Jun 27, 2012

Breastfeeding in Church

This is something that I’ve had on my mind a lot lately, especially with the recent birth of my fourth child, and I need to share my story.  But first, I’m going to blatantly rip content from other woman’s blog and look at a few pictures from ldsbreastfeedingart.blogspot.com.

On the left in front of the wagon wheel a mother is nursing her toddler.  (C.C.A. Christensen)
Full zoom:

In the Cardston, Alberta temple, there are three nursing mothers in this painting:

The Seagull Monument at Temple Square:
"Father Lehi Blesses His Posterity" by C.C.A. Christensen on display in Palmyra, NY:

Here is one I found when I was reading the Book of Mormon scripture reader to my kids, in the chapter about Enos:

The church does not frown on breastfeeding in public among mixed company.  This picture, so recently published in a children's book, confirms to me that children need not be shielded from watching the baby eat.

Now look at what the church has to say about breastfeeding:

The scriptures often refer respectfully but plainly to the body and its parts. There is no embarrassment and often there is sacred symbolism. It is the world that makes the divinely created body an object of carnal lust. For example, it makes the female breasts primarily into sexual enticements, while the truth is that they were intended to nourish and comfort children. It promotes male sexual aggression in contrast to Christ’s example of tenderness, long-suffering, kindness, and steadfastness in the home.

Shame about the human body, its parts and purposes, is justified only when a person uses it for carnal purposes. Teach your children that they will find joy in their bodies when they use them virtuously after the manner taught by Christ.
From "Nutrition for Mother and Baby" from The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part A
Our Heavenly Father made the mother’s body so it could produce milk. This milk is made especially for human babies to drink. It is better for babies than milk from animals. The first fluid that comes from the mother’s breasts after a new baby is born is also important. It contains substances that help protect the baby from diseases for the first few months.
Now, backing up, I share my breastfeeding story:

When my first child was born, I was excited to go back to church when he was two weeks old.  I was still learning how to breastfeed comfortably, I was breastfeeding on demand (which, for a newborn, means OFTEN), and it was my first time going out in public.  During sacrament meeting, my baby cried, so what do I do?  I take him to the mother’s lounge.  Like many LDS church buildings, this nice little room was adjacent to the women’s bathroom.  It had a nice cabinet with a sink, two comfy rockers, and a speaker so I could still hear what was going on in the meeting.  I fed my baby and decided I would stay and have him all ready to go by the time I went to Sunday school.  No problem.  Well, as my hungry baby would have it, I ended up missing half of Sunday school anyway, as well as Relief Society.  (grunt.)

The next week the same thing happened again during sacrament meeting, only this time another breastfeeding mother joined me.  I like to chat, and I have been as guilty as any other mom of chatting in the mother’s lounge, but this week it was frustrating to me because I wanted to hear the meeting but I also didn’t want to be rude.  In the end I asked my husband for the cliff notes after church.  In Sunday school, I looked around to see what other mothers were doing with their babies.  I saw a lot of bottles, and I thought to myself, “these mothers are lucky because they can feed their babies right here in class.”  (Yes, I really thought that, as I left for the mother’s lounge.  Again).

Then during relief society, I saw something that gave me a paradigm shift in the way I look at breastfeeding in public.  A mother that I highly admire, who had five children of whom the last was born about the same time as my first, was making a comment.  As she spoke, her baby started fussing, and she latched him on.  She was confident.  She was sitting in the first row.  The teacher simply acknowledged the comment and went on with her lesson.  Nobody seemed uncomfortable.  WOW!  You mean, I could feed my baby right here in class?

When I went home I thought about it, and realized that I had a choice to make.  Like this woman who set such a great breastfeeding example to me, I wanted to have a large family.  If I was only going to have one or two children, then maybe spending all of my nursing time (sometimes half of church) in the mother’s lounge wouldn’t be that big of a deal.  I didn’t want just one or two kids.  I could bring a bottle during church.  Breastfeeding is important to me, and I believe that it is important to feed my babies when they are hungry.  So, looking ahead for the next 15+ years of childbearing, I could either spend my church time in the mother’s lounge, or I could do my feedings right there in class.

I started out only sitting in the back row of Relief Society (a class for women 18 and up).  Nobody judged me, and one older woman even pulled the blanket aside a little so she could see my little angel’s face and tell me how cute he was.  As bold as her action was, it empowered me as a mother.  There was nothing to be ashamed of.

Now, less than five years later as I nurse my fourth baby, I feel very confident nursing at church.  I have three small children that need me to be there during sacrament meeting to help them be reverent.  My husband has only two hands.  I NEED to be with them.  Only once has anyone at church shown their disapproval of my breastfeeding in class, but the overwhelming majority of members have been very supportive.

A note on the mother’s lounge

I am glad that there are mother’s lounges.  When I was learning how to breastfeed, it was invaluable to me. However, in the two wards that I have been in, you have to go through the bathroom to get to the mother’s lounge.  Not only that, it is also one of only two places set aside for mothers to change diapers.  (in my current ward, the other place is upstairs, and few know about it).  In both, there are two rockers.  I have been fortunate enough to be in wards with young families with more than two lactating mothers.  In fact, my little baby Ruth has two other babies that were born the same week as her.  Surely all of these young babies shouldn’t have to only eat in the smelly changing room.  Do people really expect that?  I once went in there to change a diaper, and there were three nursing mothers, two of whom had nursing covers on.  One baby pushed it off and the mother apologized for showing a little skin.  I immediately responded, “It’s okay.  Really.  If you can’t nurse in the mother’s lounge, where can you?  How many of us have done costume changes in a room full of other women without batting an eye.  You are with other breastfeeding moms, and feeding your baby is nothing to be ashamed of.”  Maybe I was a little too bold, but I did see a few thinking caps turned on.

The mother’s lounge is a great place to breastfeed, or bottle feed, for that matter.  It’s not the only place.  Nursing covers are great if they make the mother feel more comfortable.  You don’t have to use them, especially in the mother’s lounge.  I personally try to make my skin be discreet, but it’s no secret that I feed my baby during all of the meetings.  I wear my baby in a wrap, and that’s what I use to hide my skin when I feed my child.  That’s just what works for me.  Perhaps some members have seen some skin, but I'm okay with that.

The LDS church is a family friendly establishment.  Most churches are.  We believe that we should multiply and replenish the earth, and we believe that breast is best.  Feed your baby what the Christ-child ate.  It's okay to feed your soul at the same time.

Okay, I’m ready to get off my soap box now.

Further reading:

Modesty and breastfeeding (highly recommended!)
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