Thursday, July 8, 2010

Christianity's effect on breastfeeding

Welcome to the July 2010 Carnival of Nursing in Public

This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Nursing in Public hosted by Dionna and Paige at All week, July 5-9, we will be featuring articles and posts about nursing in public ("NIP"). See the bottom of this post for more information.

baby in church cry room separated from congregation by glass wall
Here we are being all separated from the rest of the congregation.
Bear with me, and I'll get to that in a minute.

I'm going to attempt to write a post about breastfeeding as it relates to the Christian religion, or at least my experience of same. This is not going to be a religious treatise by any means, just an exploration of some of the issues at hand.

Sam and I grew up in the Christian church, and when we moved to Seattle, we joined a fairly young and hip church, where we settled for several years. When we first started attending, there were no children apart from the pastor's and one other family's, but as the church grew, so did the children's ministry. I've moaned before about how I seemed to be the only one within that growing body who breastfed, or at least who did so openly.1 I read articles on our children's pastor's blog about how she only breastfed in stores' private nursing rooms, arranging her errands so she could stop at each in turn, and then how she had switched to formula (I wasn't surprised, given how restrictive her breastfeeding must have been for her, and I say that genuinely). I sat in the cry room with other mothers discussing bottle feeding and felt out of place with my larger baby still on my breast. We felt discouraged from attending the service with a loud infant (even if babbling, not crying), but then found the nursery's policy barring parents from entering through the half-door less than conducive to calming our separation-anxious baby, nursing him occasionally during the service, or taking him to the potty for EC purposes. The nursery guidelines allowed babies to cry for 10 minutes before a parent was buzzed on a beeper to come down from the service — as a fierce advocate of not practicing cry-it-out parenting, such an extended period of distress and loneliness was unacceptable to me (and I did get to witness one such inconsolably wailing baby, and the long time it took to decide to page the parents and then actually follow through).

I don't think our church was less family-friendly than your average church, though. I've attended dozens in my life so far, since we moved around so much growing up, and I can't remember a service where babies routinely spent time in the sanctuary, making their baby noises and slurping at the breast. I do remember the scattered times I saw that as unusual and intriguing, such as when a mama with a ring sling sat in front of me in our church in Indiana, and I could hear her baby sucking and swallowing; I'd had no idea nursing could be so delightfully noisy!

Mamapoekie at Authentic Parenting wrote a little post about how the culture in Cameroon was much less prudish than in European cultures, and she threw in a line about religion:

"In general, Africans are very much in tune with their sexuality. To us prude Europeans, they might even seem a little obsessed (but that is just us trying to impose our religiously inspired worldview on them)."

I think this was misunderstood by some of the readers, as evidenced in the comments, but I agree with her actual point (that our religiously biased culture — because whether you in particular are religious or not, Western sexual morals stem from Judeo-Christianity — colors our perceptions of how the rest of the world treats sexuality) — as well as with the point the commenters were arguing against: that religion does in fact affect our comfort levels with breastfeeding. I don't think religion alone is the reason breastfeeding is mischaracterized and vilified by so many in my (American) culture — but I think religion has played a hand in creating this culture where breasts are sexualized and therefore expected to be tucked demurely away.

I want to attempt a little explanation for the prudery in Western culture being based on centuries of religious belief. I run several risks in doing this:

  1. I might get it completely wrong, from a theological or historical standpoint. I did not attend seminary or grad school, after all; nor do I have any degree in religious studies. This is true especially since I will have to simplify and perhaps assuredly oversimplify to keep this to one blog post.
  2. I might offend and alienate religious people, who think I'm attacking them. I'm not. I'm one of you. I'm just trying to explain. I'm not going into specifics about what particular denominations believe, so that no one group will feel targeted. If you're curious, I was raised in the evangelical Protestant tradition and am sort of still in the same fold.
  3. I might bore and alienate non-religious people, who can't figure out why anyone would want to talk about religion at all. Though, in that case, perhaps you shouldn't be reading an article clearly marked as having to do with religion? On your head be it if you continue…

The Jewish, and therefore biblical (in the sense of the Old and New Testaments accepted as the Bible by the Christian faith), view of a human is a holistic view. We are not bodies with minds within. We are not, to be more precise, minds with bodies without. We are people, body, mind, soul, all bound up together. You can't remove one without making us less than human. In fact, you can't remove one at all. This is why the Bible speaks so longingly about the resurrection of the body. It's not enough that we "fly away to heaven" after we die — if our bodies do not live with us, we have no hope. Disembodied souls are not good enough, biblically speaking. I won't go into this topic more here, but read Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, by N.T. Wright (bishop of Durham), for a very thoughtful and helpful explanation of this concept and how common church teaching (and, therefore, cultural understanding) has gotten this so wrong for centuries since Jesus' time.

The problem is that the church early on embraced Gentile, i.e., Pagan, brethren (sistren, too — actually, especially sistren!) into the fold — obviously, this was not a problem in itself, but those new Greek members necessarily brought with them Greek ways of thinking, which then infiltrated the church. In church lingo, we call these influences "heresies." They were insidious, and they stayed with us.

The one that I'm thinking of most right now is the Gnostic heresy, from the Greek "gnosis," meaning "knowledge." Most Greeks had a dualistic view of humans, which will be entirely familiar to us — that humans are part body and part spirit/mind/soul/personality. (See — insidious, yes? Did you even know you thought like a Greek?) In the Gnostic way of thinking, philosophers felt that the bodily (material) portion was the lesser part, and the mind portion was the higher. They sought either to disregard the physical, corrupted aspects of themselves, or purposely demean it. That is, either they felt they could do whatever they wanted with their bodies (eating gluttonously, having sex, etc.), or they felt they had to punish their bodies for even existing (flagellation, fasting, etc.). In either case, they wanted to concentrate more on the mental and spiritual aspects of themselves.

This way of thinking entered the church early on, and even though leaders like Paul and John fought hard against it, it took root — and you can probably guess that the second way of (mis)treating the body became the more popular. That's how you get the exaltation of celibacy, the insistence on sexual purity, the piety of fasting and self-denial, that you can see throughout church history and into the present. Don't get me wrong — those religious elements predated Gnostic thinking (Paul speaks admiringly of celibacy, and fasting was an ordained Jewish practice), but I can see how it was amplified and codified as the church grew — and grew more Greek in its way of thinking.

How does this relate to breastfeeding? Glad you asked.

I think breastfeeding still couldn't have been entirely disparaged back in a time where every baby was breastfed. It just wasn't possible. I assume that it was so ubiquitous for centuries that public breastfeeding couldn't have been too big a deal, in terms of being "un-Christian." That said, I do think there were women who would put themselves beyond the need to breastfeed by remaining celibate, or if they were richer mothers, by hiring wet nurses, so they could avoid such animal needs. And I think the atmosphere in general was so degrading of women, which needs to enter any consideration of how breastfeeding was perceived — women in general were considered substandard, and their breastfeeding would have been one example of the way in which they were set apart as more of the animal nature (menstruation and pregnancy and childbirth being other facets). If each human was dualistic, body and mind, then the human race was as well: man as mind, and woman as flesh. This didn't change until about the Industrial Revolution, when there was a switch to viewing men as animals (they can't help their sexual natures, etc.) and women as pure and angelic beings above such things. Unless they weren't. And then they were unnatural. And this is a tangent I'm not going into, but you can see there are centuries of sexism to unpack here.2

So now we come to today, with a quick stop off in the Victorian era to say that the prudery of that time has persisted to this day. As the ability to feed infants by other means grew more common (with the rise of better infant milk substitutes, which became a bona fide industry in the 1920s, and new-and-improved feeding containers, and as more women entered the ranks that could afford wet nurses), breastfeeding became more and more what physically centered sorts did. In other words — women who were lesser than, who fell on the hierarchy down at flesh rather than up in the exalted plane of mind.3

As Western society has sought to break free of the prudery (starting, for simplicity's sake, let's say in the 1960s onward, but of course at various prior times as well), it's gone in one direction primarily — toward a declaration of sexual independence. Toward an acceptance of sexuality as a whole, and an acceptance of women. And in certain cultures, toward a liberation of breasts as sexual and as accepted in that sexuality.

All of this is good, I think. Sure, there have been excesses (according to some perspectives) and negative unforeseen consequences, but I think it's great that people are attacking and picking apart the religious (mis)teaching that sex is bad, that bodies are evil, that minds are better than flesh. Because this is not in fact what Christianity says, and it is completely ludicrous in the face of a faith that believes humans (male and female) are made in God's image. Not our minds in God's image, but ourselves, and Hebrew thought sees no artificial division between our true selves and our selves that include our bodies, with all our natural bodily functions. As people like to point out, Jesus ate; he drank wine; he pooped; and — more importantly, to this discussion — he breastfed. The pro-breastfeeding bumper sticker that reads "If it was good enough for Jesus…"? Yeah, that's true.

I think the problem is twofold:

  1. The church has been scared of the sexual liberation and has fought it by trying to keep bodies, and breasts (in cultures that have a narrow-minded view of breasts' function, such as the United States),4 even more tightly under wraps. Instead of allowing an excising of Grecian heresies, the church (as a monolith, not on individual levels) has clung to its position that bodies are worse than minds, and therefore the breast (again, in certain cultures) must not be seen.
  2. Secular society has so thoroughly rejected the standard of sex-is-bad that breasts in some Western cultures have become worshiped and hyper-sexualized, to the point they cannot be seen as having any other function in such cultures.

I believe there is a middle ground between the two poles, but I feel like we're pinging between them. In every comment flame war on a breastfeeding-in-public news story, I'll read these two camps shouting back and forth, sometimes within the same comment. "Breasts are private! They're for your husband to see, you hussy!" smacks of both positions tied up in one — a sense of breasts have a place, and their place is in the bedroom, where all such sexual deviance belongs.

I think for centuries, even though the church perpetuated the false dualism of body=bad, mind=good, breasts were excluded from this equation, which is why you have centuries of church-sponsored adoration of Mary nursing Jesus. But when breastfeeding could be set aside, the function of breasts was lost, and thinking was perverted to include breasts in the sex=bad camp rather than in a benign or neutral category. This is why you get people in churches warning women to be "discreet" lest a man spy a breast with a baby attached and be led to sin; in prior centuries, men knew well enough that a breast suckling a baby was not an object of lust. With the miscategorization of breasts as solely sexual comes the religiously inspired prudish backlash of needing to cover them up.

Please keep in mind I'm not attacking the church from the outside, or suggesting that the teachings of the church (if such an entity did indeed speak as one) or of individual churches promote such a skewed view of breastfeeding as a matter of doctrine. I think it's been a long road to get to this place of cultural mishmash and misunderstanding, and I think — I hope — we can unravel it and return breasts to their rightful place: on a woman's chest, just doing their thing, whether that thing is being attractive or feeding a baby.

I hope I'm also making it clear that it doesn't matter whether you personally go to church, or whether your church is like this; my point is that Western culture has been irrevocably shaped by church culture. Our moral standards are affected by what the Bible teaches (or how the Bible has been interpreted to teach) is right or wrong — and this is true whether we're holding fast to those standards or rebelling against them.

Now, for my own experience in my own churches, I haven't encountered overt negativity. When I speak of "flame wars," I do mean strangers online, not to my face or within my congregation. I've felt uncomfortable nursing in church — but, then again, I've felt uncomfortable having a child in church at all. I actually think this is an extension of the false duality of the body and the mind. Spirituality, whether it's in the church or in meditation or whatever it might be, is generally considered to be private, personal, and undistracted. The first thing a baby or child does in a service? Distract you. I have a different theology that speaks to whether prolonged concentration is truly necessary for worship, but that post will have to wait for another day. Suffice it to say, I'm against the separation of families (adults go here; children go there) that goes on in most churches, and this circles back to why breastfeeding has a hard time gaining acceptance within a religious service: because children aren't supposed to be there in the first place.

I'll just finish with a little anecdote from a conversation I had with a good friend who has become a Catholic nun. I was complaining to her about how we felt ostracized by our church, and she was dumbfounded.

She said to me, in her own wording:

How can the church turn children away when Jesus himself bid the little children come to him? How can the church discourage breastfeeding when Mary herself fed Jesus?

She encouraged me to continue parenting within the church, breastfeeding my son, and being vocal within my religious faith.

Because there can be change, and there is hope.

I want to include two addenda, articles that were written for the carnival today offering two different and specific perspectives on the issue, which I hope you will read and enjoy:
  • "Tzniudnik Nursing: Judaism and NIP" at The Covered Wagon: A Jewish perspective, which notes the specific Jewish laws encouraging (requiring) breastfeeding and exempting nursing in public from any modesty backlash, which reinforces my belief in Judaism's holistic view of the human.
  • "A Catholic Perspective on Breastfeeding in Public" from Fertility Flower Community — which shows most Catholics support nursing in public, and I agree. My point above, and I hope this is clear, is that our culture as a whole has been affected, even as individual church traditions might have recognized the natural beauty of breastfeeding. From the article: "While it might seem that the church is a likely target [for the lack of acceptance of breastfeeding in public], when you really examine what the church says you’ll see that it’s actually extremely supportive of breastfeeding and mothers who breastfeed." Again, agreed! I just think the effects on culture (being as complex and ingrained and long-lasting as they are) have happened despite the church's efforts to teach the good of breastfeeding.

What have been your experiences with breastfeeding and religion? Have you ever nursed in a place of worship or felt discouraged from doing so? Any stronger theological or historical minds ("minds" — see, Greek dualism again!) want to dissect and reimagine my argument here?

Art by Erika Hastings at to the Carnival of Nursing in Public!

Please join us all week, July 5-9, as we celebrate and support breastfeeding mothers. And visit anytime to connect with other breastfeeding supporters, learn more about your legal right to nurse in public, and read (and contribute!) articles about breastfeeding and N.I.P.

Do you support breastfeeding in public? Grab this badge for your blog or website to show your support and encourage others to educate themselves about the benefits of breastfeeding and the rights of breastfeeding mothers and children.

This post is just one of many being featured as part of the Carnival of Nursing in Public. Please visit our other writers each day of the Carnival. Click on the links below to see each day’s posts - new articles will be posted on the following days:
July 5 - Making Breastfeeding the Norm: Creating a Culture of Breastfeeding in a Hyper-Sexualized World
July 6 – Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers: the New, the Experienced, and the Mothers of More Than One Nursing Child
July 7 – Creating a Supportive Network: Your Stories and Celebrations of N.I.P.
July 8 – Breastfeeding: International and Religious Perspectives
July 9 – Your Legal Right to Nurse in Public, and How to Respond to Anyone Who Questions It

1 I have a specific post of mine in mind that I won't link to here, because on rereading it, I can see it's insensitive to women who bottle feed. At the time I was just feeling upset and unpacking my own insecurities, but I realize now I don't know what the situation was with the mothers I saw bottle feeding — what their stories were and how they came to choose that for their babies. See, even bloggers can mature, right?
2 To be perfectly clear here, too, the church did not invent sexism and in fact the early church worked quite strenuously against it — but the tides were powerful. A great majority of the early church congregation was female, including some of the leaders, and Jesus is a prime example of inviting women into the fold — not as helpmeets but as full partners. But the hierarchy of the (Jewish and Greco-Roman) culture was deeply ingrained and persisted.
3 Note that even though most women breastfed until very recent history, that does not mean that breastfeeding was more exalted than the act of hiring a wet nurse or, later, buying substitute milk if you could afford it. After all, any woman could breastfeed, but only the elite could afford something "better." Note that even Mother Mary lived in poverty and really had no choice.
4 I can only speak to my experience in the United States, with its high level of prudery regarding breasts. See in contrast PhD in Parenting's take on Germany's breastfeeding culture, where there is a perhaps more nuanced view of breasts as fulfilling different functions based on context. I could talk a little more about U.S.-specific prudery and Puritanical influences, but I'll stop here for now with a general note that Europe is considered far more "post-Christian" than the USA, and I am using that term neutrally; I'm just pointing out that, despite individual beliefs in the U.S., the nation's culture is still very churchy, for lack of a better word.


Anonymous said...

I'm so very sorry that you and your family were ever made to feel unwanted at a service. One of my favorite things about our rabbi is that he allows children to be an active part of the service, only being restrictive when someone nervous is chanting Torah.

Otherwise, we've had children standing on the bima (where the rabbi and cantor stand, up in front) with us, moving up and down the aisles - a Jewish service can be quite noisy! The nursing babes are often the only ones who are quiet. :)

I hope that Christianity soon realizes the benefit of embracing the whole family, regardless of their age or ability. I can say that for us, it has only been a positive thing.

Anonymous said...

Whooops, and that was me! Wrong ID! :P

Whitney said...

I am very blessed to attend a church (Baptist) where I am more than welcome to breastfeed. And we do! In adult Sunday School, during the service, during potlucks or events, all the time! But I'm not the only one. We have about four breastfeeding babies in our congregation... and we only have four babies so that's pretty awesome. I personally don't use a cover or anything but there's a girl who uses one and another who uses a sling.

I'd just breastfeed wherever. If a church has a problem with some babbling or suckling noises, they aren't growing as a church.

Shell said...

I'm sorry that you felt this way. I nursed my boys in church services. And never felt any sort of disapproval. Sometimes with a nursing cover and sometimes not.

I think that it might have more to do with the person who is nursing than the church. I had confidence that I could nurse anywhere and did so.

Tameika said...

Beautifully written post. I'm not a mom so never faced this, but in my experience some of the larger churches are big booby traps (not to imagine some of the nurseries do impend upon some child rearing practices as you mention). It's a tough decision that I'm already having some anxiety about and we're not even TTC! We all have to get past the image of breasts as purely sexual objects and remember why we have them in the first place.

Megan@SortaCrunchy said...

Wow, Lauren. This is great stuff! When you write:

"my point is that Western culture has been irrevocably shaped by church culture."

it offers a perfect balance to what I wrote today on how the church has been shaped by Western culture!

I love the perspective you have taken here. I was particularly interested in you look at how the Greeks and Gnostic thinking invaded (and corrupted?) the truth of the gospel.

Great, great thoughts, mama.

Hannah @ A Mother in Israel said...

Very interesting. I've read a lot about "cry rooms" (what an awful name)in some churches. Fortunately synagogues are generally welcoming of children, but of course there is much debate about noise levels, etc. And Shell, you are so right--your attitude makes a difference. So many mothers feel self-conscious or apologetic.

Jessie said...

I personally am impressed that you stuck with that church! I read part of this post to my husband and he said, "Oh, I'd leave. I'd just leave."

The church we go to now is fairly child and family friendly, though if it weren't, they'd have to try and stop me. My children belong with me, *especially* during worship. I'm pretty sure my "I dare you" mama-bear vibe (the same one I pull out whenever I breastfeeding in public) could make anyone wilt. :-)

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

I love the points you and Megan at SortaCrunchy make today about church and culture. It's incredibly sad that some women are made to feel uncomfortable nursing in church. I hope that confident breastfeeding women will continue to make strides to normalize nursing wherever & whenever!

Cassie said...

I consider myself a pretty devout Catholic and I can understand what you are saying in this post. I think it comes down to using things for their purpose ie, breasts for nursing (not a sex symbol), sex for children and bonding with your husband (instead of all the craziness of affairs and such), etc. I personally feel like that is what the Catholic church believes, things are used as God designed. I think people take them to what they think things mean and that's when everything gets all messed up. Like, people used breasts as an icon for sex instead of breastfeeding. Now people think breasts should be covered for everything, when, imo, they just should be covered up if you are doing something where they aren't used for. But if you are breastfeeding, you are using them as what they are designed for, why should you cover yourself?
Anyway, at my Church, there is a cry room but the Deacon himself said he didn't like it because he thinks children should be a part of the congregation which I fully believe. If I'm trying to teach my son to be raised as a Catholic, how is being in a nursery or cry room helping him understand what church is all about? But when we go to another parish somewhere else, we aren't sure if they expect us to go to a cry room if our son is loud, so that's a little confusing. I think I should just refuse to go in the cry room.
As far as breastfeeding in the pew. I do it almost every Sunday. As soon as I got past all my problems in the beginning and could nurse with out like 500 pillows and a nipple shield and all that, I was able to nurse in public a little easier. I have never noticed anyone looking at me weird or not accepting breastfeeding. But I do admit that now that my son is one, past the 'normal' age of weaning, I have been a little more un-confident. There is a woman, with grown kids, who is a nurse and a lactation consultant. I know if anyone said anything to me about nursing at church, she would probably have a word with them. I had the opportunity to meet her in my early nursing days and she told me about how she used to nurse all the time at church and how it wasn't common at all in those days. She helped me be more confident. So I always think, if I just keep nursing in the pew, maybe i'll give confidence to someone who is just starting out.
Thanks for this post. It's very interesting! I love this carnival, it's been really great.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

Paige's post is great too, I just got done reading it!

Kimberly @ Fertility Flower said...

I was wondering the same thing as Jessie...why are you still at that church? Vote with thy feet - isn't that in the Bible, too? j/k Wait, actually it is, isn't it!!! the ˝shake the dust from your feet˝ story....

Hobo Mama, you make very well-thought out and supported arguments. Today is no different. Your chief contribution with this, IMO, is the idea that gnostic thinking ruined us, so to speak. I'm not a theologian either but your theory seems plausible.

Thank you for this thought provoking post!

Lindsay said...

As always, a great post. This is the sort of topic that could be a whole book so obviously you couldn't cover everything in-depth, but you made some interesting points.

As a convert from the United Methodist Church to Catholicism, I was surprised that around here at least, the Catholic churches don't have cry rooms or nurseries on anywhere like that to hide babies off where they won't distract anyone. My hubby didn't even know that church nurseries existed until I told him about them! (although as Pickle pointed out, apparently at least some Catholic Churches do have them!)

Tanashia said...

Thanks! I personally have had a person in church turn around and tell me that we have a nursery for babies. I now wish that I had a valid response for him, but I chose to ignore him.

Colleen said...

I love the fact that your post was interesting, informative and intelligent all at once.
My breastfeeding experience with my son at church was different for me (especially since I am the first in a long line of women in my family to nurse). At the time I was the only one with a little one who was nursing. Our church being fairly small didn't seem to mind when, where or what I was doing. I did use our nursery often to feed my son, out of consideration for new people coming in and other gentlemen who I knew would be bothered (or prone to lustful thoughts) by it. Our nursery, though, is very open. The parents are welcome to stay. It's really only a room for those who want to use it. My son, now 23 months old, loves to worship with us and then wants to go to the nursery because his grandma (my mother-in-law) does a little "Jesus" lesson with the toddlers. He absolutely loves that time with grandma!
On a side note: it is very sad that we have so many parents in the church today that rather have a nursery to drop their kids off for some parent time. My husband and I regularly take turns in the nursery with our son (as long as he is not serving that Sunday).
Thank you for a great post!

Katie said...

I wish my FIL could read this. He (and the rest of his family, including my husband) are also of the evangelical Protestant tradition. The only time I have ever gotten uncomfortable about NIP or tried to cover up (unsuccessfully) has been around him. He is so very modest that he will leave the room or otherwise position himself so he can't see a thing if he is around a nursing woman (who isn't using a cover). In my own home, I do what I need to, but in his home I will remove myself to nurse, simply out of respect for him. At the same time though, I think he's so deeply thoughtful about his faith that if he read this he might start trying to become more comfortable.. or at least try to rethink his discomfort.

I think my husband is uncomfortable with me NIP without a cover, or at least he was to begin with. I remember one time when L was just a few days old and we were at a lab (for newborn blood tests). She needed to nurse, so I sat down and did what I had to - being very new at the whole thing, I was still awkward, but my kid needed me! J kind of stood in front of us, trying to screen.. but even he gave that up shortly,and has never made any issue of it since. I'm not Christian, but because my ILs are, I have been in church with a nursing baby a few times. I mostly chose to take her out of church.. because it was a good excuse for *me* to leave a situation I was uncomfortable in. If I were Christian and wanted to be there, I wouldn't leave just to nurse! (I'd take a fussy baby out, but that's for the same reason I'd take one out of a theater.)

Sheila said...

I think babies and children in a church are a sign of a healthy, growing church! At my (Catholic) parish, kids are everywhere, some quiet, some not so much, and no one seems to mind. When I was younger, our priest was very encouraging of children and would remind anyone who looked annoyed at a baby's babbling that "they're praising God too!"

Unfortunately my mom has had trouble with one priest, not for breastfeeding, but for having kids in church at all. If they make the slightest peep, he turns and glares at her, and has asked her to leave the kids at home (with whom, I wonder?). But that's a rarity -- normally I find kids very welcomed. And as for breastfeeding, I do it in church almost every Sunday and have never met with the slightest criticism!

You're right about the "body vs. spirit" thing. Not only does such an attitude keep Christians from fully enjoying all that God has given us (both physical and spiritual goods), but it makes us look ridiculous to the surrounding culture. I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "Well, you're Catholic. You must hate sex." Um, no... I like it a lot! And babies too!

Lauren Wayne said...

Thanks, everyone! I can't tell you how nervous I was to post this. I appreciate your thoughtful responses.

To clarify a couple personal points (I was trying to keep the article short by not including these — ha!):

We have left that church. But, within our (broader) tradition (we've been willing to try out many denominations), we were unable to find a church in this area we felt truly welcomed children and families and aligned with our religious beliefs. So we've started our own home church with some other people, and all our children are present, doing their thing. I do want to post on that another day, but I was waiting till our group had established a rhythm.

I also did breastfeed many times in our church service though never saw anyone else doing so — it wasn't breastfeeding per se that I found uncomfortable there, but the general hushed noise levels that made any peep echo. And I know it might be my own self-consciousness, but the first time I brought Mikko to the service as a newborn, the pastor (an older gentleman) stared straight at us every time he made a sound.

The saddest occasion, to me, though, was when we went to a Christmas Eve service just this past year, right before we left entirely, and Mikko was talking to us and playing a little, but we thought, Well, hey, it's Christmas! People will be charitable! And there was no nursery, because it was an evening service, so other kids were also present, but a little further up. The wife of the same pastor was sitting next to us, and she got up and moved away and sat further back away from us. It just seemed indicative of the whole "Children shouldn't make noise" thing, and it made me feel really guilty, when before that I'd been enjoying being together as a family and seeing all the other kids in the service with us for once.


I'm really appreciating hearing that the Jewish and Catholic experiences, in particular, are so different. I'm wondering, then, if this is a peculiarly Protestant phenomenon, which I wouldn't doubt. I've been to multiple denominations in my life (Baptist, Presbyterian, military chapels, Congregational, United Church of Christ, United Methodist, Evangelical Covenant, Evangelical Free, nondenominational, and that's all I can think of off the top of my head, and there's been a range of very very conservative to very very liberal), and I have yet to stumble across an established Protestant church where children are part of the service in any integrated and meaningful way. I wonder if this is due to Protestant Christianity's emphasis on the sermon as the imparter of church & biblical knowledge — since it's a classroom (lecture hall!), children are a distraction. I seriously have a whole post in me about that, too, but I'll keep it to that summary for now.

P.S. Just want to say again, No one at that church told me to stop breastfeeding. I just felt out of place, but that might have been in my own head. In the article, I'm more talking about how society (American in particular) isn't yet fully accepting of breastfeeding (in public, past a certain age, etc.), which is true, yes?

P.P.S. To the fellow Protestants who have children integrated into your services, right on!

P.P.P.S. Is this comment as long as the article?

Amy said...

I'm so sorry you had that experience with your former church! I nursed my baby recently in a (UU) church and didn't have any negative experiences, but I was VERY nervous while it was happening that someone would say something. So I can totally understand your discomfort and feeling out of place, whether or not it was in your head!

Isn't it funny that in our society, our breasts are (for some reason) more difficult than other body parts for people to think of as multi-purpose? (We both kiss and eat with our mouths...and even our vaginas are for birthing babies as well as making those babies in the first place.) I wonder what it is about the breast that makes this so hard for people...?

Erin said...

Thanks for your thoughts... I appreciate too how you were very charitable in explaining how you were thinking this through and not trying to rile up any particular group - you did a nice job at expressing your thought process without sounding condemning to religious or non-religious people.

I was going to say something along the same lines as Pickle - in the Catholic tradition, mind and body are seen as equally important, that they go together in our earthly lives, but that there are some things that we can do that are harmful to both body and mind... like having affairs, the example that Pickle gave. There are lots of things that we can do to hurt our minds and bodies, and having sex in any way we wish can be harmful to both body *and* mind (think of the mental attachment that occurs when people have sex, and then the emotional/mental distress when they break up). So, I don't think that, at least in the Catholic tradition, that it is about punishing ourselves by fasting, or refraining from sex outside of marriage, or anything else, but it is about sacrifice and about doing what is healthy for ourselves. Priests don't remain celibate, for instance, in order to beat themselves up because they think the body is so evil. I think it was Martin Luther that referred to humanity as "dung heaps" that were covered by God's grace - appearing good, but evil deep within. So perhaps the hatred of the body began more around the time of the Reformation? I too am no Bible scholar, lol... my little brother is in the seminary studying to become a Catholic priest and is studying theology, so I might discuss all this with him!

I think the instances of "cry rooms" might be more of a southern phenomenon in the US. The Catholic churches in the South sometimes have them, but not so much in the North. I don't know about the Protestant churches in the North vs. South... but you are so right that when you are battling against breastfeeding in church being accepted, it is just that much more difficult if children in general aren't seen as welcome in church! I think the church nursery has become so prevalent that many parents just see it as bing "what you do." I wish more parents would bring their babies into church everywhere... I have noticed that other people have positive things to say when our young children are in Mass with us, because the baby nurses and is therefore quiet, and if they get loud, we do take them out to the lobby area, where we can still hear/see on the closed circuit TV. I do think maybe you are on to something when you say that since the sermon is such a focus in Protestant denominations - it is basically the reason you are there - that children are looked down upon in the church because yes, it is hard to concentrate on a 30 minute "lecture" with them there!

Growing up Catholic, I took it for granted, but as an adult, I have really come to appreciate the beautiful teachings about the human body, including breastfeeding!

I apologize if this is rambling or confusing... my children are trying to kill each other ;) so I better attend to them now!

The Fearless Formula Feeder said...

This is an incredible post on a complex subject. You deal with it with such sensitivity - just wanted to commend you for that. I found it really interesting... especially as this is something that has always bothered me - why should women be made to feel bad about nursing in public from a religious perspective, considering how natural and nurturing it is to breastfeed?? Seems really hypocritical to me.

Although I do see your point about the problem being more about having a small child in church at all. I'm a reform Jew, and our temples tend to offer "family services" where kids are encouraged and welcome; you can leave whenever necessary; and its common to see moms nursing everywhere. Maybe you could suggest that your church offer a family service every now and then, if they don't already?

Jessie said...

Oh, church service as a lecture hall! Please do write on this subject -- it gets me riled up something fierce! In my (admittedly not so humble) opinion, long, in-depth study belongs in an adult Sunday School class. A church service should focus primarily on praising God! And yes, I think if this were the case, children would be a lot more welcome in worship services. Perhaps that is part of why Catholics seem more open to having children as part of the service? The Catholic services I've attended have had much shorter "sermons" than Protestants usually do.

I would like to add that my husband, daughter, and I visited a church in the last year that has a very small congregation (30 people?), so they have no nursery workers, and the service was SOOOO quiet. I, of course, was determined to keep Lucy in the service as much as possible, but I was feeling very self-conscious about every noise she made. There was another visiting family who also had a young baby. After the first couple elements (a song and prayer, I think), the pastor stood up and said that they love children, and they love to hear them make a joyful noise. That there was a cry room in the back if we felt more comfortable there, but that we were free to keep the kids in the service no matter what! How refreshing! I am so grateful to that man. So it's possible. :-)

Anonymous said...

I am a Unitarian. This means that my church does not impose sexual morality, and it has a very liberal congregation. I have felt extremely comfortable breastfeeding my baby, and bringing my small baby into church with me. Especially when said small baby was more than happy to nurse and then drift to sleep in a ring sling.

My toddler, on the other hand, is a whole different story. He is mobile. He is LOUD. He wants to play with the sound system and the candles and he we wants to run up and down the aisles. The sanctuary is not child-proofed, nor should it necessarily have to be. It means that I can't really attend and participate. I remember this with my first, too. There were a couple of years between babe in arms and preschooler ready to head off and participate in the children's program.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I would obviously appreciate a system that was more child-friendly. On the other hand, I don't particularly see a good way to cater to toddlers, and I think that when they ARE included it's often with the expectation that they won't behave like toddlers. The extension of removing children and babies from public life is that we have no tolerance for them, and we think that somehow they should behave much differently than they actually do.

Rachel said...


There's a very ancient tradition that associates the cup in communion with a mother's breast -- as a mother gives of her own body to feed her child, how much more has Christ given of his body to feed his church. On that association, we might argue that a worship service is the MOST appropriate of all places to nurse a young child.

Anonymous said...

I just discovered your blog, and I'm extremely impressed by the extremely intelligent things you have to say! But what I am very curious about is, why are you religious? Serious question: you strike me as too smart to believe in magical men in the sky, and too feminist to specifically belong to a religion with such misogynistic messages in its official text (check out Deuteronomy, chapters 21 & 22 for some hair-raising examples).

The Whites said...

Have you heard of Family-Integrated Church? They don't believe in splitting the family up with sunday schools or nurseries or children's church. Ours is non-denom and really great- not legalistic, lots of AP families. I have been to a couple that you could tell were very legalistic (those were a specific denomination, maybe that has more to do with it...). Anyways, worth checking into

I don't think I could ever go back to "regular" church now. We also go to a Messianic Church and they don't have nurseries either (AND the family integrated church mentioned above... yep we go to two churches! its hard to pick one ;-)

Erin said...

Now that I have been able to look it up (since my children are sleeping now!), I found the sections in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that discuss body and soul and their relation to each other. Here is a piece:

"The human body shares in the dignity of "the image of God": it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit:
Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day."

Man cannot despise his bodily life... I like how that is stated.

Paragraphs 362-368 in the CCC deal with the body/soul topic... if anyone wants to read them, they can be found here by searching for the paragraph numbers:

I thin another reason that children are usually viewed as welcome in the Catholic Church is because officially, the Church teaches that we should not use birth control (the reasons for this are complicated but make beautiful, logical sense and are very respectful to human dignity, but I won't take over the comment box to explain them... one can find explanations elsewhere if interested). Even though many catholics don't follow the teachings against contraception, the teaching is there, ingrained into Catholic tradition, and so there has always been a historical acceptance of children as being an inevitable part of life and not something to limit and control because they are a "nuisance." Perhaps much of the lack of accepting children in church services has resulted from a culture that sees children as a burden and something to be limited, even avoided?

Emily said...

I am a member of a traditional conservative Presbyterian church where there is sort of an unspoken rule that babies need to be in the nursery and nursing in front of other people is inappropriate. There is a "nursing mother's room" in the nursery building, where I have sat with my four-month-old son pretty much every time we've attended. Since the service is so quiet, I don't feel comfortable nursing him there since sometimes he can be quite loud while nursing.

I got the same line about "we will page you if he cries only ten minutes..." Eek! I can't imagine my baby crying for TEN minutes in another building without me there.

We love our church, but fortunately, we are moving next month to a city where there is a church (in the CREC denomination) that welcomes children (and their noises) into the service.

Jenny said...

Our three-year-old goes to children's church, although I do believe families should stay together. But children's church is going on, and she knows that, and she wants to go with the other kids. We used to keep the baby in church with us and I'd nurse her when she got fussy. No one ever said a word to me about the breastfeeding, which I did "discreetly" but without a cover. She also babbled and sometimes cried. One time Ivey got so noisy we took her out for the rest of the service, and after church an older man said to my mom "why did they take her out? I was enjoying it!" Our choir director has repeatedly told us he loves having children in church. My church is welcoming, but it's also tiny, noise carries, and Ivey is currently the only baby. I'd feel better if there were 3 or 4 other babies hanging out in the sanctuary. She's getting to an age where she hates to sit still, so we've started letting her go to the nursery so we can try to pay attention and not be so focused on keeping her happy and quiet. It's not so much a breastfeeding issue, but a noise one, like you said.

Winter before last in Asheville, NC there was a lady who went to Denny's and started nursing her toddler during the post-church lunch rush. She was treated rudely and was finally kicked out. I watched several stories on the news and read comments in articles written about it, and the predominant sentiment among those who disagreed with her was "hello, there were FAMILIES coming from CHURCH, we must shield their innocent eyes!" This particular mom nursed by pulling a neckline down rather than lifting a shirttail, which is fine, but I think that is mostly what caused the stir. One of the employees even said that in this case, there was just so MUCH skin showing and she wasn't trying to be discreet. Usually seems to come back to that. She was painted as a brazen hussy out to purposely defile the decent Christians she knew would be eating at this good old American "family" restaurant. Denny's crappy response (more or less a promise to shun/send away any mother who dares to come in a restaurant and unsnap a nursing bra, if it bothers someone) is a prime example of how a non-religious establishment is affected by the church in an indirect, trickle-down fashion.

Sorry if this doesn't make much sense--I have a headache and I'm getting tired! I really liked this post and it had several points I'd never thought of!

The Ethologic Mom said...

What a great post and well done! I also am a practicing catholic who has breast fed comfortably in church with 3 children.
Just last Sunday the first reading from Isaiah spoke of how God's children are like nurslings being COMFORTED at their mother's breast. It was a beautiful image and so reaffirming. What better way to express God's love than to use the metaphor of a mother nursing her child. I loved that it wasn't just about function either (feeding for nutrition) but rather the impage of breast feeding as a perfect form of nurturing. Thanks!

Betsy B. Honest said...

Yeah, my main beef with Western religion is the whole "all He has created is holy except for bodies and women and (eek!) women's bodies!" thing.

Well, my main beef is... I won't get into that. But yeah, that's one of my beefs.

Emily said...

Love your post! DH and I currently attend a church that there are ZERO children at. ZERO. We are expecting our first baby in Dec., and we are considering switching churches for many reasons, but that is one of them. Almost everyone in the church is at least 20 years older than us, and they are just not used to children. We aren't sure where to go from here...we might take the route of a very good friend of mine: since she knows that her babies, and her breastfeeding, won't be welcome at the type of churches she and her husband are comfortable with spiritually, they just don't go to church right now!

My favorite response about children crying or being loud in church, though, was from a priest I knew in high school. He said, "The Catholic Church tells you to have children, so they are more than welcome to stay in the church service! Never feel the need to take them out, no matter how disruptive you think they are being."

Erin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erin said...

I don't think that Western religion started out with the idea that bodies are not created holy. I am curious about whether or not certain branches of Christianity teach that? Calvinism has the whole "total depravity" of humanity, and Martin Luther said humans are "dung heaps," but is that officially part of the Lutheran and Presbyterian faiths? That our bodies are evil and to be despised? The Christian faith before that point (which was pretty much all Catholicism) has a much nicer view of the body (see the CCC I quoted above in the comments).

Lauren, thanks again for doing this post... it is really getting people thinking and discussing!

(edited for spelling typos!)

Laura said...

I find this article very interesting, Lauren, because I have had totally different breastfeeding experiences in my own church. I do agree with you that many people frown upon children being in "big church" at all (I hate the delineation.) We keep our 18 month old nursling in church with us each Sunday. We nurse him during the service when he needs it. No one has ever said a word. There is nothing so joyful as a little baby babbling along with the preacher. If you're ever in NC, definitely come visit our church. We can nurse alongside each other! :o)

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to know that there are synagogues that are as accepting of nurslings as my Catholic church. I have to agree wholeheartedly with the nun. My mother-in-law was raised Protestant, and she has always told me the same thing and has made it clear that she's proud I nurse in church (pretty much every Sunday). I'm glad you left that church. My parents left a Catholic church where the priests didn't seem to like children to find a more child friendly parish.
I think cry rooms are definitely a Southern invention. They're also based on the size of the church (from my observation). My parents' church has a "day chapel/cry room" and it's a huge church. My smaller church has an overflow room with a closed circuit feed, but it's generally for when there really aren't any seats left in the chapel. There are plenty of kids making noise (children's choir) at any given service and heads only turn when the child hits the screaming point and the mom hurries off to remedy the child.
I haven't been to many Protestant services that weren't also weddings, so I don't have much for comparison.

Unknown said...

Wonderful post Lauren! I agree that body=bad is something that was not intended by the bible but was added during the centuries with the effect of horribly vilifying women. I hope that by reading posts like this and looking at what the bible says the church can reclaim our bodies as blessings.

Also, the church I grew up in didn't have a nursery. I was used to everyone worshiping together. I'm distressed at the age segregation happening in churches - a product of 150 years of public schooling in my opinion. Aellyn is loud but happy-loud! No one has ever said anything but I worry they think we are "too good" for the nursery which isn't it at all. At my church children could litterally be 18 before they are in an adult worship service! I don't think that's good for the children, the adults, or the church.

j.p. said...

Thanks for your post, I have had many of these same thoughts about the church.

Our church in Seattle doesn't have many children (yet!) but has always been very child friendly. One reason we stuck around was that soon after we started going, the associate pastor at the time, served communion with his daughter while wearing his daughter in a baby bjorn. The few kids that show up have a table with books and crayons to sit around, and they are welcome to run around or draw or participate as much as anyone else. We've even had a little girl (7-8yrs old) serve as an usher and serve communion before.

I just found your blog and look forward to reading more of your posts.

Shannon said...

I see the problem a little bit differently.

1). Nearly every "church" you walk into in America does not live or rule by Biblical principles. Because our society has hidden breastfeeding for the past couple hundred years we have no concept of it as normalcy.

2). The sexual revolution was basically an encouragement of worship of self and sexual desires. This caused women (and men) to be seen as sexual objects. It caused the polarity that we see that "sex is bad" in churches, but at the same time women go to church dressed like whores. For some reason it is ok to wear a shirt that shows parts of your breasts, bending over and standing up, but to nurse a baby is shocking. The truth is sex was designed as a beautiful thing between a man and a woman who make a covenant to God and each other. Sex outside of God's design is a bad thing.

3). Biblically speaking breastfeeding is the most practical way of feeding a child. I believe that if the professing church was truly living by Biblical principles then a lot of things would look differently, including breastfeeding.

4). Children SHOULD be with their parents during sermons, but they ought to be taught to act appropriately. Human beings are not naturally 100% compliant and obedient. We are sinners, so are our babies. We need to teach our children to act like adults, not children.

When it comes down to it you can't expect a church, which is not the true church of Christ, to have a Biblical stance on breastfeeding when they basically live by the world's rudiments and teach a watered down false gospel.

Lisa C said...

I'm trying to catch up on your posts...

So this is a huge topic! This is the one that dumbfounds me. The church I belong to (LDS) encourages breastfeeding and sees the body as sacred. Unfortunately, due to the reasons you list, our entire culture has become confused, and it is our culture that affects the thinking of so many members in my church to the point that they begin misinterpreting things. We are encouraged to stay in the chapel with our little ones unless they become too disruptive (like screaming). However, it feels like there is this unspoken rule that mothers should nurse their babies in the mother's room, and that rule is made up by the expectations of other members, not by the church itself.

One of these days I am hoping that our church leaders will get up and say something about this, but for the time being I suppose it is our own challenge to deal with.

Erin said...

I haven't taken time to read all the comments. There are a lot!! Sorry if I repeat someone else.
This was a really great post. Thanks!
I am part of a Protestant family integrated church. Children & encouraged to be in the worship service & nursing is not frowned upon. It is interesting also that my pastor is often harping on the problem on dualism seeping into the church. I bet he has read the N.T. Wright book. It is one of his favorite topics.
I appreciate you linking that to the current problem of the cultural view of the body & how breastfeeding fits int to that. That is so insightful! It brings so much together.
Can I ask you about one thing in your post -
----"Breasts are private! They're for your husband to see, you hussy!" smacks of both positions tied up in one — a sense of breasts have a place, and their place is in the bedroom, where all such sexual deviance belongs. --------
I am not sure what you are saying here, exactly. Do you believe that for the marriage bed to include the husband being satisfied in his wife's breasts is deviant sexual behavior? I must be misunderstanding you. Because that doesn't jive with the rest of your post. So, I am just asking for clarification on what you are saying here.
I NIP, without shame. But, I don't purpose to show my breasts to people other than my husband. Because, while I fully believe in breastfeeding, I do believe that breasts are for sexual pleasure in marriage also. Mine are not a free-for-all.

christina said...

I just stumbled on your blog today and this article is PERFECT. I blame my conservative Christian upbringing for the reason I found breastfeeding completely repulsive. I was uncomfortable with the idea and felt like a sinner for even THINKING of my breasts, let alone thinking about allowing something to eat from them! I am currently pregnant with my first child, and it took me until the 5th month to really finally condition myself to accept the idea. And the more I rally for it and push for it the more steam I'm giving myself in pursuing this endeavor. Breasts were always naughty and sexual and I was NEVER exposed to breastfeeding women.

I will be the first woman in my family to breastfeed and I'm exhilarated.

Thank you for your article! It really helped me put that last polishing touch on why I desperately need to breastfeed for myself and for those who I surround myself. It's going to be such a hard experience, and I cannot wait.

Lauren Wayne said...

Ok, wading back in! Thanks for your patience, everybody.

Amy: Very good thoughts. It is strange how one-track we've made breasts out to be.

Erin: Thank you. I guess I want to clarify that I'm not suggesting the church actively teaches (or at least, those who are rightly interpreting the Bible actively teach) that bodies are bad, just that it's a byproduct that's filtered down into popular culture (same as the fiction that people become angels when they die — not a biblical teaching but a popular understanding, you know?). I'm glad to hear that the official Catholic church teachings are being clear about this. As far as North vs. South cry rooms in Catholic churches, that's an interesting distinction. I don't know about Southern Protestant churches, but they're definitely present in Northwestern ones, at any rate.

Fearless Formula Feeder: I really love the idea of a family service. We had that one at Christmas Eve, but it seemed to bother all the non-family-minded folks. Sigh.

Jessie: So glad to hear you're on the same page with the lecture hall thing! I've definitely been thinking about how Catholic services are more about the liturgy and the Eucharist and being part of that community together, so I can see where children would be more an organic part of that, vs. the Protestant tradition of studying/learning. Love the story of that pastor! Thanks for sharing it.

Amber: We're trying to figure out a way to include even loud and mobile toddlers in our home church, but obviously whatever we come up with won't work in every congregation, because every congregation is going to have different expectations and traditions and situations. But I have to believe it's possible, even if not easy. Well, anyway, if we figure out something good, I'll try to write again and let you know! :)

I'd better do this in multiple stages or Blogger will tell me I've gone over the character limit. To be continued…

Lauren Wayne said...

Rachel: Love that association and that extrapolation.

Anonymous: Oh, hoo boy, how much time do you have? No, seriously, if you want to talk this over with me, drop me a line (email's in my Blogger profile) and we'll chat. I have many, many questions and very few answers (about your side, either).

The Whites: No, I haven't. I'll look into that — thanks for the suggestion!

Erin again :) : I like that wording, too. That's perfect. And, yes, I actually have a blog post in mind about how our culture sees children as a burden — you're right that that, too, has presumably seeped into our religious services as well. Thanks for that insight.

EmilyWT: I know, about the 10 minute thing! It makes me sad just thinking about it. Glad you've found a church that welcomes all of you to participate.

Jenny: It's funny, because Sam has good memories of children's church and Sunday school and yet still doesn't want our children going off to them — because he thinks it watered down his understanding of religion and presented it in an overly simplistic, feel-good fashion, with emphasis on stories and crafts rather than action and truth. I hope you understand I'm not saying this at you or laying that on Suzi's head :) — I'm just saying I totally understand why she'd want to go to children's church — because it's fun! Lots more fun than the boring old, pin-drop-quiet lecture service.

Can I just say — thank you for your Denny's illustration. That was exactly what I was trying to say in the article, to see that this secular public place has decided they must abide by (false) churchy rules. Seriously, thank you so much. That made my day that you really did understand my belabored point and even had an example at the ready.

Ok, on to the next comment box…

Lauren Wayne said...

The Ethologic Mom: I love hearing those passages! So beautiful, and wonderful that it is God doing the nurturing.

Betsy: Yeah, that's one of my beefs, too! :)

Emily: Wow, that would be awkward, wouldn't it? Unless they totally adopt the little one into the fold and are excited for the new life. I guess anything's possible! I love that you heard that from a priest. I'm seriously impressed by the Catholic church after this comment thread.

Erin once more: I would have to do more digging to find specific references, so maybe I'll come back when I've had a chance? I'll just say that there's a difference between what the Catholic church (and Protestant church) teaches now and what the ancient church taught, or the Medieval church taught, you know? Just because the church now has gotten its priorities straight doesn't mean that's always been the case, as much as I appreciate that it does now. And those (false) teachings through the ages have had an impact on secular culture, even if the church has now gone back to a purer understanding. See, for instance, how negatively St. Augustine viewed sexuality in the Confessions (essay is here on two pages; the second page is particularly apt). I want to make clear again that I am not saying the Bible teaches that the body is bad but that some leaders in the church in various times have misinterpreted or been swayed by cultural influences (an ingrained misogyny, for one), and it's hard (impossible) to eradicate all traces of culture from religion. As I said, though, I'm glad to see that the Catholic church's official teachings on the body that you quoted are in line with biblical principles. I hope that, too, will trickle out into society.

Laura: I'm so glad! I will definitely do that if we visit. :)

To be continued again…

Lauren Wayne said...

jennabeans1982: So glad to hear again that the Catholic church is so welcoming of families. Makes me want to go visit some more.

Paige: Absolutely! Thank you for saying it so clearly. And the idea of age segregation being a result of public schooling — I never thought of that association, and it makes so much sense. Thank you for that insight. I get sad when people shake their heads at the horror of a one-room schoolhouse with all ages mixed up and learning together — I think a one-room schoolhouse would be just right! Well, minus the corporal punishment, rote learning, etc. ;) And, yes, it's dismaying that children can spend their whole childhoods being separated and only then worship with their parents; it just doesn't seem right to me.

j.p.: I love that image of the pastor serving communion while babywearing! What a great idea to have a table and involve the children. I'm curious what church you go to, as I'm also in Seattle, if you'd like to message me privately (or not, your call!). mail {at}

Shannon: I agree with some of what you say, but I think we probably have very different views of what biblical principles are. For instance, even though I believe in the sanctity of sex, I don't believe women need to cover up completely or that no one can have sexual desires or thoughts outside of a marriage covenant; I think that expectation has led to a lot of unhealthy repression. But I won't go into that here. I also don't think that children acting like children is a sign of sin; I think they're just being children, and I think it's not developmentally possible for children to act like adults. But, I do agree with you wholeheartedly that breastfeeding is the natural and biblical way to feed babies, and in no way should it be seen as sexual or inappropriate. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

Lisa C: Well, I'm trying to catch up on my comments, so we're even! :) No, actually, I think I'm far more behind than you… It's interesting that the LDS church officially encourages family presence and breastfeeding, but that you see the cultural influence confusing things there as well. Thanks for your input on another tradition.

Lauren Wayne said...

All right, how many comments will I have to break this into? :)

Erin (other Erin): You also have experience with a family-integrated church; I'm definitely going to have to look into that, thanks! I bet your pastor has read N.T. Wright; that's funny! The "sexual deviance" part is supposed to be tongue in cheek, referring still to what someone who says "breasts are private … you hussy" might (mistakenly) think. Sorry that wasn't clear! No, I definitely do not think enjoying breasts is sexual deviance.

Christina: Thank you so much for your comment, and for admitting your struggles with this. I think it's the sad outcome of denigrating/segregating the body and sexuality, and I think it affects more people than would admit it. I am so proud of you for your commitment to breastfeed, and I hope you can continue to work through your feelings and become comfortable. I know, for me, as soon as I got over those initial first feedings, I really just got it, that this was about feeding and nurturing and loving my sweet little baby, and there was absolutely nothing wrong about it. It was all completely right. I also love that you're going to be a model for the other women in your family and community; what an honor and a responsibility. I do hope you can find some supportive people to encourage you and answer your questions, maybe a La Leche League group or similar. Congratulations, and hope you have a happy and healthy rest of your pregnancy!

Oh! Was that all? And I was just getting started. Ha ha!

Cassie said...

I have breastfed openly in Catholic services. I even received communion while the baby was attached to my breast. The priest blessed him like he would have any other child. Part of me wonders if this has to do with the fact that our priest was from a small African country where breastfeeding is more 'normal.'

I did have an issue at a "mega" church however. I went to leave my 10 month old at the nursery and the daycare providers were so stunned that he nursed, that they asked I take him into the church with me. Even covered up, I felt uncomfortable nursing there.

I haven't breastfed yet at our UU church (I'm due in January, so, I will eventually). I'm not worried though. Most of them openly practice attachment parenting.

The Hertz Family! said...

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I don't know why we have to make it so hard on our selves.

Anonymous said...

So many comments! At the Church my family has been attending, we just had a little population boom. Almost everyone is breastfeeding (the mom who isn't just survived a bout with breast cancer) and some us nurse without covers, some with, one mom brings her boppy to church. My friend is the greeter and wears an ergo with her son latched on almost the entire time. Maybe we are just lucky though, because one of the deacon's wife is a Le Leche League Leader who has nursed her 5 year old in church.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great post! You did excellent research and made great points. As a man, when I see a woman breastfeeding her baby, I use it as an opportunity to remember how wonderful is a mother's love for her children, and how this love helps us understand the love of God for us. Indeed, I also remember how Jesus said that His love for us is like that of a hen (mother chicken) gathering her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34). I am saddened that there are those who call themselves Christians who would see breastfeeding any other way, such as reported below:

Lauren Wayne said...

Cassie: Love that you received communion while nursing. That is awesome.

Andrea: Yeah, why do we do that? Thanks for the helpful link.

Anon: I love that someone brings a boppy. It really does sound like such a positive environment — that's wonderful!

Andrew: I read the link you posted, and it was horrifying. How can someone think breastfeeding openly is a sin and rebuke the mother! Ack! Your response: "speak for yourself when you talk about feelings of lust upon seeing a nursing mother. All I see is a mother’s wonderful love for her child." Yes! I think too often this assumption by some Christians that all men will be overcome with lust on seeing a breastfeeding woman is degrading not only to women (which is clear) but also to men. I have a higher regard for men than that. Thank you.

Jess said...

Hehe, this is going to throw a spanner in the works. I'm half-Greek and I grew up attending the Greek Orthodox Church (not anymore, phew!)
but at the church I went to, most people that attended were either really elderly people or new parents (trying to be good parents by brining their newborns to church). There was a LOT of breastfeeding in the church and a lot of babies crying and toddlers running. The Greeks are pretty casual with breastfeeding and when I went to Greece I saw a lot of women out in public feeding their babies. Its the european in them I guess!

Anonymous said...

In my church, we do have a room for nursing mothers who may not feel comfortable nursing their children in the congregation, but I have also seen mothers nurse their children (with nursing covers) while sitting in the service. Our church does have some pretty cut and dry commandments about modesty, so nobody would nurse without a cover. But children of any age are always welcome. I currently a congregation specifically for young single adults, and it is so quiet! I actually preferred the background noise of children! Plus, seeing the children and parents helped remind me what I hope to be someday. :)

Lauren Wayne said...

@Anonymous: I love that you miss the background noise! :) My son can definitely provide some for you if you'd like to visit our church…

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