Monday, April 21, 2008

Nursing In Church

I'm aware that nursing in public can cause quite a fuss, regardless that it is perfectly legal and in some places is actually protected by law.

There is no question that breast milk is the best source of nutrition for an infant. There is also no question that a mother has the right to feed her hungry child (I've never seen a bottle feeding mother asked to leave anywhere). However, people get really uncomfortable when the breast milk is coming straight from the tap.

Some say it's ok so long as the mother is "discreet". The problem is, there is no real definition of discreet. Does that mean the mother must use a blanket? Go to the corner with her back to the room? Feed in a bathroom (ick!)? Honestly tho, which is more obvious - cradling a child and carrying on with life, or sitting with a big tent draped over you?

So consider this a bit of a poll - is nursing in church (as in during the service) inappropriate? What conditions (blanket, womens service, age of the child etc.) make it appropriate or inappropriate?

I'd also really appreciate opinions of men on this, especially those who are on the platform, so ladies, ask your husbands.


Mommy of Three said...

Totally appropriate to nurse in church. 100%. I had an usher try to get me to pretty much leave the building to nurse my first, and I told him no, thank you. My breasts were given to me to nurture my children, and if that offends people, then they need to get their minds out of the gutter and get a life. Why should it be okay for a baby to have a bottle in public, but not the breast? And if anyone were to ever tell me to go to the bathroom to nurse, I'm fully prepared to tell them to bring THEIR meal into the bathroom and eat it, THEN come talk to me. And I only cover up because there are some sick perverts out there, and I don't care to be flashing them my nipples for them to get all excited about. As far age age goes, I wouldn't nurse in public past the age of two...and maybe not at all for that matter. It just isn't of much nutritional value at that point, since they get the majority of it from regular solids foods at that age.

Dena said...

In Latin America people nurse anytime, anywhere. I have nursed in taxis, the park, church, grocery store, you name it. And women NEVER use a blanket here. They just nurse. You might not see anything, or you might see just about everything. I always try to show as little as possible, but I love knowing that NO ONE will be offened. I even nurse in the middle of youth group, and because it is such a part of the culture here, even the teen boys and girls think nothing of it. It was weird for me though, when in the States for Christmas. I had to ask if it was okay to nurse in the service. I was told no, but there was a nursing room in the back with video of the service.

The only thing that took getting used to was that while nursing women and MEN at church come up and look at and coo at the baby, even touch her check while my nipple is in her mouth. And now she always smiles at them, which shows quite a bit more. But it's not even awkward for them, no more than if I had a plastic bottle in her mouth.

Re: Kayla's note: Would an usher ask a girl reveling too much cleavage to leave the service? I doubt it, so why should you be asked to leave?!

The AJ Thomas said...

Generally I leave these types if discussions alone but since you asked for men and on the platform I'll throw my two cents in.

My personal opinion (I'm sure quite informed by cultural biases) is that babies are good, nursing is good, breast milk is good, seeing boobies is not so good. I would have no problem whatsoever with a woman nursing her baby during a worship gathering provided her bare breasts are not visible.

Like it or not even when you are nursing they are still breasts, they still grab attention, and it still makes lots of people uncomfortable. And it's not a specifically sexual thing. The bare bum of an old man holds no appeal for me yet if I were to see one "in the pews" while I was preaching my attention would be diverted and I'd still be uncomfortable. No I don't think nursing breasts and old bums are the same thing but my point is seeing something (a bare breast) that is usually taboo makes lots of people uncomfortable and in a setting like church I think some deference is in order. In a different culture (apparently like latin america, or some topless jungle tribe) it would be different.

Elliott Innes said...

100% okay! Perhaps (as Dena mentioned) because my parenting experience has been almost exclusively in Latin America, with the exception of a few weeks vacation in North America, I have absolutely no problem with nursing in public.

I wish that more of the world would adopt a more well rounded view (pardon the pun) of the breast. In NA I think we have developed this aversion to breast feeding in public simply because we see boobies everywhere ad every time we see them they come along with a mental command, "Gentlemen, start your engines!"

But the reality is that there is nothing sexual about nursing your baby. We have been given multi-taking organs, and just as the nose is good for breathing and smelling, the breast are good for more than just sexual fulfillment.

If I were ever to be in leadership at a church where an usher asksed a woman to leave because she was breast-feeding, I don't believe that I would be able to keep my mouth shut and it would probably result in finding a new role for the usher.

I guess I feel passionately about this...

K-dog said...

I think it's acceptable. I've done it at my own church.(New Brunswick) We don't have a 'nursing room', though I wish we did for those who didn't feel comfortable nursing in public. (I have friends who don't quite have the hang of it yet and feel uncomfortable trying to wrestle it out in public settings).

I haven't seen others attempt it, but I do. I do however throw a receiving blanket over my shoulder.

Mommy of Three said...

Yeah, I do the blanket thing, too, because it is, unfortunately, a distraction to some people, and I fel guilty being the cause of that in church.

Lindy said...

As someone who is not a parent- I don't see anything wrong with a parent using a blanket in any public place. It's not that much of an inconvienence from what my friends with kids have told me- and anyone who is uncomfortable at that point has a problem.

I don't know how comfortable I would be about a nursing mother not using any think to cover up.

glo said...

this is intersteing only because i was just watching the eposide of Gilmore Girls where Luke starts freaking out because one of his customers starts brest feeding in his dinner and He tries to Get Loreli to go tell the women she can't do that in his dinner.

any way, i seem to remeber someone once putting a nersing women on a bench next to a victoria secrits display and let people deside which one was more modest, the nursing lady won.

I don't have a kid so i have not gone through this kind of pradicament but my mom nursed my brother wail grocery shopping, and i don't mean she stoped and went into the bath room to do it. she just kept on shopping and no one noticed. so i say Go for it.

Angela said...

I think when talking about a worship service, the most important question, like many other things in a worship atmosphere, is to ask, "Is it going to distract people from entering into true worship?"
The fact that there are cultural differences, we cannot change. We cannot choose for other people how they view seeing a woman breastfeeding. I don't think breastfeeding in a worship service is about living out your rights to feed your baby as you desire. I think it is all about fostering an atmosphere of worship. So, if you find that it seems to be distracting to people, I think the mother should respect that and breastfeed discretely or use a mother's room if provided. If it does not seem to be a distraction, than I think it's great for a mother to feel comfortable nursing her baby wherever she wants.
I also know what my husband would say on this, b/c we have had conversation about it. In our culture, it makes many Christian guys uncomfortable to see a woman breastfeeding if she is not covered in some way. Pretty much what AJ said. Boobies are matter what...and they can be really distracting.
I think it is very tempting in our Western society to get adamant about asserting our rights. But I think as Christian women, we need to consider the needs of other people as well; and if this means taking away a worshipper's focus or making it difficult for a Christian would be the best thing to take that into consideration.
Best case scenario- it doesn't bother anyone and no one thinks twice about it! HOpefully, most churches would have some sort of room where mothers can nurse their baby and still participate in the service. I had an experience where I was nursing Danielle once and a man at church saw me and became extremely and obviously uncomfortable. I felt it necessary to nurse in the mother's room so that man didn't have to be uncomfortable with me instead of being distracted from his worship. Fortunately, our room is right behind the sanctuary with a one way window and a speaker, so it's like you're still sitting in the service. I realize not all churches have this...

Angela said...

**this sentence was supposed to read, "I felt it necessary to nurse in the mother's room so that man didn't have to be uncomfortable with me and distracted instead of focusing on his worship."

Annie said...

I tried using a cover when my son was a newborn, and my most embarrassing nursing in public story happened while using a cover. Someone sitting with us (friends who were out to lunch together) actually said I was just calling more attention to myself. I was mortified.

It can be really difficult to nurse with a cover, especially with a newborn when you are just figuring things out. It can be hard to get latched on and get things going well with a blanket laying over your shoulder, and then it is hard to keep the blanket from falling down, and then the baby pops off and you have to juggle the blanket while trying to get the baby latched back on without flashing everyone. I think it's hard to understand what that is like until you've done it. Then the baby gets a bit older and they kick the blanket off.

Then I figured out how to nurse without a cover and I was more comfortable, my baby was more comfortable, and it was way more discreet. My baby wasn't kicking or pulling a blanket off and exposing me, but I was able to use his body and my shirt to keep myself comfortably covered.

Anyway, I pretty much think it is okay to nurse in public whenever, wherever! Babies need to eat and if you can bottlefeed a baby in a place there is no reason you shouldn't be able to breastfeed a baby there.

Why don't we ever see people bottlefeeding babies in bathrooms? Yet that is often the first suggestion to moms trying to nurse their babies--YUCK!

Michelle said...

I struggle with this. I believe it should be natural to Nurse a baby where ever and when ever a baby needs it. I hate the thought of a mother having to run off to a separate room, to nurse her baby, for doing something that is perfectly natural. Would you expect any member of the animal kingdom to run and hide in shame to nurse their baby's? Boobies are boobies, yes, but what did god create boobies for??? Nursing. You would think in church, this concept would be grasped.

That being said, I will opt for a secluded place(ie nursing room or the car) to nurse my baby. Not because I dont want other people ot be uncomfortable, but because I have a poor self image to begin with, and hate attracting attention to myself. I wish I didnt have to feel this way. I have forced myself to occasionaly nurse in public, because I've realized the more its done, the more people will get comfortable with it. I have done it at the table in a restaurant while struggling with a blanket, while baby was new, but then as I got more confident, I found it was way easier, and I brought less attention(less pointing and whispers) on myself.

If some guy is uncomfortable with seeing a baby nurse, thats his issue. If he's distracted, maybe he should move himself so as not to be in sight of the nursing mother. Why should the mother, who is only doing whats natural be penalized.

Dena said...

I agree with all of you that ideally nursing should never be an issue for anyone. And that often using a cover is more obvious and more difficult. But I wholeheartedly agree with Angela that we should not distract others from worship. We should be free to worship God however we want, but try not to distract others in doing so. We should not wear clothing that would distract others by being too reveling. It would not be appropriate to scream or flail about in a worship service (In most Wesleyan Churches, anyway), because it would takes others' focus off the Lord and onto the person. So, if nursing (which is a perfectly wholesome and natural act) is distracting, then we should respect that. Hopefully the culture will change, but that will not occur in one service, but over years.

Hey, in my Grandparents' day you didn't hardly talk about being pregnant, the word "belly" was crude, you wouldn't nurse in public at all, etc. So we have come a long way in the last few decades, and can only hope it gets even better.

Jo said...

I'm not a mother, but I remember the excruciating embarrassment I had when my mother would nurse my youngest two siblings in church (with a blanket cover). I was mortified. I felt the scorn from a lot of conservative farming Iowan families. It was awful. I wanted to say, "It's not my fault that my mother has no decency!" and "I'm not as weird as my mother, please don't paint us all with the same brush."

So you can see how my past experiences effect my opinion. I understand about rights, and naturality, and the ideal way society SHOULD be, but the reality is, in most places that I have lived, it is usually unacceptible to nurse in public.

The Bible says if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. I sort of think that it applies here: If your actions are causing someone else to be offended, try not to do it. I probalby would only nurse in public if there was no other place to go and be in private. I won't put my family through that kind of public scorn.

If you live in a place where it's accepted, like Dena does, then go for it. But if you are bringing shame upon yourself, your baby and your family, as well as offending others who attend the church, try to find a different alternative.

Michelle said...

Sorry, I just noticed my sentence went unfinished, it was supposed to read:

"I have done it at the table in a restaurant while struggling with a blanket, while baby was new, but then as I got more confident, I found it was way easier, and I brought less attention(less pointing and whispers) on myself without a cover. Most would not even notice, it just looks like I'm holding the baby."

Ruth J said...

I consider my church to be my family - as a result, it wouldn't occur to me to NOT feed my baby there, any more than it would occur to me to avoid feeding my baby in front of my parents.

I take the points about distracting people, but if the alternative is for me AND my baby to be excluded from the worship of the church, I'm afraid there's no competition for me.

Mommy of Three said...

I still think I'm moving to Latin America. I'm going to go live with dena.