mothers, if you know what I mean.

13 Replies to “Breastfeeding”

  1. Yes! Thank you so much. As a feminist, mother, and breast feeding advocate, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Church leaders who are hesitant: look at it this way- a church that is family friendly is a growing church, and family friendly means breast feeding friendly.

  2. And if the Pope says – and he did – that women should feed their babies in church, who are we to say otherwise! (Not that we need his permission. I just love that he said it and baptized the babies of unmarried mothers. Like, you know, what’s his name. Oh yeah. Jesus!)

  3. I remember the first time I was in church after the birth of my first baby was for the Christmas Eve family service, when he was about 6 weeks old. I had missed going to church and was so glad to be there. When he started to show signs of wanting to nurse midway through, I was sad at the thought of leaving the beautiful service. The minister was delivering a brief homily to the children gathered at the front of the church, and describing what it might have been like when baby Jesus was born. When he talked about “his mother giving him warm milk” I felt invited to stay, and stayed in the pew and nursed my baby (under a pashmina-type wrap). No-one seemed to mind.

  4. We have a “crying room” behind the sanctuary with a window and speaker–the curtain is inside so the MAMA gets to make the choice of how much privacy she wants (it started on the sanctuary side of the window–I mean, really!). I imagine if any new mother wanted to nurse in the small sanctuary she could, and I don’t think there would be any sidewise glances, but I know women have been very grateful for that little room and its comfy rocker.

  5. I’m a DRE and in the last nearly 10 years I’ve had and nursed 4 babies – just about everywhere, including at work/in church. Some people have been uncomfortable approaching me to chat while I was nursing, but – I suppose because I am so comfortable with it – most people have taken it in stride. I have *mostly* drawn the line at the chancel – I don’t nurse WHILE presenting worship. Except for once when I had a very small baby with a miserable cold, a service it would have been a nightmare to try to hand over to anyone else, and decided it would be easier for everyone for me to hold him and let him sleep nurse on my lap through most of the service than to have my husband take him to the hallway or elsewhere to be (loudly) miserable. I don’t think anyone except the LLL leaders and a former priest whose wife had nursed all of her babies in church noticed. My other favorite story comes from the couple of years I was doing Youth Ministry in a large congregation with mostly 14 year old boys, and had a new baby. I knew they might be a bit wierded out by public nursing, despite being OWL graduates, so my first Sunday back, I picked out the most aggressive kid, whose mom I knew would be 100% in favor of my nursing where & whenever the baby needed to, and deliberately sat down next to him and when she started rooting, nursed her. I saw his mom give him the eye from across the room, and we never had any problems after that. He lead the group to be totally cool with it.

  6. wonderful!

    another comment to add that when we exclude children from our worship, we by default exclude their caregivers, most often mothers. until a certain age (and especially in the case of kids with special needs), children and their caregivers come as a package.

  7. When I attended worship services while on maternity leave I did end up nursing in the synagogue. It was unplanned but uneventful and quiet. We were both covered up by my large tallit (prayer shawl) and no one noticed. In actuality it was a lovely spiritual experience to be wrapped up together in that way. I was in the back of a large room, and would not have done so otherwise.

  8. Breastfeeding is so good for everyone involved (health benefits to baby, mom and society, including lowering healthcare costs) that I always hope it is well supported.

    That said, I’ve nursed two babies, and still nurse my little one (two years old) sometimes. When infants need to nurse, they need to be fed immediately; they don’t understand waiting. So the choices are a. you’re going to have mom nursing or b. a baby screaming, if you choose to wait. That said, I have come across churches that have a “breastfeeding policy” right on their web site (mainly it says that you are welcome to breastfeed anywhere) and I find it a relief to see it explicitly described. At least some people thought about it ahead of time, and aren’t going to suggest I take my baby to the nursery in the basement.

    In other news, Zulily has a Dansko event today (2/10/14).

  9. I have breastfed just about anywhere from Harvard lecture halls, trams, trains, museums, restaurants to churches. And I even led a Bible study while breastfeeding and lead a annual church business meeting, too. Not a problem ever. Clothing made for breastfeeding is handy and people hardly notice. 🙂

  10. I am an Episcopal priest with four month old twins, and on the day of their baptism, was part of a circle of four mothers all nursing together during coffee hour. It made me even happier to be the associate rector of my congregation.

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