Breastfeeding and the Christian mother

Posted on October 29, 2011 by

Many Christian women struggle with how to feed their infants in the context of a modern society that deems the breast a solely sexual object, even within the setting of the church. But it is worth noting that the Bible speaks of the infant at the breast, not being poured milk from a gourd. Thus, the model for nurturing life begins with the breast and with breastfeeding. It does not mean the Christian mother must be left adrift if need demands formula feeding, only that the default and norm should be for breastfeeding.

In fact, among female-specific activities, the Bible returns again and again to breastfeeding as an intimate expression of love and relation that is not sexual.

From a Christian midwife’s site, which covers this context thoroughly:

Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse? [Job 3:12, New King James Version]

If only you were to me like a brother, who was nursed at my mother’s breasts! Then, if I found you outside, I would kiss you, and no one would despise me. [Song of Solomon 8:1, NIV]

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” [Isaiah 49:15, NIV]

And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” [Luke 11:27, NKJV]

“because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below, blessings of the breast and womb.” [Genesis 49:25, NIV]

“Give them, O LORD– what will you give them? Give them wombs that miscarry and breasts that are dry.” [Hosea 9:14, NIV]

My son, have pity on me. Remember that I carried you in my womb for nine months and nursed you for three years. I have taken care of you and looked after all your needs up to the present day. [2 Maccabees 7:27, Today’s English Version. Emphasis mine.]

In Isaiah 66:10-12, the city of Jerusalem is pictured as though she is a nursing mother to her inhabitants. Here is the passage, quoting once again from the NASB.

10 “Be joyful with Jerusalem and rejoice for her, all you who love her; Be exceedingly glad with her, all you who mourn over her,

11 That you may nurse and be satisfied with her comforting breasts, That you may suck and be delighted with her bountiful bosom.”

12 For thus says the LORD, “Behold, I extend peace to her like a river, And the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; And you will be nursed, you will be carried on the hip and fondled on the knees.

Another example of breastfeeding imagery used metaphorically is Isaiah 60:16.

You will also suck the milk of nations And suck the breast of kings; Then you will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior And your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. [NASB]

These words occur in the context of prophetic statements concerning Jerusalem. In chapter 60, Isaiah prophesied that a day would come when the city of Jerusalem and its Temple would be rebuilt by foreigners, that “the wealth of the nations” will brought into Jerusalem, “with their kings led in procession” (verse 11). In verse 16, this idea of the wealth of nations and their kings being brought to Jerusalem is expressed figuratively, with the metaphor “you will suck the milk of nations and the breast of kings you will suck.”

In the New Testament, in 1 Thessalonians 2:7, the apostle Paul uses the image of a nursing mother as a simile for the care that he and his apostolic companions had for the Thessalonians.

But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. [1 Thessalonians 2:7 NASB]

So where, given these Biblical underpinnings, does this leave the modern Christian mother?  It leaves her needing to have support within the community of Christians for breastfeeding her infants, not just for a few months, but really through the first toddler years of life.  In this respect, modern Christianity has taken on much of the world’s notions by demeaning breastfeeding, especially breastfeeding after six months or so.  This is problematic because Christians often fall into the trap of avoiding ‘natural’ processes because non-Christians worship at the altar of Rosseau and noble savagery.  We remain children of God, formed by His hands for His purposes.  We are not so clever that substitutes for breastfeeding can truly replace what God designed as the initial food for an infant.  However, we do live in a world impacted by sin, and many modern bodies, including those of many modern Christian women, have dysfunction in the form of micronutrient deficiences, immune disorders, obesity, and the like that affect their ability to breastfeed properly.

We also live in a world that lacks community bonds and children in the public sphere.  A public sphere where the average family has 1-2 children and very rarely any more looks very different from one that has many families with 3-4 children and occasionally 5-6 children.  The opportunities to observe infants and care for them informally are fewer and further between, destroying the chance to pass on traditional and cultural information about breastfeeding and infant care.  Christian women are in the same bind as their non-Christian peers, as many Christian women carry over viewpoints from the secular world that lead to a vague uneasiness about being fruitful through childbirth and rearing.

As a result, Christian women who do breastfeed often find themselves mostly getting support, encouragement and information from secular, often overtly anti-Christian sources because so many Christians refuse to accept the multifunctional wonder of the female breast as part of God’s creation and design.  These secular sources often place the mother-child dyad above the husband-wife relationship in their encouragement of breastfeeding and this is obviously a problem for a Christian marriage.  Re-norming breastfeeding in Christian churches and households, and seeking again community of place rather than the modern paper-thin community of affinity are just two small ways that the work can begin of encouraging a healthy, Christ-centered understanding of breastfeeding and the mother-child breastfeeding relationship without compromising one’s marriage or husband-wife relationship.

Posted in: Homemaking