July 17, 2008

Mary put the milk in the Bread of Life

Tonight I came across this article about nursing discretely as Mass. The comments were pretty interesting, especially those who found public breastfeeding (especially at Mass) to be immodest, unthoughtful, disrespectful and downright offensive.

I breastfeed at restaurants, shopping centers, parking lots and even Mass - it never fails that L will be hungry. I try to do it discreetly - I put a blanket over myself as I "get the boob out" and "close up shop." I keep the blanket draped on my shoulder so my stomach does not show on the side she's nursing on. I try to keep the shirt covering most of my breast but I do not nurse with a blanket over L's head. She doesn't really like it, and I don't blame her since I don't like eating with anything covering my face.

I understand that breastfeeding can make some people uncomfortable and that for men it can be a challenge if they get a glimpse, especially an unexpected glimpse of boob. But in my mind, there is absolutely nothing sexy about a breast that's squirting milk. I have relatives and friends who are male who become very uncomfortable when I feed my daughter. For them I will leave the table or room, or at least turn away from them as L eats. I also try to remember to ask people if it's okay for me to nurse in front of the, but really if you're a woman I'm not going to try to hide much. I believe the absence of a high profile of nursing mothers is to blame for the over-sexualization of all things breast related* and the amount of women who do not breastfeed or give up early on when there are difficulties establishing breastfeeding.

It's fascinating to look at the large amount of Catholic art that shows the Blessed Mother nursing the Infant Christ. There is nothing sexual or awkward about it. The artists were showing the full humanity of Our Savior and God - He was fully dependent on a woman for life. The works also show the tenderness and love they felt for each other. In my new role of mom, Mary nursing Jesus is one of my favorite things to meditate on, especially when L is at my breast.

And as far as nursing at Mass goes - I like to think of the line from the Gospel and the Eucharistic Prayer, "This is My Body, which will be given up for you." Being a breastfeeding mother is a sacrifice: my body is no longer my own. And now my understanding of God's love and Christ's offering are greater because of that.

*See this article for more info on that statement. The above magazine cover was called "gross" and I heard one man even call it "pornographic." The first statement is a pretty sad reflection of our secular understanding of the female body. The second is just sick.


  1. Wow, I am absolutely stunned by some of those comments to that magazine. I truly didn't think anything was wrong with the cover when I saw it, and I can very assertively say that I am an incredibly modest person who even gets a tiny bit uncomfortable at times. So sad!!

  2. i like this from the baby talk article: "It's not like women are whipping them out with tassels on them!" :-D I've been nursing for almost 16 months now (with the exception of a 2 week break), and I still have people who make comments. And, again, there are friends of mine (women) who won't even look at me when I'm nursing, even with a blanket over my whole torse and the baby! They turn their bodies so they are still talking to me, but not looking near me. and, its pretty tough to talk to a friend when they cant even look your direction! sorry, this obviously is something that is very close to my heart, because I love nursing my children and I just want others to understand that. But, I guess that you just can't until you are a nursing mom.

  3. I don't understand why this is an issue for some people (i.e. those quoted in that article.) Breastfeeding is one of the most natural things we do.

  4. Great thoughts about breastfeeding! I'd like to kindly offer a bit of a different perspective, though. I don't know if it is fair to say that the oversexualization of breasts rests partially on the shoulders of ALL mothers who do not breastfeed. As someone who had their heart set on breastfeeding, I was devestated when I had life threatening physical postpartum complications that dashed those hopes. I took medicine that made breastfeeding unsafe for my child because I knew in my heart that my child needed a mother MORE than breastmilk. When people found out that I formula fed, I got lots of nasty comments about my mothering because people assumed that I formula fed for standard reasons. Since I wasn't ready to share all the details of my situation, I heard it all...being told that I was lazy, not trying hard enough, giving breastfeeding moms a bad name in society, and people even gave me stats about how my baby wouldn't be as smart without breastmilk. It has heartwrenching to be judged like that when I was already grieving the loss of the breastfeeding experience I had desired for my child and myself. We have to be careful not to overgeneralize. Yes, breastfeeding is the best when it is possible, but remember to pray for mothers who cannot and choose not to breastfeed also. We all know mothering is hard work, but giving mothers prayers and support for feeding their children with respect instead of giving them judgements/fact first may help women (that are able to) make breastfeeding a reality for future children!

  5. Wow, I can't wait for the day when this topic DOESN'T spark such heated debate! I've been thrilled to read lately the us breastfeeding mothers are slowly becoming the majority again, and not the minority that we were for so long!

    The comments to that article about breastfeeding in Mass made me so angry, they seemed to think she was just ripping off her top and letting everything hang out instead of nursing discreetly! And the response to the picture of that baby breastfeeding just made me want to cry.

    There's a great chapter in that book 'So That's What They're For' that talk about the creation of formula (used to be made of Karo syrup!) and how a generation of women in the 50's who decided that breastfeeding was "crass" really made a huge impact on generations to follow!

    I could go on forever so I'll stop now. :) Thanks for that blog Bonnie! ♥

  6. Bonnie, I also looked to "This is my body" while breastfeeding. That verse often provided comfort.

    Many people close to me are uncomfortable with public breastfeeding, but I don't hold it against them and I'd usually try to find a compromise during feedings. And I'd like to think they are more comfortable about breastfeeding after I (re)introduced it to them. But if you're not used to seeing breastfeeding mothers, and then you compound that with a hypersexualized society, I'm not surprised so many are uncomfortable. I know my mom was unable to, and she didn't have the support that we now have, like lactation consultants. It's wonderful that breastfeeding is gaining popularity and support (although it's not where it should be)

    Veronica, I think I've done that very thing while talking with you! I did it out of respect for the intimate time you're sharing with your babies. I'm sorry if it ever made you feel like I wasn't comfortable, or if it made you feel uncomfortable!

  7. Anon -
    Thank you for your comment and thank you for sharing your experience. I apologize if my comments grieved you in any way. I was not trying to say that the oversexualization partially rests on the shoulders of all those mothers who do not breastfeed - I know several women who deeply wanted to breastfeed but for one very legitiment reason or another did not.
    I believe it is not the absence of nursing mothers who are to blame, but the way that many in our communities want to hide them away - in back rooms, restrooms, corners, cry rooms, etc. That's what I meant by the phrase "absence of a high profile." If we are often forced out of sight, people will never see us and become adjusted to the thought that God has given mothers a very precious way to nurture our children and bring honor to our bodies.

    Tonya - my Gma F commented that she wishes she would have breastfed but was basically peer pressured not to, so she didn't. How sad is that?

  8. How do people think our ancestors fed their children before the days of formula? Duh. I'll have to admit, before I got pregnant I was uncomfortable seeing women who I did not know breastfeeding in public. (Friends didn't bother me.) After I got pregnant and read EVERY article I could get my hands on, it no longer made me uncomfortable and actually saw it as a beautiful thing.

    On another note, I chose to formula feed and got some nasty comments from family and strangers alike. I made my decision as I was being cut open for my c-section. I still have regrets not breastfeeding, so I'll probably try it with the next child.

  9. American society is so weird. Oversexed in some ways, and very prudish and repressed in others. All you breastfeeding mamas, keep doing it wherever you need to. You help make it normal for all the women who will follow.

    Good thoughts on this, Bonnie.

  10. Horray to breasfeeding moms everywhere. my daughter is going on 7 months and has never taken a bottle (by choice). i work and pump, but she won't even take my milk, in any way shape or form other than from the source. We'll go for as long as she wants to, i'm a fan of 'self-weaning.'
    bonnie, if you haven't already, check out "theshapeofamother.com"

  11. Here's another side of things...
    First of all, I was shocked to read some of those comments about the article. I am a mother of three. One in heaven and two little ones here with me. With our daughter I was able to nurse her for about 6 weeks and then I had to go to work and did not even try to pump. With our son I nursed him for about 6 weeks as well and then I had to go to work but this time I did try to pump while at work and at home. At one point I realized I have two breaks during my work day both of which were being devoted to pumping which then lead to my not completing my obligations at work. So then I had to compensate and complete these obligations at home which lead to not spending time with my children and husband or staying up late after everyone went to bed, while still getting up with the children in the middle of the night= no sleep (at all) for Mommy. I realized that this was not what was best for my family. If I was able to give my son formula and work really hard at work then I would have as much time with him, our daughter and husband. People were shocked and appalled that we were/are giving our children formula. There have been and still to this day many people who are judging our family because we have given our children formula. It is unfortunate and saddening when all you hear are judgemental statements and how not breastfeeding will harm our babies. It truly breaks my heart that I was not able to give both of my children more of my milk. I wish that I could've breastfed my children exclusively. Breastfeeding is a truly wonderful gift, don't take it for granted. I hope and pray every day that what they got will benefit them. But it is important to remember that there are some of us out there who tried, and could not continue for whatever reasons. We've all got to lift up one another to be the best parents we can be for our children.

  12. Helped me a lot, just what I was searching for :)