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Breast-feeding on rise; still an issue in churchcomment (0)

February 6, 2014

By Carrie Brown McWhorter

Jesus was breast-fed.

It’s a point often made by mothers who want to breast-feed in church but know others would prefer that they retreat to the nursery or find an out-of-the-way bench. Another point they make: Breast-feeding is part of God’s plan — so of all places, why not in church?

“Breasts were made to feed a baby,” said Misti Ryan, a devout Christian lactation consultant in Texas whose business has a cross in its logo.

A mother can breast-feed modestly and should be allowed to nurse in church if she wants to, said Ryan, who has nursed five children in her Baptist congregation. “The church needs to go there.”

Pope Francis did go there recently, when he encouraged mothers participating in an annual infant baptism ceremony in the Sistine Chapel to nurse their babies. Breast-feeding advocates delighted in the pope’s acceptance of breast-feeding as a natural act appropriate in a sacred place. 

Still many Americans, both nursing moms and their fellow congregants, are hesitant about breast-feeding in the pews, even as more and more American mothers are choosing to breast-feed. According to the Center for Disease Control, 77 percent of babies nationwide and 57 percent of babies in Alabama are nursed for at least some part of their infancy. About half of those babies in Alabama are still nursing at six months.

For moms who want to breast-feed their children and attend church, those months often bring a lot of awkward moments. The sight of a woman breast-feeding in church can still raise eyebrows and draw disapproval, but it shouldn’t, said Cheryl Adams, a registered nurse and lactation services coordinator at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika.

“As a society and culture, we still need to normalize breast-feeding as God’s design for us to feed our babies and church is a great place to do that,” she said. 

For many mothers of infants, church may be the only time they get out. They should not be relegated to a closet or have to leave simply because it is time to nurse. Moms want to be discreet, and they want to feel like the church supports their efforts to worship and nurture their babies at the same time, Adams said.

While no one wants to be seen as the one who denied food to a baby or denied its mother the opportunity to hear the Word of God, churches are often less than accommodating when it comes to nursing-friendly facilities. Usually moms are left to figure out what to do on their own.

Some choose to breast-feed during worship using a cover. Some go to the nursery or a restroom equipped with a chair. Others just find a private place, and many choose not to go to church at all. 

“This issue actually keeps me from going to church sometimes,” wrote one mom on Facebook.  “I can’t hear the preacher because our nursery is not equipped with audio. I feel like I miss the whole sermon, so what’s the point in even going? … Sometimes it just makes more sense to stay home and not stress about it.”

Another wrote, “My church … has a place in a corner of the nursery, but it is not well set up and the service is not on, even though there is a television. I am much too shy and modest to nurse in church, and I am not good at covering up and not making it obvious.”

Glenni Lorick, an international board certified lactation consultant and owner of A Nurturing Moment, a maternity and breastfeeding boutique in Huntsville, said that first-time moms are often the most shy about breast-feeding in church. These new moms also are the ones who need the most support and encouragement from a church family. 

“The scriptural principle of thinking of others before yourself applies all the way around in this situation,” Lorick said. “The nursing mother isn’t trying to prove a point or offend anyone. She’s parenting her child in the way God intended her to parent her child.”

“For the rest of the congregation, if anyone even knows what’s going on, it’s about supporting and encouraging a mom who has made a wise choice for her child.”

Moms of babies, whether nursing or not, want to feel like they are a part of the church, wrote one mother on Facebook, and several had suggestions for ways churches could help mothers with infants transition back to church.

The most common suggestions moms gave for their ideal nursing area included audio or video feeds of the worship service, dimmable lights and comfortable furnishings. But all agreed that a private area near the sanctuary with a rocking chair could help them feel more at ease bringing their babies to church.

Lorick said that in her experience, most breast-feeding moms, especially Christian women, want to be modest and respectful of others. As with all things, however, attitude makes a big difference.

“For moms who need to breast-feed at church, having a gentle, Christ-like spirit really does make a difference,” she said. “Ninety percent of the time, others don’t even know what you’re doing, but when they do, we want to make those around us feel comfortable with our choice.”

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