Kate’s seat was undeniably the best in the stadium. From here, she could see everything happening on the field, watch the cheerleaders, see the concession stand, and count four different reactions to the fact that she was breastfeeding in public. Why does anyone even care? Surely the baby taking his lunch from her mostly-covered breast was less shocking than the three shirtless men with painted chests shouting a few rows ahead of her?
Even though the crowd laughed and cheered at the antics of the men, they were far from being as supportive toward her. Most people didn’t notice her. Several kept on curiouusly glancing her way. One person was watching her and smiling. Weird.
But what bothered Kate most was the disapproving looks she was getting. Well, those and the not-so-subtle lady from church who sat a few seats away. Although the bare-chested men didn’t bother this lady, she kept scowling and offering Kate a jacket. Surely it’s not wrong to feed her baby in sight of other people. Is it?
Should a Christian breastfeed in public? And how should a Christian respond to someone publicly breastfeeding? Is it immoral? Indecent? Outright sinful? And if so, should they be corrected? Christians have been asking these questions. It’s time they got answers.
Let’s start by defining exactly what a Christian is. There are “Christians” in the world – and then, there are real Christians. There’s a difference.
The “Christians” may be indistinguishable from anyone else. That’s not good. We’re supposed to be different. It’s kind of our calling.
Or maybe you know “Christians” who can be easily identified by their sour expression, disapproving stare, or the ceiling burn on their nose. Also not good. True followers of Christ have no business being holier-than-thou.
Being a real Christian has nothing to do with how long you’ve been going to church or how holy you act. It’s admitting to God that you’re sinful. Rotten. Ashamed of things you’ve done. And you realize that you’re not good enough to save yourself.
Because the truth is, nobody is. We need Christ because it’s only through Him that we get our forgiveness. A true Christian has admitted their sinful state and called out to Jesus to forgive them. And then, as believers, we’re to pray and read the Bible in order to grow in our knowledge of God, while at the same time His Word changes us.
So what should a Christian be like? They should brighten every room and bring a wonderful flavor of life to everything they’re involved in. Jesus said it best when he said we are “salt and light.”
The perfect Christian…
- goes out of their way to see that others are taken care of
- is quick with a gracious response
- is the most patient person you’ve ever met
- has an unshakable peace that just doesn’t make sense
- is the first to forgive
- wears kindness like an overcoat, always offering it to others
- works harder than anyone
- is honest yet tactful
- is the first to admit their own shortcomings
- acts quickly to help you fix your mistakes – without telling anyone about it
Then there ‘s reality…
No one alive is a perfect Christian. But that’s a great list of attributes to strive for in our lives. We all fall short of that impossible mark every single day. And that’s okay because God is waiting to forgive us. The Bible says,
For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.
Psalm 103:14 (ESV)
To me, that means that even though our heavenly Father is perfect, He understands our limitations. He’s gracious enough to forgive us.
So if we’re not perfect, and we’re not supposed to act like we’re perfect, then WHAT are we supposed to do? We’re supposed to put our lives in God’s hands and ask Him for help. We’re supposed to be humble enough to readily admit that we’re a hot mess on our own. One of the ways He helps us is with His Word in the Bible.
Getting answers from the Bible
As followers of Christ, it’s our job and privilege to look to the Bible for answers to all of our questions. Remember, believers are NOT supposed to be divided over minor things. We’re told to be gracious when we disagree. And each of us has to follow the Bible as we understand it. Looking for answers in the Bible isn’t the time to try to prove someone wrong or prove yourself right.
Think about it, if we could walk right up to the throne of God and ask Him about something, would we say “Tell me why You don’t have a problem with it.” Of course not! We’d very humbly ask Him what He thinks about it. We should approach finding answers in the Bible the same way: with humility and open-hearted search for His truth (notice I didn’t say your truth).
In order to figure out the proper Christian stance on nursing in public, we have to look to Scripture – and we need to look at it from all angles. We need to examine breastfeeding, modesty, baby’s needs, how it affects people around you, and how you respond to someone breastfeeding in public.
Already overwhelmed? Let’s make this kinda quick.
Breastfeeding is one of the most basic, natural acts we can do. It’s beautiful and should be celebrated. God created breastfeeding! It is not inherently dirty or indecent. The same could be said for sex, for that matter. But I think most people (and God) would agree that sex in public is indecent.
For that reason, saying “it’s natural” is not a valid argument for doing it in public. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not against public breastfeeding. But the “it’s natural” argument doesn’t hold water. I can think of a few more natural things that need to be kept private. (Pooping, anyone? You with me here?)
Breastfeeding in the Bible
The Bible never addresses whether or not to breastfeed. When breastfeeding or weaning is mentioned, it’s in a no-nonsense way because the Bible assumes that babies will be fed at the breast – either their mother’s breast or a wet nurse’s (see the story of Moses in Exodus 2). Remember, baby formula simply wasn’t an option in Bible times.
The Bible tells us to take care of our children and love them. So where you feed, how long you feed, when you wean, what you do with stored milk, and any other decision you make about breastfeeding is between you, your baby, and God.
There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING in the Bible to indicate that a woman who chooses not to breastfeed is a bad mother or a bad Christian. If you’re providing love and nourishment for your baby, you’re doing a great job!
Related Post: How formula feeding improved the way I breastfeed
Modesty is such a tricky word. Because I mean, what is it? It depends on who you ask! It’s very subjective. What some people consider modest makes me uncomfortable. And what I consider modest is shocking to others.
Oh, and let’s not forget that it changes over time and in different cultures. There were times when women were considered immodest if their head wasn’t covered. Or if they showed a hint of ankle.
And when you delve into modesty for Christians, there’s a whole new realm of confusion.
- There are well-meaning people holding to antiquated standards because they feel safer.
- There are genuinely kind folks who dogmatically stick to man-made principles because – well, I really don’t understand why some people put the rules of control freaks over the rules given by God.
- A few misguided souls have bought into an idea that they can do just anything they want and that God “has to” forgive them.
- Still, others take Bible verses out of context and pay attention to the action of it instead of the intention. Which isn’t surprising. We tend to do that. God says (paraphrasing here) that people pay attention to deeds, and He pays attention to the heart. He cares less about what we did than He does about WHY we did it.
Modesty while breastfeeding
Let’s be real here. Breastfeeding involves breasts! And like it or not, breasts are also very sexual for most people. That’s especially true in Western culture.
Even if you don’t consider breasts to be anything more than milk bottles, there are people who think they’re incredibly sexy. There’s a whole section of the porn industry that revolves around breastfeeding. (Yeah, that’s gross and disturbing to me too.)
I could say “use a cover” or “don’t show more skin than necessary” or “don’t flash nipples.” But the truth is, no matter what you do, someone will think you’re not modest. Remember, it means something different to everybody. I know a woman who actually thinks it’s indecent to breastfeed under a cover because people can still tell what you’re doing. Oh my…
So what’s a nursing mama to do? Pray first, then follow your conscience to do what you believe is best for you and your baby.
Taking care of your baby’s needs
No breastfeeding conversation would be complete without talking about a baby’s needs. Babies have to be fed. Frequently! And fed in a way that’s as healthy for them as possible, because they’re the most vulnerable.
Related Post: 4 Things all newborns want
Babies get sick easily. For that reason, I hate to think of some poor baby nursing in a bathroom. Would you take your lunch to the bathroom to eat? Kinda icky, right? Then why would we ask the most vulnerable among us to have their lunch in a bathroom stall?
Babies should be able to nurse in a clean environment. There are all kinds of airborne germs, bacteria, viruses, and toxins out there. I’m sure it’s ultra concentrated it is in a public bathroom. So that’s no place for a meal!
Now about nursing covers. They’re helpful, useful even. But some moms (ahem, me!) are barely coordinated enough to get a baby latched on correctly while they can see them.
Using a nursing cover essentially blindfolds the mother and asks her to perform that tricky task without seeing.
Obviously, nobody argues against breathing. But I don’t think people realize how difficult it can get for a baby to breathe with a nursing cover. While a baby is breastfeeding, they don’t have a great flow of oxygen because of the close proximity to mom’s chest. When you throw a cover over them, that makes it a little worse.
Test the theory. Press your mouth and the tip of your nose against someone’s bare skin (please choose someone you know). How easy is it to breathe? Now throw a blanket over your head and stay that way for 20 minutes. Feel a little suffocated? You won’t actually die of suffocation, but removing the blanket would make breathing easier. Right?!
There are babies who like to snuggle deep inside a nursing cover and enjoy the coziness of breastfeeding under wraps. And some babies nurse happily while pulling that cover away every chance they get.
Then there are babies who laugh hysterically while they yank the cover aside and flash mommy’s nipples at the unsuspecting public. My second baby did that. When I tried to use a cover, the world saw more of me than they did when I skipped it altogether. With that particular child, the more “modest” choice was to nix the cover
Some moms love their nursing covers (there was a time I did too) and some moms are completely against using them. And you know what? That’s their own choice. It’s wrong to insist someone wear a cover. B
- They’re the best judge of how well their baby can breathe.
- They know if their baby will stay under a cover or just use it as an opportunity to play peek-a-boo.
- It’s not our business.
- We don’t want anyone insisting we wear something that we don’t want to wear.
- As Christians, we’re supposed to be safeguarding the wellbeing of others, not forcing our wishes on them.
How public breastfeeding affects those around you
Moms have a right to breastfeed in public. Standing on a platform for all to see. We can demand that right. But how much better would it be for everyone if we considered how our actions affect people around us?
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
1 Corinthians 10:23-24 (ESV)
I’m not saying that we should allow someone to bully us out of our rights. Never. But what if we simply thought of others before ourselves? Just because we have the freedom to do something, that doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to do in every situation.
We may have the right to do anything, but we should also be looking to build up the people around us. Make things better, not worse.
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
Romans 14:13 (ESV)
Did you catch that? It’s important as Christians to decide never to put a stumbling block in the way of a fellow believer. To me, that doesn’t mean that I don’t breastfeed in public. Or that I always use a nursing cover. What it means is that I make an effort to breastfeed without drawing unnecessary attention to myself.
I guess what I’m saying is, I can breastfeed my baby without being a jerk.
So we should be breastfeeding in a way that doesn’t cause others to stumble. You probably think I’m talking about somebody getting lustful seeing breasts, and that is one way to cause somebody to stumble – but not the only way.
Let’s be honest, some people are going to be lustful no matter what. What they think and feel is not your responsibility, it’s theirs. Your responsibility is to not make it extra difficult for a person who is trying to keep their mind right.
But we can also cause someone to stumble in ways other than lust. I can be a hindrance to someone’s faith because I’m being self-centered or obnoxious. I can spark anger, resentment, division, hatred, and foul language by the way I react to someone.
That will cause more damage than somebody harboring lust.
How to respond to someone breastfeeding in public
- If you want to high-five her, she probably isn’t interested. And she needs her hands.
- If you find it offensive, ask yourself why. Is it the action or the amount of skin shown? If it’s the skin, would that same skin showing on a beach or in a movie make you uncomfortable?
- If you want to help her, don’t be creepy. Really.
- If you think she should be covered, remember that coverings are essentially clothing. Ask yourself if the woman’s lack of clothing and the skin she’s showing would bother you this much if you saw it on a beach. Probably not.
I guarantee this mother isn’t trying to be a spectacle. She’s not trying to be indecent or stir up lustful thoughts. She’s simply trying to do right by her baby.
I guess what I’m saying is, don’t be a jerk. Let her feed her baby in peace. Remember, we’re supposed to build up others and put their needs before our own.
On the other hand, if you see someone harassing a mom about breastfeeding in public, PLEASE come to her defense. It’s her right. It’s her privilege. Defend her.
In a nutshell…
Breastfeeding is an amazing opportunity and a right we’re free to enjoy. As Christians, we should try to be as (realistically) modest as possible. But we need to be willing to set aside our rights in order to benefit those around us.
That doesn’t mean we don’t breastfeed or that we take it to a bathroom. It means that we’re considerate and
Because if someone is offended, then yelling and publicly shaming them for that helps nobody – but turning away so they don’t have to see is thoughtful and kind. Remember, don’t seek your own good, but the good of your neighbor. (1 Corinthians 10:24)
Above all, taking care of our babies comes first. Always! But if we make a genuine effort to be considerate of those around us while we do, we have an opportunity to show love, to be salt and light, and to heal divisiveness.