There has been a lot of discussion about breastfeeding lately. What is it? What isn’t it? How long is too long? Whose needs are really being met? And the implied: Is it sexual?
Many people are calling the controversial Time cover “provocative”. Time’s goal was to shock (and they did!), but they also brought attention to a serious confusion in our society. There is of course the discussion about nursing into toddlerhood, but at the core, our society mistakenly sees breastfeeding at any age as being something sexual in nature. There is even a picture circling on Pinterest of a baby with the words, “One day old, Already made it to second base”.
Here comes the real shocker: breasts were made for nursing babies! God’s wonderful design allows for a baby to receive nourishment and comfort directly from his mother at her breasts. There is nothing at all deviant about a mother feeding and soothing her child. So where does the confusion come from?
A woman’s beauty used to be viewed as a sign of her fertility. However, in our over sexualized culture, the conception lure has been removed from sex. Nourishing breasts, child-bearing hips and all that make women beautiful have always been related to both fertility and pleasure, but now they are viewed only as sources of pleasure.
Fortunately, there are still a few men like Dwight Schrute that know that babies’ needs come first. Here he describes the qualities he is looking for in a woman:
So if breastfeeding isn’t sexual, what IS it?
Breastfeeding is nourishment. There is no dispute that mommy’s milk is the perfect food for baby. It even adapts to accommodate the ever-changing needs of a newborn, infant or toddler. When baby is sick, mom’s body will make the antibodies baby needs and deliver them through her milk. What an amazing testament to our Creator! While there are endless benefits of breast milk, it’s not just about food either.
Breastfeeding is self-giving. Mothers intimately share their very selves with their children through breastfeeding. For many mothers, this is truly a sacrifice. When my son was about seven weeks old, I had a breast infection called mastitis. It is really painful! To drain the breast, I nursed my son in every position imaginable and a few that you might not be able to imagine.
As I hovered over my baby on the floor to let him nurse, I was suddenly overwhelmed by how much I truly love him. I would have never thought I would be doing something so strange. Yet I was willing to do anything for his benefit, despite what it may cost me. Does that sound familiar? In that moment, God offered me a glimpse of how He loves each of us. I’m sure it’s not always easy for God to love me. Even when it pains Him, He is always there for us. Like a mother sharing her milk with her baby, He generously shares His grace and mercy with us.
Breastfeeding is a mothering tool. When in doubt, nurse. Breastfeeding is my ultimate mothering tool. When my son falls and gets hurt, nursing makes him feel all better. When he’s going crazy during Mass, some cuddle time with mommy calms him down.
During my first few weeks as a new mom, I needed lots of help learning how to breastfeed. I couldn’t help but wonder how Eve survived without lactation consultants, La Leche League and other mommy friends. One morning, my son was especially screamy, and I wasn’t sure how to comfort him. That was the day I learned that breastfeeding is a mothering tool – and how (I think) Eve learned to breastfeed. I just know that all she was really looking for was something to shove in his mouth to make him stop crying!
Breastfeeding is bonding. Breastfeeding helps create a strong bond between mother and child. When I think about nursing, I think of the cuddles and kisses and hand holding. He’s touching mommy’s face, trying to smile while staying latched, playing with mom’s hair and necklace. I treasure the sweet happy noises he makes and how his little cheeks get so rosy. Those are the moments to remember, and that is, ultimately, what breastfeeding is.
18 Replies to “These Breasts are Made for Feeding”
Great article, Molly!
I have a hypothesis that our culture’s problem with breast feeding isn’t that it’s sexual, but that it is a non-sexual perversion of something that is supposed to be sexual. I mean, we obviously have no problem with breasts. Nobody flinches when walking by the larger-than-life-sized breasts on display in the windows of Victoria’s Secret. But, the mom feeding her child a few feet away on the mall bench, that’s obscene! We’ve been conditioned to ogle breasts and view them erotically, so when we see them in a way that distorts the way we’ve used them in the objectification of women, we’re repulsed. Our brains are broken.
I used to chalk up breast-feeding objections to prudery, but I really think it’s the opposite. If our culture viewed the female body less as merely an instrument for sexual pleasure, we’d better appreciate the full beauty of the female anatomy including its awesome power to sustain life.
Beautiful Molly! Thank you.
Well said, Molly! You are a beautiful mother!
Totally agree with you Eric. Great thoughts Molly! You are a beautiful mother 🙂
4 more benefits for breastfeeding that are obvious to nursing mothers but maybe not to others: It lowers the probability of developing breast cancer for the mother, it quickly shrinks the uterus back into its normal size for mom of course, a breastfed child has a lower chance to develop allergies, & breast milk is free (No expensive formula milk is needed.).
That said, you new mothers drive me crazy! Do you think it’s a good idea to use your breast as a pacifier for your child? As a mother who has breastfed a yr each for 3 of her 4 children, I can say that the breast should be used as a comforting “tool” of nourishment only for the child not as an toy object or pacifier that must be relinquished in a yr or 2, sometimes forceably which you do not want. Although, I do believe a baby should stay on the breast during feeding time as long as he/she wants. (Unlike some mothers I know who keep a very rigid schedule. Ugh!) I have usually done this in my bed, & baby & I both have managed to nap together w/him in my arms, next to my chest. Sleeping restfully together is a wonderful bonding experience.
As you say breastfeeding is an intimate time to bond with the baby. When I think of intimate, I think of a quiet, relaxing place just for the 2 of us. Whipping the breast out in the mall or at church to feed the little one is not part of my definition of intimacy. And I have seen both. It’s too public.
For feeding emergencies in the mall, that is not part of the feeding schedule, I always carry a light blanket to create a somewhat personal & semi-private conditions for my breastfeeding baby. Although, I actually prefer to go out into my car; the mall is so noisy.
Going to Mass is not about baby & his needs but about worshipping God & not distracting anyone from giving complete attention to our Lord. Emergencies do happen & that’s what a vestibule or crying room are for or even the parked car. God understands & He might even consider it an act of charity to others in the church.
Finally, there are some mothers who are not allowed to breastfeed, can not breastfeed, or just do not want to & have wonderful bonding experiences with their babies. It has to do with the heart not the chest.
Beautiful post, Molly. I don’t know if I’m in the “new” mother category or not – my oldest will soon be 11. I have breastfed each of my five children for at least 15 months. My 7-year old breastfed for over two years. She is an independent, beautiful little girl who is very confident in herself and also extremely giving of anything she has and of herself. I do believe this is at least in part because of the longer nursing time she and I had.
I have nursed in the crying room at church, in the vestibule at church, in malls, in my car, in restaurants. I have a blanket or a cover of some sort, but honestly I use it more because after a couple months of age, my babies tend to be easily distracted. My children have all nursed “on demand,” and it is hard to always remove myself, especially if I am at an older child’s sports game, etc. If I am not doing anything sexual by feeding my baby and am modest in doing so, why is it anyone else’s business where I am?
Recently we were on an overnight field trip for school. Another mom was chaperoning and recently had a baby. Her husband also came on the field trip (drove separately and booked his own room) so that she could continue to nurse on demand as much as possible. She would remove herself a little from the group and find a bench close by to nurse. I didn’t hear anyone commenting on how inappropriate she was – why would they? She was discreet, but she certainly was not able to go sit in a car during the tours, etc.
Jeanne @10:10 – We appreciate you taking the time to read and comment, but the tone of your post was very harsh, especially considering that you know it was directed at a “new mother.” We all have our opinions about parenting, including whether pacifying our babies at the breast is good or bad, and whether nursing in Mass in appropriate or not. None of these are black and white issues that we need to be in lock-step about. Let’s keep the dogmatic tone reserved for dogma and try harder to support other women in being the best moms they can be. New mothers do not need criticism from other mothers, and they do not need people making moral issues out of things that are not moral issues.
Jeanne, while your first paragraph is spot on, I take exception to the rest of your commentary. In no way did Molly state 1) that her method of soothing was the one and only way to go 2) that mothers who cannot breastfeed are somehow lesser (I was one of those mothers) 3) that she was prone to ‘whip out’ her breasts for public purview
How unkind to assume that she is not every bit as in tune to the charity toward others that you espouse by discreetly nursing her baby, under cover, rather than stumbling out of the pew after the crying infant has already disturbed neighbors church-wide!
As for your thoughts, ‘When I think of intimate, I think of a quiet, relaxing place just for the 2 of us’, they are just that – your thoughts. Other mothers may have a very different, yet equally valid view.
Please consider tempering your comments with kindness toward others. Molly’s sharing of *her* thoughts about breastfeeding were beautiful but in no way intended to be a rigid ‘how to’ guide that must be followed by everyone!
Way to go Molly! Breast feeding is natural and has numerous benefits.
Jeanne, others have already commented on your tone. I feel the need to say just one more thing. I was blessed to be able to nurse my son for a full year. My daughter wasn’t so fortunate, since I was diagnosed with breast cancer during my pregnancy. However, the tone of Molly’s post does nothing to cause me any guilty feelings over my inability to nurse my daughter. She was very respectful and made no derogatory comments about those who could not or chose not to nurse their children. Her post was as it should have been — charitable, loving, and true. Your comment was otherwise. Please temper yourself. Rude comments are much worse than “whipping a breast out” in public or using a breast as a pacifier — especially to a new mother.
Of course Mass is about worshipping God; however, we also need to attend to the immediate needs of our babies. St. Frances of Rome said that sometimes a mother “must leave God at the altar to find Him in her housekeeping”, which I take to also mean to find Him in attending to the needs of her children. But if we can attend to the immediate needs of child and calm them while CONTINUING to worship in church, why should we not do both? I personally prefer to nurse in church if possible because it keeps the baby quiet so I can spend a few moments in meditation. Mass is not about worshipping God while abandoning our motherly duties.
Great article, Molly – keep up the good work, mama! I can relate to some of the breastfeeding difficulties, and while I certainly don’t begrudge anyone the use of formula, as I’ve used it myself, I do admire the women who plug along and keep nursing through extreme difficulty!
How is it that my tone is harsh? I offer a different perspectives that you all disagree with. Does it mean I’m wrong? Definitely not.
1 of my perspectives deals with the sensitivities of others who grew up in an era when certain things were not done in public by respectable people. Breastfeeding was 1 of those activities. I have been discreetly told by women of the WWII generation at various events to not breastfeed in front of the men but to go to a private place such as bedroom to have some quiet feeding time with my child. A quiet environment encouages a baby to nurse fully & stay on his schedule without undue stress. I respected their input & understood their other unspoken concerns regarding the men.
I have seen the elderly at Mass get upset not so much at the crying baby but the difficulty it was to regain their prayerful concentration after the crying started. These elderly persons I have seen never said anything unkind to the mother, but I knew they were suffering from looking at their posture when a baby cries during Mass.
Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our own lives & children that we sometimes don’t realize that our lives can intersect with others unknowingly. And we forget about the concerns of those who are not part of our immediate circle.
BTW I take issue to the poster who accused me of calling the author rigid which I did not. You need to reread that posting of mine.
Hopefully as more and more women are seen breastfeeding, it won’t be so shocking and people will learn to accept it. I don’t necessarily mean it needs to be splashed on magazine covers, but seeing “regular” moms nursing will hopefully normalize the action.
And I sure hope it’s okay to nurse at Mass. I do it every Sunday right as we start the homily so that I know the baby will be satisfied as we go through the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I do use a cover for my convenience and to keep baby focused on nursing. But I never thought of it being inappropriate; I assumed Jesus would be happy to see me caring for baby and I have to imagine there were lots of nursing mothers gathered around during His sermons.
Jeanne – when someone says your *tone* is harsh, it’s not that they don’t like that you offered a different perspective, it’s that they don’t like the *way* it as offered. Let’s start with “you new mothers drive me crazy!” This is the internet. We don’t know you and we can’t see your facial expressions and body language. Absent any other cues, that comment does not come across charitably at all.
It’s nice to have concern for the sensitivities of others. But moral behavior is not dictated, necessarily, by what makes someone else comfortable. There are a lot of things that may distract the elderly during Mass (as well as the rest of us), but we can’t control all of them. Babies cry sometimes, and the only way to keep an elderly person from hearing a crying baby at Mass is to not bring our babies in the first place. Is that what you are suggesting? As far as not breastfeeding in public “because of the men”, if a woman is covered, then there should be no issue at all. I doubt the author of this post advocates for “letting it all hang out” while nursing in front of others. But being asked to leave “polite society” and go somewhere else to feed your hungry child can be isolating and humiliating for a new mother. Perhaps people giving this advice should think about the sensitivities of others, too.
I’m sure we all fully respect your opinion that breastfeeding should be done in private if possible, and many may even share that opinion. But your way is not the only right way.
How to feed your child, what to feed him, and where and when…all those are PRUDENTIAL decisions that each parent gets to make for herself. There is nothing in the Catechism that suggests, as you do, that there is anything morally wrong with choosing to breastfeed past one year, to pacify at the breast, to nurse in public without a tarp covering your body. Your comments are entirely too puritanical to reflect the beauty of our Catholic faith’s teachings on the human body.
I’ve nursed my babies exclusively, supplemented with formula, and formula fed from the beginning. There is not RIGHT way to feed your child, though we can say that under normal circumstances, God obviously intends us to feed our child at the breast. Outside of recognizing the inherent good of breastfeeding, no one has the right to dictate the morality of decisions that are prudential, not moral. That puts an unfair burden on women that not even the Church does.
Jeanne, thanks for sharing your experience and opinion. There is a lot in what you say.
Since you asked why others have referred to your tone, saying “That said, you new mothers drive me crazy!” sets a condescending tone towards me as the author and to other mothers choosing to parent in a similar fashion.
“Do you think it’s a good idea to use your breast as a pacifier for your child?” Yes, absolutely! The breast is baby’s first pacifier, and there is nothing wrong with it being his/her only pacifier. Do I think it’s the only option and look down upon mothers who choose not to? No, it’s really none of my business and doesn’t affect me at all.
You mention “whipping the breast out” in reference to nursing in a public space. In doing so, you are assuming that I am immodest and careless about others in my environment when I nurse my child. Just as you did, I use a blanket if I am nursing in public. However, I am not willing to sacrifice my child’s needs because someone else may be uncomfortable with the natural act of breastfeeding. He will nurse if he needs to nurse.
In your first comment, you suggested that I leave Mass if my baby needs to nurse, but in your second, you are saying that it is actually the crying that is disruptive at church. I hope other readers do not see your comment and choose to stay away from Mass because they have children. We can’t control what they’re going to do or say during Mass so it is always a possibility that they will disrupt others.
My baby rarely cries at church BECAUSE I nurse during Mass when necessary. He is much less of a distraction if he is nursing than if he is screaming or crawling around. My baby and I are at Mass almost every day, and the elderly people are so happy to see him there!
We are all doing our best to care for our families, and there is no need to disparage a healthy parenting method that is different than your own. This post was a reflection on my own experiences with breastfeeding. I never said that my way is the only way, and I would appreciate the same amount of respect from our readers choosing to engage in discussion.
Great breastfeeding article! And thank you for touching on breastfeeding past a year. I am still breastfeeding my 2 yr old. He still seems dependent on it, and as I don’t mind doing it, I just can’t find any moral reason to stop. Clearly, it’s helping him both nutritionally and emotionally. I certainly don’t begrudge any mother for her choices, but I do think there’s a push in modern society to get our kids independent as soon as possible. I just think that there’s plenty of time for that, and as long as I provide those building blocks, my son will take his independence when he’s ready. The WHO just pushed the minimum weaning age up to two. I think some people treat the CDC’s minimum recommendation of one year as maximum.
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