Thursday, January 31, 2013

Breastfeeding in Church

While on vacation this weekend, my family and I went to visit a church.  My husband had been there before and 'warned' me that it was full of young families with several children and that he noticed mothers didn't leave church to breastfeed their children.  He even told me of one lady that fed her baby right in the front row.

I couldn't imagine such a place because as much as I can remember, I'm not sure I've ever seen another woman feeding her baby in church.  Like, in the sanctuary, while church is taking place.  Most go to a mother's room or a church nursery, missing out on vital parts of fellowship and teaching.  If a woman wants to leave because the baby might be too distracted to nurse or maybe is a loud eater, that's fine by me.  What I don't like is the pressure to leave because you're doing something inappropriate, shameful and even a little bit dirty.   

In some places, I know it's taught and expected that a woman would leave and feed her child elsewhere. 

The church culture where I live is conservative in this arena.  But these thoughts aren't just from churches, but an echo of our society.  When around other friends and family members who are breastfeeding, most bring pumped milk, formula or leave the room to feed their babies.  

But I don't leave; I think I've breastfed my kids in pretty much every place imaginable.  And I get raised eyebrows, but I'm not bothered by that.  When my baby needs to eat, I feed him...and I say that not out of pride and vindication, as in, "Watch me whip out my boob and feed my baby!  Mwahahaha!  Oh, did I just spray some breast milk in your coffee?  Sorry!  Too bad for YOU!" but in a spirit of, "This is normal.  And in order to encourage women to breastfeed and normalize nursing, I will feed my baby here."

I've even heard stories of women being kicked out of their churches for breastfeeding in church.  Some receive letters from their elder board, some are invited to conversations with their pastors and asked to refrain or leave and I've even heard of one story where the lady was 'called out' in church. 

It makes me sad that some people of God don't encourage a mother to feed her child.  When able, God has given women a remarkable gift, nothing that should be shamed, but instead embraced.  It truly is a miracle and something that is honorable.  It is also a representation of how God has cared and nursed His people. (Isaiah 66 is perhaps the most compelling.) 

The Church should be the first place that exalts and makes room for a mother to do one of her jobs.  

I'm not talking exalt, as in, party, streamers, parade or disco ball.   Nothing like a Mardi Gras-inspired fete.  I'm talking about skipping the shame and welcoming all family members to worship -- not condemning two of them to a metal folding chair in a stinky bathroom or poorly-heated lonely room with pastel colored wallpaper circa 1991.

So, while a guest at this church over the weekend, my son needed to eat (and nap), so I started breastfeeding.  And for goodness' sake, we were on couches, so that made it really easy to feed the babe!  As I could see many other mothers all around me, I noticed others discreetly feeding their babies throughout the service -- during communion, worship, and the sermon. And no one batted an eye. 

It was wonderful.

Our church is awesome and I've never had anyone specifically ask me, but I'm maybe some in our congregation have wondered why I don't leave the room when I breastfeed my kids.  I get done leading worship and I breastfeed Mylo, while my husband starts the sermon.  No big deal.  There's a lot of answers (some displayed above), but mostly, I know that I have young eyes watching me all the time.  And I hope I can inspire some of them and encourage them that's it's normal, even in church, to take care of the needs of your children.  :)

We, as the people of God, should be leading our culture with this message; breastfeeding is normal, natural, acceptable and a gift from God.


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At January 31, 2013 at 7:48 PM , Anonymous rachieannie said...

I've fed both boys during church and no one has raised an eyebrow at me or said anything. In fact, most people are just so tickled that our church has babies again that they come up and tell me how nice it to hear the babies during church. 

On the flip side, we have some close friends who attend the same church, and he asked her not to feed the baby during church as he felt it was an inappropriate place.

Perhaps it comes down to personal comfort levels, but I think it should not be something that is shamed or looked negatively on.

At January 31, 2013 at 10:09 PM , Anonymous annaliseree said...

Love this!!  I have done both:  nursed my babies in church and left the service to nurse...  I agree that nursing needs to be normalized in our culture, especially in our gatherings of believers!  Thinking back on it, I'm pretty I never saw one person breastfeed, not even once, until I had my own first baby almost 4 years ago!  And the first time my 7-years-old at the time stepson saw me nursing the baby, he said "Oh!  So THAT'S what those are for!"  :o)

At February 1, 2013 at 7:52 AM , Anonymous care0501 said...

I do a mixture of both.  I usually nurse either right in a different room just so I would have some privacy and because I didn't want to cause a scene.  But I haven't had anyone tell me what I'm doing is wrong or to go else where.  But I am also very discrete because I don't want have my breasts out for the world to see (just a little private about that). 


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