Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Breastfeeding Salvation

An interesting discussion has been going on at a new blog I've been reading. The blog is distinctly Catholic, and has many voices. Very interesting stuff. But I've been following this story, barely managing to bite my tongue. And, before I bite the darn thing off and can't speak at all, I'm going to put my two cents in.



I was looking at a magazine in the doctor's office for "natural motherhood" and they had a picture with a caption to the effect, "Isn't this just the sweetest darn thing you've ever seen!" under a photo of a child, maybe 8 months who had his or her (hard to tell) mouth clasped tightly on mother's breast and had pulled the whole breast straight out what looked like about a foot and was watching something in the distance. Mother's breast was fully exposed and I do mean FULLY! It's folks like that who give breastfeeding a bad name. Be discrete. If you have a baby who wants to use your breast as a movable pacifier, then perhaps you ought not to breast feed in public.

I'm sure most of you can guess what I'm going to say, but I'm going to say it anyway. LOOK ELSEWHERE! AVERT YOUR EYES IF IT BOTHERS YOU! Better yet, don't let it bother you! My goodness, my baby has just learned that there is a whole world outside of my face and sometimes she's going to want to look at it. That does not mean, however, that she has any plans of letting go of my breast to do it. Since God created this form of feeding my baby, and created my baby, I don't see the problem. Of course I'm the woman who will breastfeed in the middle of mass, in the front pew, in front of the Priest. I figure if God thought it was indecent, he'd have made milk come out of my finger instead. No one has given me any lip about it, but I have plenty of ready quips if they do.

I realize there are problems with our culture. But, as a reader said before, the idea that the breast has a sexual function might not be totally off base (even though, of course, commercial exploitation of that function is wrong). And, at any rate, we can't simply wish our dysfunctional culture away. Finally, the issue isn't only - or even primarily - what a woman is ultimately "trying" to do, but what the effects are (whether or not they would be so in an ideal culture) of the way in which she's trying to do so.

I wholeheartedly disagree. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a believer in modesty. There is a limit however. When what I am "trying to do" is feed my baby (!) then I think other people have to take responsiblity for what they take away from it. I'm sure that there are some people out there who get all turned on by breastfeeding, or turned off for that matter, but they are not my concern. Filling my baby's empty belly is what I am called BY GOD to be concerned about. I cannot be expected to refrain from feeding my child in the way God intended because some people have their knickers in a knot about it. When do we get to hold them responsible for their own thinking?

I appreciate the feedback. My response is, first, that babies aren't "newborns" who need to get the hang of nursing forever (or even, as far as I know, for very long), and that I'm pretty sure I've seen babies contentedly feeding under a blanket after 4-5 months. However, I could be wrong, and not all babies are the same. And if there is clothing that serves to cover the breast while nursing, that's fine.

I have a couple of things here: First of all, why do I have to put a blanket over my baby IN THE MIDDLE OF SUMMER? Second, what baby wants some dumb blanket blocking their view of the world? Third, if adults don't eat under blankets, neither should my baby! So there!

Eventually the whole breastfeeding discussion led to the question of salvation, and whether or not a mother has a duty to breastfeed if she is able. I have a couple of thoughts on that, but I'll quote first:

Rev.William Virtue, a moral theologian at the JPII Institute in DC has argued--effectively in my opinion--that the mother has a moral imperative to nurse if she is physically able. Catholic moral teaching states that parents have no rights over the child except to work for the good of the child. If "breast is best" then the child has the God-given right to the best nourishment available, and to withold that food simply as a matter of convenience is a grave offence against the child's rights.

Furthermore, because nursing is an act that allows the mother to use her body for the sacred work for which it was ordained, it most certainly can be salvific. For the baby; because nursing enhances attachment, which is essential for the formation of a moral conscience. For the mother; because she can identify in a personal way with Christ, who feeds us with his body. Nursing is more than a parenting fashion. It is a moral imperative and a spiritual act which joins the baby and the mother in a loving union which serves as the foundation of morality itself.

Well, this is interesting, to say the least. I would submit that we are assured of Salvation by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. And that we Catholics join with Christ through the Sacrements and the church. We are not saved by breastfeeding, nor are we condemned by it. I do think he brings up some good points though.

Ultimately breast milk IS the best for baby and we should be expecting mothers to do that, seeing bottle feeding as an acceptable alternative when mom literally can't breastfeed. But in order for this to change, we must change our perceptions and encourage our mothers to breastfeed. We have to change our cultural expectations, so that moms have the support and education that they need. Maybe more mothers will want to breastfeed when they read about how wonderful it is to find a picture like that in a magazine, as opposed to how offensive people find it!

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