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An invitation to breastfeed in church (and stop fighting about it)

Vera Lair | Stocksy United

 

Back in 2014, the Pope surprised a lot of folks when he encouraged some mothers of babies waiting to be baptized to feed their crying infants.

Yes, he meant they should breastfeed their babies. In church.

To quote Pope Francis, “If they are hungry, mothers, let them eat, no worries, because here, they are the main focus … I wish to say the same to humanity: Give people something to eat!”

Will all the mamas out there please stand up and give Pope Francis a standing ovation? Yes, if a baby is hungry, that sweet child should drink some milk.

It is a beautiful thing when a spiritual leader can recognize the good and powerful gift God has offered most mothers and their babies: nutritious, simple food for young ones who need to grow. When the Pope welcomed the women worshiping beside him to feed their babies, he welcomed a healthier, more grace-filled vision of families in the church.

There may be some who hear the Pope’s words and shrug their shoulders. Of course women should be breastfeeding in church! Why should this even be a discussion?

But there are plenty others who view the act of breastfeeding, and the exposure required (even while covered!) to be inappropriate for a place of worship. After all, we know what’s going on under that hooter-hider, and it involves bras unsnapping and a baby’s unhindered gulping noises (not to mention the burping and pooping that often comes with the drinking process). It’s hardly the stuff of holy, prayerful reflection!

I’d have to disagree. Perhaps breastfeeding in church is uncomfortable for some people, but if it is, it’s uncomfortable because of a failure to recognize the holy goodness of feeding a child. It’s uncomfortable because it’s messy, because it’s sometimes loud, because breasts have been over-sexualized in our culture. Breastfeeding tells the people around you, “I have boobs!” and—if we buy into our society’s glorification of breasts as a man’s trophy to accept or reject as he wishes, to judge and pervert—the acknowledgement of a woman’s breasts can be distracting from worship. But it doesn’t have to be distracting. It shouldn’t be distracting.

Unless the Church chooses to reject our culture’s obsession with over-sexualizing the bodies of women, we will buy into a false story of the gifts God has given us. God has equipped mothers to nourish and protect their children, both literally and figuratively. That should be celebrated.

There is no better place for nourishing a baby than the very place where each week Jesus offers us his own body and blood for our spiritual nourishment.

 

I’m over at For Her again today, writing about why the church (a place where Jesus meets us in our hunger) should hold a welcome invitation to nursing mothers. Read it here.