Monday, July 29, 2013

Breastfeeding and the Christian Mama - What Does the Bible Say About Breastfeeding?

Recently I clicked the Facebook "Like" button on some beautiful photos of mammas nursing their babies.  Sweet, tender moments shared in a breastfeeding support group.  They had some skin showing.  Someone called me on it and claimed I was immodest by supporting these photos, and being unbiblical (note these were not even photos of me - and actually the women were usually in privacy of their own home).  I choose to cover up at times, out of respect for others in the room, as there is no need to make them uncomfortable if I do not have to (covering up is based mostly on the audience in the room).  And some people, whether I agree with it or not, are uncomfortable.  So I try to respect that (um, yeah, I nurse pretty much anywhere so I'm fairly certain I have offended a few people along the way).
I am discreet, always wearing tanks that cover my belly and give easy access for my baby to eat.  My son hates being covered up so if needed, I will feed him without a cover while I am in public.  I am able to show very little skin when doing so, but I'm not bothered if skin is showing.  When I cover up, it is simply out of courtesy, not because breastfeeding is immodest.
While I ten thousand percent support breastfeeding, in public, anywhere, anyhow anyone wants, I wondered - is this a secular viewpoint? What is right for me as a Believer? I know I must hold myself to God's standards, not the world's.  So while it may be right for others, is breastfeeding in public (uncovered if needed) right for ME?  Although I was livid over this attack on my morals, I must always do the research for myself, to see if there is a grain of truth.
I went first to the Bible to see what scriptures said about nursing and modesty.  Then I took to the internet for the perspective of others to see if they had anything to add to my own thoughts.  My conclusion? I stand by my original viewpoint. I fully believe nursing in public, even uncovered, is NOT unbiblical or sinful.  This is, after all, the original intent of our breasts.

(Go ahead and ask Mary, the mother of Christ, to cover up or sit in a toilet stall)
Joel 2:16 says "Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast."
This says to me that nursing in public, even in church gatherings, is not only acceptable, it is God's command.
Scripture gives high praise to breastfeeding, devoting 24 references to it.  None of these includes instructions to hide, cover up, leave the room, or any other mention of immodesty. God exhalts nursing and never speaks to it with shame or immodesty.
(Some of my favorites: Psalms 22:9, 1 Peter 2:2 & 3, Luke 11:27, 1 Thess 2:7 & 8, Isaiah 40:11)
I love Hannah's example in 1 Samuel 1:21-23 - breastfeeding until 3 to 5 years of age.  Just to support the argument in favor of long term nursing. It's not gross, it is intended and natural.  (Since this is a whole other argument, I will leave it at that-for now.)
So I've concluded that God created breastfeeding, He supports it.  A gift to us to comfort and nourish our children.  Human milk is so perfect it cannot be replicated.  (Please note I am not bashing formula or bottle feeding - I'm not a fan of Mommy Wars!)  I did not see any mention of covering up, being discreet while nursing, doing so in a private room, or that it is sexual.
Next, I need to study modesty in general and what the Bible has to say about it.
[From an article with a very in-depth look at modesty:
In 1 Timothy 2:9-10, the apostle Paul writes “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” The Greek word translated “modesty” here is kosmios. Derived from kosmos (the universe), it signifies orderliness, self-control and appropriateness. It appears only twice in the New Testament, and interestingly, its second usage refers specifically to men (1 Timothy 3:2). In fact, nearly all of the Bible’s instructions regarding modest clothing refer not to sexuality, but rather materialism (Isaiah 3:16-23, 1 Timothy 2:9-12, 1 Peter 3:3). Writers in both the Old Testament and New Testament express grave concern when the people of God flaunt their wealth by buying expensive clothes and jewelry while many of their neighbors suffered in poverty. (Ironically, I’ve heard dozens of sermons about keeping my legs and my cleavage out of sight, but not one about ensuring my jewelry was not acquired through unjust or exploitive trade practices—which would be much more in keeping with biblical teachings on modesty.)
And so biblical modesty isn’t about managing the sexual impulses of other people; it’s about cultivating humility, propriety and deference within ourselves.]
I could only conclude that modesty did not translate to "hide breastfeeding and be ashamed of your body."  I have seen women in my church wear braids and jewelry.  If we can say Timothy does not literally mean jewelry but pride in materials and nice things then the same applies all around, including breastfeeding.  NOTE: I found no reference to breastfeeding as shameful or sexual in the scriptures and no connection to modesty and nursing.
The dictionary defines modesty as freedom from vanity and propriety in dress, speech and conduct.  The Bible does not condem nudity; it was Adam and Eve who felt ashamed due to their sin.  God did not create them this way. He created them naked and without shame. Scripture does not give shame to nudity, He only speaks against lust.
While I feel that wearing clothes that are not overtly sexy and revealing is respectful to God and fellow man, I believe man is in charge of his own feelings and thoughts.  I was made to feel ashamed of my body growing up.  I could not hide my large breasts and growing curves in almost anything.  I would even wear sweatshirts in the sweltering Texas heat in an attempt to hide all that made me female.  It is not my fault God created me as a woman.  I do not need to flaunt it, of course, but it is wrong that I was made to feel so ashamed.
The sexualization of breasts - and many Believers shaming of our bodies - is what lead me to bottle feed my first child.  I was so embarrassed to have any reference, spoken or not, to my breasts - or my body in general.  "Breasts are for sex and sex is sin" - this is the message I received.  I missed out on the bonding, comfort, health benefits, and financial gain of nursing because I allowed myself to be shamed into a corner by people with rigid, legalistic mindsets.
If nursing my baby causes a man to lust this is HIS problem, it is out of my control. If I hide in a dirty toilet stall, sitting on a pee-covered floor, I only perpetuate the stigma that breasts are solely sexual not maternal. My baby should not be punished (nor should I and my aching back) because society is sinful.
Breastfeeding is not enticement.  Even though breasts may or may not be visible during breastfeeding (even without a nursing cover, there usually isn’t much to see), the simple presence of a breast is not enough to encourage a man to lust. Each person’s lust is wholly within themselves; as Christ put it: “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed lust with her in his heart.”  The man doesn’t need the woman at all.  He can lust without her knowledge or consent. And his lust is fully within himself.]
(I love this photo of the current pope blessing women while they are nursing their babies.)
[Another blogger put it like this:
Remember when God said: “Thou Shalt Be Modest When Feeding Your Baby”?
And then proceeded to define “modest” as “having a light blanket, breastfeeding apron, or use the bathroom to feed child.”
Yeah, me neither.]
Read her entire post - her sarcastic wit is hilarious and her post is fabulous!
So go ahead, nurse that hungry baby, comfort him, irregardless of those around you.  If you are like me and have too much baggage (a small amount of my peach flesh is evil and satanic and I must be ashamed and hide it) then feel free to cover up.  But if you are comfortable feeding your baby without being shamed into a private room, more power to you.  I will still try to respect those around me who may feel uncomfortable - even though I firmly believe it is their problem, not mine.  But I will NOT be made to think that breastfeeding - even in public  - is against God's design.
There is nothing unbiblical about nursing "without discretion." And telling someone it is wrong is shaming and judging.  The fact is if we could support women who breastfeed - uncovered - we can normalize it.  Make men, children, everyone comfortable with it.  It would not be shameful or sexual or cause lust, it would be normal.  As normal as making my son a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!! If we continue to shame women and make them hide and cover up and exclude them, making them hide in private rooms, then we perpetuate the sexualization of our bodies and make women out to be no more than objects.
Please consider making a nursing mom feel comfortable, not ashamed.  Include her, do not require her to go to a room all alone, missing out on fellowship.  My biggest concern here is that when Believers, especially others mamas, shame breastfeeding mothers (those doing it in public, in full view), we give the world a very bad impression of Christians.  One that is judgmental, overtly prude and legalistic, unforgiving, and without grace.  It is hard enough to be a parent, or a Christian, without people shaming us. We must show society Christ-like behavior if we want them to hear the message of the gospel.
And before you "call someone out on their sins" do your research.  I did mine, and can be rest assured I am fully in God's will.
The bottom line is this: IT IS NOT A SALVATION ISSUE.  We can confront fellow Believers about their sins, this is Biblical, but certain things are not doctrinal issues and are not even sins, but matters of opinion.  Since we are merely human and His ways are higher than our understanding, we will disagree with other Christians on many issues.
 And to put my words into proof, here is me nursing my precious baby:
Tell me, is this gross and sexy, or is it tender, sweet and precious? [Bruce at 4 months]- I feel comfortable sharing these photos for all cyber space to see because the stigma is breastfeeding should be hidden but scenes from Shades of Grey are plastered everywhere and THAT is acceptable. So I'm rebelling. :)
Even Batman needs a lunch break! Gee, nursing in public shows SO much skin...




Bruce may be allergic to apples but he was very happy to nurse under an apple tree! How can anyone say breastfeeding a toddler is gross?! Look how beautiful this is! [Here at 19 months]
I didn't plan it this way, but I love it -- officially nursing a 2 year old! Here's Bruce and me on his 2nd birthday.