Today kicks off World Breastfeeding Week! I'm running around like crazy getting ready to leave for San Diego/BlogHer 2011, so I am reaching into the archives to republish one of my favorite breastfeeding posts, originally published as an entry in the Carnival of Nursing in Public, July 2010:
As someone who has been writing about breastfeeding from the outset of blogging, I was thrilled to see a Carnival of Nursing in Public take shape. I hesitated on participating for a moment because my youngest weaned a year ago. The matter of nursing in public and the bigger issues of our culture's stunted growth in this area, however, continues to compel me to speak on the topic.
As I skimmed the list of post ideas for the carnival, one suggestion caught my eye - breastfeeding and religion. I was born, raised, and currently live in the Bible Belt, and I've been a practicing Southern Baptist for each of my thirty-three years on this planet.
I consider myself well-acquainted with evangelical Christian culture*, and I would feel comfortable with saying that many evangelical women feel uncomfortable with nursing in public.
- Fear of being immodest.
- Fear of tempting a man to sin with lustful thoughts upon seeing a flash of breast.
- Fear of making people uncomfortable with the simple act of nurturing and nourishing a child in the very way our Creator God designed our bodies to be able to do.
Ultimately, we have collectively swallowed our culture's poisoned message that declares breasts to be singularly sexual, therefore breastfeeding is something to be covered.
I know so many evangelical Christian families who are taking great care to raise their children in a Christian worldview. Everything from education curriculum to a trip through the mall is filtered through the lens of God's Word, but in the matter of breastfeeding, we are falling far short.
Entirely too many contemporary Christians see the body of a woman exactly the same way our culture does . . . "a breast is a breast -- it's a sexual thing." Yet this sentiment stands in direct opposition to God's Truth as revealed through creation.
God's Word acknowledges briefly the sensual allure of breasts in the Song of Songs - the Bible's love story filled with poetry and figurative language. But we find far more mentions of breasts fulfilling the role of nourishment mentioned in the pages of Scripture (see 1 Kings 3:21, Job 3:12, Isaiah 49:15, Isaiah 66:10-11, and Luke 11:27 for starters).
To agree with our culture's corrupted view of breasts and breastfeeding is to deny God's beautiful, exquisite design. According to His perfect plan, breasts are dual-purposed wonders of creation, perfect evidence of a holy blend of function and form. Oh, how it must grieve the heart of God to see what we - even we! Those called according to His Name! - have allowed our thinking to become regarding His incredible design.
What I would like to suggest to my brothers and sisters in the faith today is that we embrace a shift in paradigm.
- What if we, the Body of Christ, reject the notion that breasts are merely sexual things?
- What if we, His children, decide to agree with God that His plan for feeding our babies and children is, indeed, a wonderful plan?
- What if we, the Church, declared that the act of breastfeeding reveals God's glory? What if went so far as to say that because it invites communion with the Creator, because it glorifies Him, and because it speaks volumes about the Sustainer of Life, that breastfeeding is a beautiful act of worship . . . an act of worship to be honored, not hidden; an act of worship to be encouraged, not embarrassed of?
It begins with you, nursing mama. This little revolution begins when you grab hold of that truth that breastfeeding your child reveals the glory of God's creation. Breastfeeding is all too often not easy. Worship sometimes intertwines with sacrifice. Worship Him through the painful moments and worship Him in the incredible and beautiful and blessed moments.
It continues with you, sister in Christ. Let's do what we can to support the mamas who are breastfeeding. Let's offer encouragement and a comfy place to nurse and maintain eye contact when a little one latches on rather than squirming around uncomfortably. Let's pause and thank God for His perfect design.
And we need you, too, Christian brother. I would ask you to embrace the fact that part of God's amazing design for women is that breasts can be sexual and life-giving. I would ask that you see breastfeeding as glorifying to God and know that many women do find it to be a worshipful experience. I would ask that you not make a big deal out of it if a woman breastfeeds near you - I promise you that no woman will find it offensive if you continue to talk to and interact with her in the same way you were before her little one latched on to eat.
The Church is to be a peculiar people, an assembly of believers called out following The Way. Can you imagine how beautiful it would be if we were to lead our culture in embracing nursing in public as completely normal, appropriate, and pure? In my most hopeful of dreams, I imagine a time in the not-too-distant future when a nursing mama needs to feed a little one in public, she knows that nursing in front of Christians means she is nursing amongst friends.
To further the discussion, I would like to recommend:
Why I Nurse at the Mall . . . and at Mass by Kate Wicker
Religion and Breastfeeding: How Breastfeeding Impacts the Religious Woman by Jennifer M. Paquette
Lactivism and Public Breastfeeding by Tim Challies
* I realize that Christian culture varies wildly, both by denomination and geography. I fully admit to a rather limited scope, and so just know that because I am most familiar with evangelical culture, that is the culture I am most comfortable in addressing. If you practice a faith or belong to a denomination that is ahead of the curve on normalizing breastfeeding, please share about your experience in the comments!