Breastfeeding Nurse-In

breastfeeding friendly artBreastfeeding moms had a nurse-in yesterday in response to a rude and ill informed couple of employees at Target who demanded that a well-covered nursing mother not breastfeed her baby in the store- an illegal demand in Texas, where it happened, and over half the states.

Anytime a discussion of something like this comes up in certain circles, there are always a few elements who insist nursing moms should not ‘flaunt it.’  Never mind that the displays of underwear and lingerie in those same stores DO ‘flaunt’ far more than most nursing mothers ever display.

And, actually, I do think Christian women do have a responsibility to be modest within reason to help their brothers and not be a stumbling block. I also feel that Christian men have an even stronger obligation to be MEN who learn and practice self control, taking *every* thought captive for Christ (that’s scripture) so as not to be stumbling blocks themselves. I do not think demanding that women only nurse their babies by hiding away in a back room while they feed their children as God designed is a reasonable demand.  That request (or demand) is itself “a stumbling block,” and I am not being fecitious. I am tempted to engage in uncharitable thoughts, impatience, and  mockery when people make such unreasonable demands on such flimsy excuses. So your weakness is lust.  Mine is being a jerk.   Sin is sin.  So why shouldn’t it be your job to avoid being the stumbling block that trips me into the failing of sitting in the seat of the scornful and thinking uncharitable thoughts about my brethren?

There’s a more important issue with this attitude about breastfeeding.  It’s also unbiblical thinking.


Isaiah 40:11 says that our Good Shepherd gathers the little ones into his arms and tenderly leads the nursing mothers.

Is. 49:15 tells us God is more tender and compassionate to His children then even a mother with a breastfeeding baby.

HE is not embarrassed by the thought of a breastfeeding baby. He uses that breastfeeding baby as a metaphor for his own tender compassion- and more than once.

1 Thessalonians 2:7 has Paul (the bachelor!) without shame comparing himself and his companions to breastfeeding mothers, saying he was as tender with the new converts as a mother is to her nursing baby. How did he know how tenderly a mother behaves with a breastfed baby if the 1st century Christians hid away in back corners of dark rooms to nurse their babies as though it were something shameful?  How could he have used as a metaphor for himself if it were so shameful it shouldn’t even be mentioned in public?  Seriously, a friend of mine was chastised by an older Christian woman for mentioning the word ‘breastfeeding’ on her own social media because it was not modest.  The word itself is not modest?  But it’s in the Bible over and over!

Joel 2:16 shows us God commanding that the suckling babies be brought into the assembly. Clearly, He is not embarrassed by them, nor does he expect the rest of the congregation to be ‘distracted’ by them.

I’ll be honest, I really don’t buy the majority of ‘but it’s immodest, it might cause somebody to lust, it’s a stumbling block’ arguments I’ve heard from professing Christians.  I suspect this may be an issue for some adolescent boys who are young, inexperienced, newly aware of hormones and might just as well be tempted to lust by Barbie dolls, children’s cartoons, words like lust, temptation, and having to reply to the question ‘what piece of chicken do you want?’  I will give cut the adolescents some slack, largely because it’s not their fault they live in a warped culture that has sexualized breastfeeding and hidden it away so it feels like something that should only be done in a shamefaced manner.

But outside of that special group, God bless their hearts, I don’t think it’s lust. I think it’s disgust.  It makes people squeamish.  They just find it embarrassing, not lust-making.  So for the rest of us, anybody out of puberty for more than a year or two?  Grow up.

I submit that if we find breastfeeding awkward and embarrassing, we are not thinking as God thinks, but thinking as carnal man thinks, and we need to bring our thinking in line with God’s, not the other way around

Updated to add this excellent link from Tim Challies- exchanging the natural for the unnatural.

Updated again to add a link to this one, where she explains that mentions of breasts in the context of feeding and nurturing children are two to one against breasts as sexual objects.

This beautiful post lays out more about the biblical teachings on breastfeeding.  Must reading.

 

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9 Comments

  1. Amity
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I love this way of thinking about it! Just as in my marriage I am modeling (albeit poorly and feebly) the relationship between God and his church, when I nurse my children in public, I am modeling God's tender compassion to his children. That gives me such confidence to boldly go on doing what I know is right and to encourage my sisters in Christ to do so as well. Thank you!

  2. HeatherHH
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    I have breastfed six babies past 1 year and plan to breastfeed the seventh due in June. I breastfeed in church, at other people's houses, etc. However, I will use a nursing cover or a blanket.

    I believe that the midriff and breasts (anything that would be covered by a modest sports bra) should not be exposed. I've known nursing mothers who nursed without a cover with a wisely chosen shirt and never showed a thing. I'm not that talented though 🙂

    What frustrates me is that in most of the discussions I've seen on pro-home birth or pro-breastfeeding blogs, the advocates are harsh toward those who believe things should be covered. Breastfeeding is natural, the argument goes, that's what breasts are intended for, it's man's problem if he sees breasts as a sexual thing. But, we know from the Bible that breasts are intended for sexual pleasure as well.

    One important thing in a Christian discussion of this is the principle of love. Though I normally will breastfeed wherever I am, there is a set of older relatives that would not be comfortable with it. At their house, I'll leave the living room and go sit at a chair in the kitchen. While I believe breastfeeding while covered is perfectly all right, I love them and will not insist on my rights in a way that will make them uncomfortable.

  3. GAHCindy
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    I've always thought hiding away nursing mothers so no one can see it *contributes* to sexual sin by allowing us to continue to think of sex and childbearing as two separate things. I'm not sure I can articulate it properly with all the noise going on in this house right now, but it seems to me if we thought of women's bodies as something beyond sex toys, no one would say boo about feeding our children from one, especially when we're well-covered, as most of us make a point to be. Conversely, if we publicly and frequently saw women nursing their children as God intended, the stumbling block would be removed for all but the most lurid men, because men would have some practice thinking of breasts as something merely intended for looks and pleasure. As for moms who just enjoy showing their boobs to the world to make a point…oh, I posted about that somewhere. Lemme dig it up, if you don't mind. (Delete that, if you do mind. I understand.)

    http://getalonghome.com/2011/01/faceboobs/

  4. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Amity, that is a lovely way to think of it.

    Heather, I do agree with you about the rudeness and hostility of the more zealous advocates toward those of us who do cover and I am very much a cover-er. I don't want anything showing that doesn't show when I am wearing a short sleeved shirt with a generous body and a long skirt. Nothing between about the collarbone and knees, in fact.=) With most of my babies I was able to cover perfectly adequately without even using a blanket- one or two babies were a little more 'athletic' about it. I often nursed my babies in public and nobody even knew that's what I was doing. It just looked like I was holding a sleeping child (I bought tank tops at the thrift shop, cut slits in them, and wore loose tops over those. I get very frustrated by that hostility you mention and the unwillingness to respect those of us who believe in modesty or to recognize that this area of our bodies is actually dual purpose- yes, for feeding our babies, but we all enjoy them for other reasons as well.=)

    However, I am with Cindy in thinking that leaving the room actually contributes to the larger problem of people thinking nursing is something to only be done in private. Something to think about here- in other cultures, nobody thinks twice about breastfeeding in public, even without cover, and they think it's unbelievably weird and disturbing that Americans do.
    And the idea that there *is* a large enough house and enough affluence to provide comfortable private spaces elsewhere for nursing moms is very much part of our middle class affluentia. I would not leave the room, not because of pride or preferring my rights over somebody else's personal preferences, but because of love. I think it is loving to be part of an attempt to help our culture overcome its unbiblical thinking about this beautiful act of nurturing our babies.

    I am not convinced it is loving for me to cater to what I believe is an unbiblical, errant stance. That said, I think this is something one must do from conviction. If it is your conviction that leaving the room is an act of respect for that couple, then I honor your conviction and respect your decision and nobody should give you grief.

    Cindy, I also agree with you on your post about FB, thanks for sharing it. FB can do what they want about what they allow on their page. I don't buy that they are 'protecting' anybody, though. I've seen some pretty skanky ads on FB, and I've seen some pics of college kids mooning the world that didn't seem to cause FB any heartburn. Regardless of the hypocrisy of FB, I totally agree with you that it's their site, and it's really not necessary to bare yourself to the world to maek the point that nursing a baby is a normal act.

  5. Milehimama @ Mama Says
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    I think the discomfort with a nursing mother is fundamentally a discomfort with how our culture sees women's bodies. Almost everything in our general culture promotes the idea of our body for pleasure and for sex. Nursing mothers are an awkward reminder that breasts aren't just for flirting with, but that they are a functional part of us and that our bodies have a higher purpose than hedonistic pursuits. A nursing mom is a flag announcing that women's bodies are more than just a "pleasure barge" and that the call to nurture life with sacrifice is real.

  6. Amy
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    I don't see myself ever participating in a nurse-in, but I do nurse wherever I happen to be and will continue to do so for as long as God blesses me with babies and toddlers.

    I do firmly believe that nursing should be done modestly, but I also believe that women should be modest all the time. I get frustrated with people who equate immodest nursing to "nursing without a cover." If you can keep it all covered without a cover, that's fine by me. I use a nursing cover with my current nursling, but it makes the fact that I'm nursing way more obvious. I prefer to nurse with a blanket hanging down from the baby's back and covering my tummy, but some babies just aren't as easy to nurse modestly as others.

    I do always make a point to use the term "nursing modestly" rather than the much more frequently heard "nursing discreetly." To me, discreetly implies hiding in a bathroom or car, and I'm not going to do that. I'm not ashamed that God has given me babies to nurture and care for. I see nursing in public as something just as important as frequently taking my 4 children (will be 5 in May) out in public with me even when it's oftentimes convenient to leave them at home with my husband who works from home. I want to model Christian mothering to the world, and there are a variety of ways I do it.

  7. Cindy Watson
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    I am not one to be uncovered but could never get the hang of nursing with a cover…especially nursing twins, but at the same time, with the clothes I chose, no one was ever the wiser unless they were really trying to see something. I nursed every where! The most grief I got was from friends when I was still nursing my two year old,I didn't listen to them, she weaned on her own. ( Having to force wean the twins at 18 months was so horrible I refused to do it again)

  8. Cindy Rollins
    Posted December 31, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Nothing gets my blood boiling more than this issue!! I have a friend who believes the preoccupation with breasts is a result of the lack of breastfeeding. How can anyone in this society say they are offended by breastfeeding with a straight face? I can't walk 3 feet away from my car in any parking lot without seeing some cleavage. Truly the world is turned upside down!

    And I resent that mothers have to even say 'nursing modestly' or 'nursing discreetly'. Even if they didn't nurse modestly it wouldn't be any worse than the public display of nudity already going on.

  9. Valerie
    Posted December 31, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I always was hyper, hyper modest as a young nursing mom. Always using a really big cover, moving to the back of the room, etc.

    Then came the day when I was with a large church group at a Superbowl party. I was nursing with extra discretion at the back of the room and some of the men were OBVIOUSLY uncomfortable and kept looking over and looking away. One was muttering.

    A few minutes later, it was about halftime and the nearly nude Swedish bikini team ran across the screen. Those same men were very vocal with their approval and laughter.

    From that moment on, my attitude was, "Get over it dudes." I always tried not to show any skin, but I dropped the cover and stopped hiding in corners. And then I found that without a cover and hyper-discretion, many people had no idea that I was nursing, when I was nursing.

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