Why I Breastfeed in Public: The Blessed Virgin Mary Does It!

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There was an uproar recently when a women was kicked out of a church for nursing her child in the service and the pastor compared her public breastfeeding to a stripper performing.  What?! I know. Insanity. A blog I read posted the news article on FB and a commenter expressed her view that nursing in church was very inappropriate and that the mother was wrong to do so. She went on to say that she would never want her children “subjected” (yes, she really used that word!) to such a sight and that she was sure that Mary NEVER would have breastfed Jesus in public. I was honestly shocked.

Now, I imagine the commenter’s sentiment is due to the misunderstanding that breastfeeding is sexual because breasts are involved. Honestly, I’m sure her children are more “subjected” to the sight of breasts in the check out aisle of the grocery store than they would be if they saw a mother feeding her child. I for one, love that my 3-year-old son sees me nursing my baby. He is seeing the incredible nourishing aspect of the female body. Breastfeeding is completely normal to him—it’s how his sister eats! He is learning already that the female body isn’t merely a sex object and I couldn’t be happier about that.

But, my shock at her comment was due not only to the fact that she found public nursing so offensive (aren’t we passed that?), not only that she wouldn’t want her children to see a woman nursing, but more importantly due to her certainty that Our Lady wouldn’t have fed Our Lord unless she was out of sight. Why would anyone believe that?! Before formula became an option, mothers would have needed to take their babies everywhere and guess what? Babies need to eat! Would the Blessed Virgin have stayed home for months and months to be sure that no one would see her (gasp!) NURSING? Surely not! I highly doubt that nursing was considered even remotely taboo in her community. And we have an amazing typographical tradition in Christian art of Our Lady breastfeeding the Infant Christ. In fact, the very earliest image we have of The Blessed Virgin and Jesus is one in which…drumroll…she’s breastfeeding him! It’s found in the catacomb of Priscilla from ca. 160 AD.

This beautiful subject is carried through out the centuries. I simply love this one:

Look how serene she is! And how squirmy he is! Beautiful. There’s also a shrine to Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine, FL that I am dying to visit! (Read about the trip Stephanie of Mama and Baby Love took there.)

Imagine a splendid portrayal of Our Lady nursing Our Lord displayed in a church (as has been the case). How can it make any sense that a woman should be maligned and humiliated for following Mary’s example?

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Comments

  1. says

    I read about that story and was very unimpressed. I’ve always nursed my children in church, if that’s where we were when they needed to nurse. I still nurse Sam in church, on occasion, if he needs it (he’s in the toddler category now).

    Love the images of Mary nursing Jesus. :)

  2. Patmom4 says

    Our culture seems to become more anti-nursing all the time. Why!? And yet there are signs of hope.

    When we had our first child, my hubby and I went out to eat WITH 2 week old baby in tow. The restaurant was a casual place with high-backed booths, so, as a new mom, I was hoping no one would notice when my daughter needed to nurse. And no one did….until my hubby commented to the waitress “There are THREE of us eating here tonight.” The waitress, an grandmotherly woman, took a good look at me with the blanket covered infant at my breast and said “Oh, how PRECIOUS!” :-)

    Of course, this was in 1981…are we going backwards in our attitudes?

    • says

      Sometimes it seems that we are going backwards, but then again, maybe different parts of the country view breastfeeding differently? I rarely get any sort of negative reaction to public breastfeeding but a friend of mine from South Georgia says that when she nurses her older baby in public she gets strange looks–something that never happens when she nurses in New England where she lives now.

      • says

        New England here and I have gotten almost exclusively positive feedback about nursing in public.

        I was thinking about it and actually I’ve had a number of times in church when people approached me while I was nursing and had no idea what I was doing! (when Rachel was a baby I offended someone who thought I wasn’t showing her the baby… the baby was occupied!) That said, I do usually take Sam in the back now, although I think he is actually relatively discreet for his age.

  3. says

    I imagine Mary would have covered up somewhat while nursing, when doing it outside the home at least, but I could be completely wrong. And either way, no one should be kicked out of church for feeding their child. I’ve breastfed in all sorts of places (but never bathrooms, yuck!) with and without covering here in Europe and actually no one has ever told me or even politely asked me to stop. Breasts are for milk, that’s all there is to it.

  4. Erica says

    Funny. I stumbled on to your blog because I found your list of 10 books to read to your daughters post on pinterest. Then, I happened to see this as well… and I was JUST thinking about this very thing a few hrs ago. I knew nothing of the women who got kicked out of church, but I was thinking that more women need to breastfeed in public so that it becomes more of a cultural norm. Women should not have to hide when nursing their baby… the most natural thing in the world… I admit, before I was a nursing mom myself, I was really uncomfortable seeing a woman breastfeed. ONLY because I had only seen it done a couple of times when I was a young child… I hold the exact same sentiment about my 4 yr old son… (although now that he’s getting older, I do nurse more modestly around him than when he was younger). I want him growing up knowing it is the most normal thing in the world for a women to feed her babies that way. I think more women would breastfeed longer if it weren’t so ‘inconvenient’ (i.e. always having to find a private space to feed). So, thanks for this… I agree:)

  5. says

    I just can’t believe that someone would make such a stupid comparison about the Blessed Mother. I’m sure everyone prior to the Victorian era nursed in public. I’m sure the majority of cultures today nurse in public. It’s so sad that such a natural and beautiful thing has to be so maligned. I’ve nursed my babies in Church and I feel even more confident nursing them there, sure I try to do it out of the priest’s sightline, but it’s a beautiful image of the acceptance of children in Church no? Love the post!

  6. says

    Thank you so much for drawing attention to the historical NECESSITY of breastfeeding in public and the religious precedent of this beautiful act between mother and baby! My favorite of these images is Da Vinci’s for the reasons you describe. What a sweet portrayal! Thanks again!!

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