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!)

19 comments:

Lisa R.D. said...

I am so glad you shared these images and references to church produced materials about breastfeeding. I would love for the church to make a statement in regards to self-reliance as well. Your experience is similar to so many of ours, and I am grateful that you found the courage and confidence to feed your baby when and where she was hungry. I wish that more moms would feel comfortable nursing in all three meetings of church!

Heather said...

I second Lisa's comment. Thank you for sharing the quotes & art work. I never knew about the references. I'm on my 4th baby too and share a very similar story!

Adelina Priddis said...

I think this is great! I do enjoy the mothers lounge, especially during sacrament, but I have nursed during relief society many times. Although I think we should be discreet about it in mixed company, sadly because of the way the world has turned, I don't think it innappropraite at all for mothers to nurse during all meetings. Though the chairs are much more comfy in the mothers lounge ;)

scooping it up said...

I am a staunch believe of those who feel comfortable discreetly nursing their hungry babies in sacrament meeting and RS is TOTALLY ok. I do not feel I should have to be ostracized for doing something my church and my God wants me to do: be a good mom. I love the artwork and the quotes supporting LDS to stop hiding it out of "modesty."

THANK YOU!

jonny wonder said...

I not very qualified to comment on this, but I will give a go at it. As a man, I think breastfeeding should be done privately. Like you mentioned, that is why there is a mothers room in every church building. Just because paintings depict mothers breastfeeding in public--paintings depicting years and years ago I might add--it doesn't mean that is the bottom line about doing it public. They are tons of paintings that depict men and women in the nude. Does that mean it is OK to walk around in the nude? See what i mean? I guess your logic for condoning breastfeeding isn't sound.

Merriwyn said...

If the only rationale offered were the artwork then you might have a point, however you ignore the fact that she has specifically quoted church publications and explained her logic. These church publications reject the fetishisation of breasts and reclaim them as for feeding babies, and specifically advocate not behaving as though breast exposure for feeding babies is in any way sexual or immodest. You appear to be ignoring the clearly supported logic to cling to the fetishisation of women's breasts. God created them for feeding babies. If you can't see a baby eating without licentious thoughts then seek counselling, or otherwise put the onus of change where it belongs, with you.

macwise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
macwise said...

Great points. As a father of six beautiful (young!) children, and with another on the way, I can attest to the importance of breastfeeding. Our family has grown rapidly, and this perspective definitely bolsters the argument that breastfeeding is a blessing to families, children, and parents, and not something be ashamed of. I had never noticed the breastfeeding mothers in the various church artworks, and appreciate your pointing them out here.

Perhaps in my earlier years as a young father of one or two kids, and especially before becoming a father, I could understand Jonny Wonder's point regarding a woman's modesty. After all, we're men, and whether we're trained by society to love breasts or do so by simple nature, it is challenging to live in a world where there mere hint of the female anatomy tempts our senses. That said, I have grown to appreciate the perspective you share here, which is that a woman's breasts are primarily "to nourish and comfort children". That is a healthy perspective on the purpose of breastfeeding and breasts in general.

Just as a woman should be free of shame when breastfeeding in public, I feel that a man should be free of shame for having a healthy appreciation and respect for a woman's anatomy, and likewise should feel no shame for enjoying intimacy in a healthy, monogamous relationship. It can be difficult for men today to balance the desire to share intimacy with a woman without feeling lustful toward women in general. However, the more we share our perspective on the proper role of our bodies with our own children, the more we can change that cultural taboo and moral discrepancy. Just my 2¢.

Thanks again for sharing your perspective, and being willing to be a mother in the first place. It seems this is becoming more and more rare, even among the ranks of the church.

Sally Jackson said...

Your post sums it all up perfectly. I have talked about this subject round and round again with many LDS mothers, and it seems everyone has a different opinion on it. When I had baby #1 I started hating going to church because it meant sitting in the mothers lounge all day and smelling the stinky bathroom close by. But as my confidence grew, I found that I could nurse in all my meetings. By the time I had baby #3, I wasn't missing a thing, and nobody else seemed to notice or care that I was nursing. In fact, the older women seemed pleased to see a healthy, hungry baby in relief society! Thanks for sharing your exerience and for encouraging others to do the same.111oweesth

Royalbird said...

I am about to have my sixth and have never been successful at breastfeeding,partly because of having to nurse in public, especially at church. I hated missing meetings for so many months because I was always in the mother's lounge. This post has just made me more determined to be successful this time around.

Deila Taylor said...

I used to go to the mother's room (aside the the stinky bathroom) but by my 5th baby I was brave enough to nurse him in sacrament meeting and relief society.

Our ward had a rule that they would not let the deacons take the sacrament out to the members in the foyer, so when my baby fussed right at the time of the sacrament, I just slipped him discreetly under my blouse -- otherwise my purpose for coming to church would have been thwarted by my sweet baby. That just did not make sense -- take a crying baby out and miss the sacrament or stay, nurse and renew my covenants. No one ever said anything.

That baby is 17 now. Great post!

Sailor Mom said...

Thank you for posting this. I recently had my fourth baby and am again dealing with this issue. I shared your post on my facebook. I hope our culture will be more tolerant when our children are grown and have babies of their own.

Anonymous said...

I liked this whole post except the part where you spoke to the other ladies in the nursing room. You might have never given an extra thought to changing in front of other people, but many people would not feel comfortable with that. I do not think shame should be presented in ANY form regarding breastfeeding. If a lady wants to cover for her own sake of modesty or to let her baby focus more (the nursing room or a class can be very distracting for some babies so they won't eat) then they should be allowed to cover--- without comment from others.

Halsey said...

I loved this. I breastfed two babies in Church and, after the initial adjustment to public breastfeeding, always disliked the stinky mother's room. I am happy to breastfeed covered or uncovered. If only we could all be more respectful and tolerant of other peoples' choices and kindly maintain our own self-control!

Tamsyn Spackman said...

Thank you for the support, everyone. It's encouraging, as I know it is related to the recent controversy which I happened to hear here: http://itsallaboutthehat.blogspot.com/2013/02/mormon-lactivist-call-to-action.html. I have strong emotions about this and still maintain my position.

@ Johnny, my point in using these pictures is because they portrayed what life was like then. It's a little different than, say the famous statue of David. Most paintings of nudity are for art's sake and were not meant to suggest that people walk around in the buff. But I agree that a painting alone isn't enough to put for a solid argument, so I'll echo what Merriwyn said.

@Anonymous, you are absolutely right. I wish I could change the way worded that conversation and I probably shouldn't have shared that part of it here. Oh well, you live and learn- enough people have read it I'm not going to change my post. Thank you for pointing that out.

A little update: I sometimes cover up with my wrap, I often don't. I try to be discreet, I'm not always, depending on the child's mood. Sometimes I do go to the lounge to nurse, usually I don't. And all of the above are okay. Let's support each other with whatever we/they feel comfortable with. The important thing is that the little ones get to eat. :)

Tamsyn Spackman said...

PS, a few people have suggested to me that the modern picture from the children's reader is of a baby simply sucking on their fist. Vote, what do you think? My husband thinks it's of a baby eating, but it was deliberately made a little ambiguous so people could see what they wanted to see.

Mike Spackman said...

@macwise, very well said.

I wanted to make a comment about the argument that women showing a breast is a temptation for young men. I think it's a misguided argument. Any person has seen and heard much, much worse in the movies and television.

I would argue that young women and especially young men NEED to see nursing babies. It will build a healthy respect for what the body was created to do. My personal experience growing up was that I didn't know hardly anything about about how the body works which caused me to get curious, which in turn led to finding answers from the wrong places and brought on temptations that should never have been an issue. Children and adults need to be able to have appropriate and truthful discussions about the topic of sexuality and the body. In my mind this is the ONLY real defense from the scum we pick up nearly every day.

My wife and I read a book called "And they were not ashamed" when we were first married. It cleared up a lot of issues we would have potentially encountered as newly-weds. If you haven't read it, and you're and adult, you should!

In general as a culture, I think we spend too much time focusing on the "can't have, can't touch, can't look". We need to focus on the purpose, and the when, not the CAN'T!

We don't say you can't drink coffee/alcohol etc. without also talking about the reasons behind it and all that we understand about the subject. Yes, we obey for obedience sake, but there is a reason behind it. If we know the reason truthfully and as completely as possible, it makes obedience so much easier; and it provides a very strong defense.

Scott & Erica Larsen said...

I appreciate that you shared your experience as well as the art work. I must say that when I initially heard this issue from American (U.S.) LDS mothers it confused me a bit just as the "mother's lounge" did. I am originally from Mexico, where the breast feeding culture is much different. I have attended spanish wards here in the states for the majority of my time here in the US and in fact do so now with my husband and family. The only time I've stepped foot in a mother's lounge was when I couldn't find an empty bathroom and I really needed to change my babies diaper. Sisters breast feed in sacrament meeting and sunday school and anywhere really. There is no second thought. It is normal and beautiful. Other women are not fazed by it and most importantly neither are men in our culture. But with time I've come to learn that it is not always the case in the American culture and so I am proud and happy for you sisters that are setting an example of using our breast for "... virtuous principles" without any shame.

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