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Mistaken Attitudes About Breastfeeding in Public

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

One of the biggest frustrations that I've had about the issue of breastfeeding in public is with where many of my fellow conservative Christians have come down on the issue. In both news articles and discussion forums I've seen comment after comment from family values touting "conservatives" that want to use family values as their political crutch but shout "go home and cover up" whenever the issue of breastfeeding in public arises.

This baffles me. As a born-again Charismatic Evangelical, I've made a choice to devote my life to following Christ. That means that in all things I do, I need to consider God's Will and try my darndest to align my actions with it. For me, breastfeeding was not just a health-related choice, it was a God-inspired choice.

It's my belief that if God has created a natural system for feeding an infant, then there's a good reason for it. God has provided the absolute number one source of nutrition for Elnora free of charge. Why would I bypass the natural source of nourishment provided by God to purchase a lesser alternative? (This is not to say that I do not understand moms that are unable to breastfeed or choose not to breastfeed for personal reasons, it's simply to say that I can't understand people that don't even want to consider it, or that advocate against it.)

To expand on that, it only makes sense that if breastfeeding is the way that God created for a mother to nourish her child, then there is nothing shameful about it. God does not create or encourage shameful behavior, it's against His nature. (how human beings sometimes choose to "represent Him" is a whole other thing...) Thus, breastfeeding in public is an act of love between a mother and her child, it is not a lewd or sexual act performed in order to "tempt" men.

The problem is that perceived "temptation" is the very reason that so many Christians are opposed to the idea of a mother feeding her child in a public location. In other words the real issue here is that so many anti-breastfeeding Christians have but one argument to make against the act of breastfeeding in public and it all boils down to sex.

A great example of this is a quote from a male poster on a Christian message board:

If we could all run around naked and no one would lust, then no problem. Thats how it would have been in the garden. But thats not the case, when man fell, we knew good and evil and do either one. As being naked is not a sin, the effects of that is. Just like certain clothes, the clothing is not the sin, it is the intent behind them, and the reaction to them.

Yes, in breastfeeding in public the intent is good, but the reaction may not be so. Just as you can sit in your own place without any clothes all you want alone and not sin, once you step out the door, whatever your intentions, it is a sin.


It's not just men that think this either, this quote is from a woman:
I personally don't want to see anyone breastfeed nor do I want my young teenager son to see it. Some things like private parts should remain covered and not for open display.
There are several problems with this line of thinking.

1.) It's based on the idea that breasts were created for sex. They were not. They were created by God as a way to nourish an infant. The same way that he gave mammary glands to every other mammal on the planet. The fact that adult men happen to find them entertaining is simply a side benefit for husbands and wives. This argument basically allowed America's over-sexualized culture to replace God's beautiful design with something dirty and shameful. I find that to be sad and I've got to think that God probably does too.

2.) It's based on the idea that mothers that breastfeed in public do so by whipping off their tops, approaching the nearest stage and nursing their child exhibition-style on one breast while spinning a tassle on the other. I'm not sure about anyone else, but the last time I saw a mother nursing her child in public I couldn't see a thing other than the back of a very peaceful, very content baby's head. I suppose if I'd stared long enough I might have caught a brief glimpse of nipple when the child latched on or off, but I don't make it a habit to stare at women's chests. The very idea that mothers who nurse in public are looking to put on a show is beyond laughable to the many mothers that have spent time in front of a mirror "practicing" to make sure that they won't end up accidently flashing anyone while trying to feed and calm a crying baby during a trip to the store or perhaps to watch an older child's soccer game.

3.) It removes all personal responsibility from the person dealing with their own "lust" issues. This line of thinking is what has led to laws in Islamic countries that require women to be dressed from head to toe in heavy garb with nothing more than their eyes showing. It creates a culture where men would rather make the temptation dissapear than deal with their own sin issues. This is not what Christ taught. God is not about escapism. God expects, encourages, even demands spiritual growth. Christ teaches us to face our temptations and problems head on and to go to the Bible and the Father in prayer to deal with these issues.

4.) It ignores the fact that until people see something enough to become comfortable with it, no progress will be made. There was a point in time in this country when a mixed race couple could not walk down the street without a risk of persecution. Did that make it ok? No. Until this country was forced to face the reality of something that wasn't wrong to begin with, there was no room for education, no room for acceptance, no room for growth. The same goes for breastfeeding in public. Perhaps if more teenage boys were aware of why God created breasts they would grow into fewer adult men that can't get past their own desire to oogle any woman that walks by. (Maybe those women should be wearing a "That's my baby's lunch you're staring at" shirt?)

I would challenge anyone to produce a verse from the Bible that says anything negative about breastfeeding, whether in public or not. Verses that talk about modesty don't come into play here, because you can't simply assume that a nursing mom is not going to be modest. That said, there are plenty of verses that paint breastfeeding in a positive light...

In fact, I'd argue that there's no mention of breastfeeding in public in the Bible because it likely wasn't even an issue in those days. Nursing an infant would have been as natural as walking, eating or breathing. Chances are pretty good that no one even dreamed of it as a sexual thing at that time.

Luke 11:27 (NIV)
As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you."

Genesis 12:7 (NIV)
As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you."

Genesis 49:25 (NIV)
because of your father's God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, [a] who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below, blessings of the breast and womb.

Hebrews 5:12-14 (NIV)
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Isaiah 66:10-13 (NIV)
10 "Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her.
11 For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance."
12 For this is what the LORD says: "I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees.
13
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem."

Isaiah 49:15
15 "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!

I Peter 2:2
2Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,

Psalm 22:9
Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother's breast.

Hmmm...one might argue that the God of the Bible must be pretty supportive of breastfeeding if He used a nursing mother as an example of His love time and time again...

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  1. Blogger Mama C-ta | 5:35 PM |  

    Amen! I'm happy to say I haven't had any issues, looks or comments to BF in public YET. But oh I'm armed with responses if I do.

  2. Blogger Spear | 7:14 AM |  

    I'm male, 22 years old and British. I have always seen women breast feed in public and I can confirm that there is nothing even remotely lustful that crosses my mind when I see it. Lust is not something that is switched on every time bare flesh is exposed, it depends purely on the context of the situation. Breast feeding is 100% natural, like everything else we do with our bodies. I'm not particularly religious, even if it was pushed on me at school, so I don't need God's endorsement or reassurance to know what to judge as right and wrong (that is supposed to be God's job anyway) all I know is what is natural and that we can't stop people from doing natural things just because we are too squeamish to watch. If we have a particular problem, like Jen said in the post, we have to deal with it ourselves.

    I feel sorry for you poor women who have to put up with these negative attitudes in the US. Everything seems over-censored and taboo, which I can't imagine to be too healthy for the population. A body is a body and nothing more, let's not exagerrate things here.

    Christians: you can't make even more rules to define christianity, that has been done already. If you want to start your own religion where breastfeeding is sinful then be my guest, but what you are teaching in america is not the christianity I grew up with - it almost contradicts everything I was taught about acceptance and forgiveness. Think twice before condeming those doing what comes naturally to them.

    And seeing as you Christian 'extremists' keep backing up everything you say with a bible quote, I have a little one of my own:
    "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" John 8:7


    Oh. I didn't know I'd be so passionate about breast feeding...

  3. Blogger Jennifer | 8:09 AM |  

    Spear, thanks so much for your comments! :) It's so nice to read about an enlightened man, especially a young one.

    I do want to note though that not all Christians are opposed to breastfeeding in public. In fact, I'd argue that it's a very small amount of them. At my own church, I could nurse in the front pew and no one would care. I also have friends in areas of the Bible Belt that were floored when I told them about some of the "christians" I'd run into that were opposed to it.

    We're talking about a small number here, just a vocal number.

    As for Bible verses, if you read my whole blog post, you might have noticed that I was able to provide my fellow Christians with numerous examples from the Bible of God "endorsing" nursing as a beautiful act between a mother and child.

    So let's be clear, this isn't an anti-Christian thing. This is an anti-people-who-don't-get-it thing. ;)

  4. Anonymous Anonymous | 1:52 PM |  

    Funny that Christians should react against BF in public when you consider that for CENTURIES one of the most common themes in Christian iconography was paintings of Mary feeding Jesus, including "milk rays" coming out of her breast.

    I never knew all those medieval artists and the bishops and abbots who comissioned their work were so indecent and immoral.

  5. Anonymous Jax | 1:56 PM |  

    You've provided one less verse than you thought you had, cut and paste error on the Genesis 12:7 (NIV)? Just guessing mind, not that up on my bible.

    Good rant though, and particularly like the concept of breastfeeding on stage while twirling a tassle, shame I never got around to trying that ;)

  6. Blogger Jennifer | 3:41 PM |  

    Exactly my point. There was no formula when Jesus was born...there was no issue of breastfeeding in public. It was natural because it was the only option. It's just what you did.

    Why some people are suddenly offended by it is beyond me.

  7. Anonymous Breeder | 7:14 PM |  

    It's amazing how extremely prudish this country can be. So many of these girls who are actually flashing cameras in exchange for t-shirts think we're living in a sexually liberated time. It's the opposite, we are imprisoned by the idea that sex is the most important thing in the world. When people are so obsessed that seeing a woman feed her child is considered lewd, well they need to do some soul searching.

    I think you're absolutely right on all accounts here. Most importantly that people see more bfing mothers in public. My own (breastfed herself as a baby) sister was shocked to see my friends breastfeeding in public when she came to the big city. After about two weeks she didn't even notice it. It's all a matter of getting the image out there to turn "Oh my!" into "Ho hum."

  8. Blogger Applied Christianity | 11:40 AM |  

    I posted on this subject a couple of weeks ago. It was nice to read a more in depth post backing up my jist. I grew up with a mom who breastfed us until 2+ and did so in public. She was also a minister's wife at the time. So to me it is amazing that so many Christians shun the idea of public breastfeeding. Thanks for the post.

  9. Anonymous Anonymous | 5:32 AM |  

    Breast feeding in public is disgusting. I work in a hospital and have told SEVERAL people to go to the bathroom or the lactation room.... I'm sorry but no one wants to see that. I don't care how much they can cover it up..... I understand it's a natural thing,,,, and I'm all for breast feeding as oppose to bottle/formula... but in public is wrong. Passing gas and burping is a natural thing too..... should I just saddle up next to one of these women and let it rip? Why not it's a natural function?!?

  10. Anonymous Anonymous | 1:46 PM |  

    The WORD of GOD tells us that in all things we are to be modest, not for our sake, but because we represent HIM.
    Breastfeeding should be done....with modesty.

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