Admittedly, the subject of this article is not as weighty as some of those with which I have previously dealt. I certainly never imagined that someday I would write an article about nursing. It is, nevertheless, becoming an issue for Christians to consider. When I speak of nursing, I mean breastfeeding. And I do not mean to suggest that the issue over nursing is whether or not to nurse or even how long to nurse, even though the past has seen a push away from nursing and we have seen bizarre examples of mothers nursing far too long. The real issue is not even public nursing. Until recently, I assumed that people had no problem with a mother nursing her baby in public, though I have been surprised to learn that even that issue is not settled. The real issue, here, however is nursing in public without any covering.
Recently, I saw that a picture of a woman nursing her baby had gone viral. The headline of the article accompanying the picture (from England) said, “Breastfeeding Mum Confronts Judgemental Onlooker, Fights For Every Mother’s Right To Feed Her Child In Public”. See how this whole discussion has become a bit disingenuous and misleading? This woman is not fighting for the right to nurse in public. She is staring down someone in the photo and fighting for the right to nurse in public without any type of cover. She, and many other women, want the right to nurse uncovered in public.
In response to the movement, Target has established a policy that a woman may nurse, covered or uncovered, anywhere in their stores. Women have mocked businesses who have posted signs asking them to cover up by starting campaigns with pictures of them nursing with their heads covered and have started “nurse-in” campaigns. Magazine covers boast nearly naked breastfeeding models. Pictures have been posted online of one mother breastfeeding while exercising and another who was … pole dancing. We seem to have a desire to turn our country into a live National Geographic for adolescent boys and say it is their fault when they stare.
Argumentation for this practice generally has revolved around the fact that nursing a baby is a natural act. No one would doubt this. God created it to be this way. In fact, I would agree with this mom’s effort to promote nursing as the most natural method. But should the criteria for open breastfeeding be that it is natural? Certainly, there are other human acts that are natural. The sexual relationship is natural; however, I cannot imagine any sane person advocating that such an act should be allowed in public, at a restaurant, for example. (That having been said, there are a lot of less-than-sane people advocating for all sorts of behaviors, so I would not be surprised to see it happen at some point.) The sexual relationship has no place in such a place. So, saying that open nursing is natural; and therefore, should be accepted by all people no matter where is a hypocritical, selective, and weak argument. Or saying that nursing is natural, therefore, uncovered nursing is perfectly acceptable does not follow.
In her post, this woman wrote, “Let me make my reasoning clear on why I post pictures of my son and I publicly breastfeeding uncovered. [which begs the question, who wants to see this on a blog? sl] I don’t mean to say, ‘Everyone should breast feed without a cover. …If a mother is more comfortable covering herself because SHE feels better doing so, then I totally support that” (emphasis hers). Do you see the attitude? The one who is important in the decision is only the mother and her comfort level. If she feels comfortable, she should do it. If not, she should not. There is no inherent right or wrong to this; only the mother’s comfort. Very much like the abortion arguments.
So, it does not surprise me that the biggest problem, here, is not merely the insistence that this act is natural and should not be censored in any way, but is the very attitude of the women involved. It is the same attitude that we see among so many people today – do not tell me what to do or say, nothing is wrong unless I feel like it is wrong, if it feels good do it, what you want does not matter.
She continues, “No person should be isolated and shunned because they’re eating, especially when you yourself are eating while ridiculing how someone else is eating. Is it not certainly easier to avert your eyes from a displeasing sight rather than suggest or demand a mother and child remove themselves from your presence? How pompous and selfish is this? Just look away. It’s simple to do so. No harm done at all.” Again, who has the problem? The people who do not approve of open nursing. They are the ones who have the problem. It brings to mind the charge that such people are prudes. Daniel Webster, in his 1828 dictionary defines “prude” as “A woman of great reserve, coyness, affected stiffness of manners and scrupulous nicety.” The major idea seems to accord with a Biblical concept that should govern this issue, great reserve. What we have centered on today is the part of the definition that is “affected”. Anyone who disagrees with such a natural thing as public, open breastfeeding is objecting, not on any legitimate grounds, but because of an affected morality, i.e. a high-mindedness.
I would encourage all women who are considering open breastfeeding or those who may be confronted with a woman doing so to consider that there may be more to this practice then simply comfort and willingness and one’s supposed rights. What might that something be? Well, since we believe in God, here; we must think about what His will is on the matter. I would dare say that any nursing mother who calls herself a Christian must consider God’s will.
So, what does God say about this? Is there a right and wrong to the issue that can only come from God? Certainly, the Bible reveals the will of God to us in this matter. What should govern this decision is not the feelings of mothers or onlookers but the principles of God.
Can a natural act, such as nursing, also be immodest? Many would say no, by its very nature. The marriage bed is undefiled, according to Hebrews 13:4. The sexual relationship is a gift from God to be fulfilled under proper circumstances. Fulfilled on a table in a restaurant, it would be immodest. Who could doubt it? In fact, the revealing of the body under improper circumstances is immodest. Proverbs 11:22 speaks of the relationship of beauty and discretion in a woman. God speaks frequently of nakedness. It is often a symbol of shame in two ways as illustrated by Lamentations 1:8 and Ezekiel 16:37. One shows the shame of one’s own revealing of nakedness, and the other shows that God would reveal their nakedness as a punishment.
The human body is not meant to be put on display, whether in a movie, in a store at the mall, or by a woman who is nursing. A woman should seek to be modest. Jeremiah 3:3, Jeremiah 8:12, 1 Timothy 2:9, and 1 Peter 3:3-4. If the act of nursing is natural (and it is) and if some women would be comfortable open nursing and some would not (as is true), then what else would determine the right or wrong of open nursing than immodesty? Is it necessary for a woman to nurse without a covering or is it, again, as the issue of abortion, a convenience to the woman? And maybe in some cases, simply ignorance, a displayed badge of honor, or a rebellion against societal norms. It seems that everywhere we turn today we are confronted with another form of public nudity. This should not be. As with so many other of our behaviors, we should remember the words of the preacher in Proverbs 14:34.