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?