This article began as a reply to a friend’s post on Facebook. Instead of monopolizing her page with a massive reply, I realized I could create an entire blog entry, so I finished it up and instead of hitting “reply”, I pasted it here.
Quick context; The topic began as a review of an article called “Art, Nakedness, and Redemption”. My friend gently suggested mothers should consider applying the same principles in the article to nursing in public. A conversation began and my reply is below. The original article is in the link here:
**** This was my reply;
There’s nothing shameful about breast feeding and I know this is not your intention to imply it is, but I believe that encouraging women to cover encourages the notion that breast feeding is a shameful act, needing to be hidden. As long as our culture continues to believe it is shameful to do it openly, there will be women and men alike, pushing for its normalization.
Normalization is the term being used these days to define the ideal situation in which mothers can openly nurse their children and it is neither a negative nor a positive, it is simply a fact of every day, human life.
Those who wish to normalize breast-feeding do not wish to flaunt themselves in public or “throw off their covers” in shameful display of their naked breasts for all to see for whatever sexual attention they may receive. They simply want breast-feeding to be recognized for what it is; a natural, normal process of feeding a child. Period.
What is shameful, in my opinion, is the conservative community continually scandalizing the innocent act of nourishing a baby by drawing a correlation between sexuality and breast-feeding. They do this by requiring that a mother cover herself for the sake of others’ reactions to them. I understand this is a biblical thing- we are taught to hide our bodies because they may arouse a man. (This in and of itself, is something I disagree with- A man should have the strength and ability to control himself sexually. It is no one’s responsibility to do this for them- he must be the gentleman and control his base urges, not demand that women placate to his inability to keep it in his pants)
If there was more emphasis placed on the fact that a mother is simply feeding a child and a greater call to scold those who over sexualize breasts in the first place, I believe this wouldn’t be such an issue.
The act of nursing in public is what pushed me to create this blog space and our Facebook page, “The Cautious Mom” in the first place and in my very first entry, I wrote the following:
“It’s a shame that in this culture that continues to push the envelope with negative, derogatory, overtly sexual images that encourage sexual frivolity, an image of a mother feeding her infant child is seen as inappropriate.
The people who would wish for a world in which sexuality was put in its proper place and stayed there- the people who shake their heads in disappointment when a girl objectifies herself … rather than seeing her body as a godly vessel of the soul, it truly shows me the nature of our culture; so distorted and so very sad.”
Breast feeders NEED the conservative community to recognize the act of breast feeding as a god-given miracle. We NEED the Christian community to separate the act of feeding a child from a sex act and not to condemn mothers or to encourage them to hide themselves, but to condemn those who would consider it anything but what it is. Condemn those who would distort breast feeding, turn it into something dark and sexual and exalt women who are brave enough to fight modern society, modern ideals and conveniences to do the right thing and provide their child the nourishment that is truly God-given.
Often times the conservative community will put out the statement that they’re not against breast-feeding, they simply don’t understand why a woman would want to put themselves in a position of being thought of in a sexual way. By covering themselves, they prevent the bad thoughts that could be going through someone’s mind. This to me, is utterly ridiculous. This is the same mentality that would blame a girl for being raped because she was wearing a short skirt. This idea provides an excuse, a pardon if you will, to those who would allow a peaceful moment between mother and child to become an excuse to check out her boobs.
Now that being said, if it makes you feel more comfortable to be covered, by all means cover! If nursing is a special, sacred and private affair for you, then rock on- continue that. Wear a cover, nurse in private and continue that sacred, quiet experience only you and your baby share.
But saying you are covering yourself while you feed your baby because you “don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea”, is perpetuating the idea that it is somehow dirty and sexual and feeding your child should be hidden. And for that matter… what wrong idea is that, exactly? That feeding a baby is wrong? That nursing a baby from the milk your miraculous biology was able to create literally out of thin air and water in your body is bad?
This mindset is literally dangerous to our community of nursing mothers. It’s dangerous to our babies, to our future generations, to our species even! This idea that encourages women to stay covered, hidden and “modest” because someone might think a bad thought is the same mentality that prevents women from reaching out when they have breast-feeding problems. They are too timid and embarrassed because anything related to the breast is taboo, so instead of asking questions and learning how to do it properly, they simply go to formula. They stop doing it entirely because it’s easier to feed their child synthetic milk replacements from a bottle than to speak openly about the problems they may be having and learn how to get a good latch or deal with a tongue-tie, or how to treat a bleb and continue to nurse through the pain.
If you research the true history of formula and of breast-feeding, you will see how much that attitude of shaming the nursing mother gave way to offering them an easy, more socially acceptable method for feeding their children. It’s nothing short of disgusting in my opinion, how many women were manipulated into purchasing a method of feeding their child that allowed them to have “less mess and more modesty”. The idea of modesty and breast feeding didn’t come from anything biblical, it came from marketing tactics by companies like Nestlé in the 1950’s.
The notion that “breasts are for your husband, not your child” also came from formula companies, not the Bible… but they used biblical concepts like saving yourself for your husband and the fact that the bible states that a woman should.. .*ahem* “make herself available” for her husband anytime he wants. And… well, when you are nursing a baby and focusing on the demands of a growing child, the demands of a man’s sex drive are pushed to the background. (And rightfully so, in my opinion!)
I admit that I’m new to Bible study. I was not raised in the church and although I’ve been actively involved recently in studies and Christian culture more than ever before in my life, I am a novice at best when it comes to the Bible itself… but I’ve done hours worth of research and I couldn’t find a single passage in the Bible that indicated a woman should cover herself while feeding her child or that the act of breast feeding was something to be held sacred and therefore, secret. I DID see however, places where it discusses the Spirit and living a life in private that is matched by how you live in public. Pius modesty that does not flaunt wealth is also a big issue, but our culture does this shamelessly and no one seems to mind that… In many places in the Bible, I found that it states a woman should not bear herself in a provocative way because it may cause men to lust after her and they may, as a result, commit sin. (There’s that issue of making it easier for men so they don’t have to work at being gentlemen) Okay fine, I’ll give you that one, but I challenge this in relation to breast feeding because breast-feeding is not bearing oneself provocatively. If a man sees a nursing mother as provocative and becomes aroused… that’s actually somewhat disturbing to me on many levels.
My point is, as far as my research has taken me, the Bible doesn’t specifically call out breast-feeding in relation to a sinful activity that should be hidden for the sake of modesty. It’s simply states and restates the importance of mankind understanding that their bodies have been given to them for the exultation of God, a home to the soul and should be used in a manner that pleases Him.
Breast feeding is nothing if not a recognition of all of those things. To sexualize it, in my opinion is to devalue it, to deny the Godliness of it and to reject the miraculous power that has been given to us BY GOD to feed our children as he would wish use to feed upon his Word. –
“Like newborn babies you should crave – thirst for, earnestly desire- the pure (unadulterated) spiritual milk, that by it you may be nurtured and grow unto [completed] salvation; Since you have [already] tasted the goodness and kindness of the Lord.”
I end my rant with a simple plea to all conservatives and Christians; Scold those who would turn it into something ugly, perverse and sexual. THEY are the ones shaming God. Not these mothers who wish to feed their children as God intended.
There are so many good thoughts here! And I completely agree with almost everything you said here. 🙂 I would like to reiterate, though, that I do not personally equate breastfeeding with any sexual activity – and you are right to guess I don’t mean to imply it’s shameful. It is the amazing and wonderful way that God created for mothers to nourish their babies. I know you’re not referring to my personal views, though, but the church at large as you’ve seen it behave toward nursing.
Actually, in my study of the Bible, I have never found a verse that commanded women to cover up their bodies specifically because men might lust after them. (There are probably lots in the Koran, but I don’t know of an example from the Christian Bible.) The Bible is clear that because of the fall of mankind into sin, we now need to clothe ourselves (Genesis 3), and a big part of that need is our tendency toward sexual immorality. But I think what that article I posted brought out so well was – it’s not *entirely* because of sex that we cover ourselves, it’s also because (here I’m quoting a quote from within the article, so I’m not sure where this quote is originally from, haha): “we dress because we sin… [it is] a reminder that man is an unholy fugitive, in hiding from God and from his own fellows.” This isn’t something I expect the world at large to understand; those who believe they are sinners are the ones who seek Christ, the ones who realize that their sinful state needs to be covered with God’s grace. If we understand the Bible rightly, brazen nakedness or exposing ourselves outside of the proper contexts, is to deny our sinfulness in general. Christians who see their need for grace This is why I was suggesting covering while nursing might be the appropriate move by a Christian woman. (But often specific modesty rules are cultural, which I’ll go into in a moment.) 🙂
The Bible does talk about whores and seductresses, and it goes without saying that prostituting ourselves and trying to allure men is condemned severely by God. But most of the commands I find in the Bible are addressed to MEN, to avoid these kinds of women (taking responsibility for themselves)! I know the church is often accused of demonizing women and excusing men over sexual sin, and sadly many Christians do just that, but personally, I am firmly convicted that every man’s sexual sin is his own responsibility, no matter how the woman was dressed or what took place. The woman might be sinning too, depending on the context, but he cannot blame her for his sin, any more than Adam could blame Eve for offering him the fruit – which he ate. 😉 I am totally in agreement with you on that!
Women are commanded to be modest (1 Timothy 2:9 and in other verses less directly), but I don’t believe it is ever tied to the reason “men might lust”. It is a matter of our dignity and humility, encouraging us to dress in a way consistent with women who are trying to live in a manner honoring to God…that would rule out trying to draw undue attention to ourselves in any fashion, whether it be ostentatiously or sexually. Most men do struggle with sexual temptation, so Christian women understand being modest as a way to show love to those who might be tempted, but that is something we infer from the Bible, not a direct command.
I do not believe most moms are trying to be showoffish or provocative when they nurse their babes without a cover (there certainly are a few, but they’re not the norm). I don’t think it’s lewd, or shameful, and definitely not against anything the Bible tells us. So here’s why I cover, personally…
1. I do it out of politeness and love toward those around me who might be uncomfortable, if I’m in mixed company.
2. I do it out of a personal sense of modesty. I’d rather my husband be the only man who sees my breasts…ever. 😉 That’s just my personal boundary and comfort zone.
3. I do it because we are told in the New Testament, again and again, to live peaceably with others as far as we are able, especially fellow Christians. Graciousness and love trumps being right or having more knowledge/education than others. We are told to always defer to the weaker person with scruples, treating them with kindness and love rather than offending them.
4. I do it because in our culture, the objectification of women (both by men and by themselves) is so rampant that an exposed breast will invariably be viewed as a sexual thing by most. That might not be my intent in nursing, but I’d rather not attract unwanted attention or judgment.
5. I do it because I don’t believe the Bible’s commands about modesty are strict rules on how short your skirt can be or how much or little cleavage you should show, but rather they are a general command to be a modest woman in your own society – minimally, conforming to whatever your own culture considers modest. In our culture, sadly, breastfeeding without a cover is usually seen as immodest.
I wish our culture was different in that regard! And it does look to be changing. 🙂 I believe in a society that is more accepting of breastfeeding (like many places around the world today), a mom could nurse a baby with no cover, and it would be entirely modest and no one would blink an eye. But in our culture, where women’s bodies are daily paraded as things to be lusted after, it is very hard for people to separate the natural use of the breast with the secondary sexual use for it. I don’t think nursing uncovered is going to fix that bigger problem, but I pray that even now God is pulling our culture away from the rampant porn and disgusting objectification of women that is the norm in America.
If our culture wasn’t so sex-obsessed and nursing uncovered was generally acceptable and approved in society, would I consider it modest? Absolutely! Would I do it myself? Maybe, depending on whether I was willing to go past Reason #2 or not. 😉 But here and now, based on my understanding of the Bible’s examples of how Christians should relate to others, I do not consider it loving or polite to nurse uncovered. Personally I will continue to cover and would (passively, if asked) encourage other Christian women to do so. I can’t speak for the world around me, or say what is appropriate for women in general to do in regards to this. But believing, as I do, that every word of the Bible is from the mouth of God and “love conquers all”, I choose to cover when I nurse.
I hope that expresses my point of view better…it’s totally not that I disagree with you! I know our culture has problems, and definitely the church has problems too (the church never has been perfect, but we’re a ragtag band of sinners…that’s why Christ died for us!). I just have differing convictions on how to react to these problems in our society. 🙂
I would love to continue this discussion if you have questions or further points you’d like to put to me! 🙂 Please reply to me here or shoot me a PM on Facebook if you’d like to chat more. This is a topic I’m very interested in and always looking to educate myself and understand better what is right. ❤