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Our Culture and Breastfeeding

This past weekend at mass we went to a different church than we normally do. This one has a cry room, so I went into the cry room with our 10 week old Andrew and 2 year old Caleb and my husband sat in the main church with our oldest, Joshua. Andrew needed to eat as soon as we got there, so I pulled out my handy little Hooter Hider knock-off I made myself and nursed him through the first part of mass. Shortly after I started, a woman with an infant about the same age as Andrew came into the cry room. She sat right in front of us. I noticed she looked at me strangely, but I did not think much of it. Toward the end of mass, I saw her pop out a bottle and formula, mix it, and give it to the baby. Now, I really do not like formula. The older I get, the "crunchier" I get, I like all thing natural, especially for my children. I honestly get sad when I see a baby getting formula. I often wonder why; Is there a reason the mom cannot nurse her baby? Does the baby need supplementation?

After mass, this church had coffee and donuts in the church's hall. This lady came in with her baby and I started to talk to her. As one does with any person with a baby, a good conversation starter is "How old is your baby?" . . . we talked for a bit. Then, all of the sudden, she said "I nurse too, at home. I fed her before mass, but knew she would not make it through mass, so I gave her a bottle. I nurse her and give her formula." Now, I have no idea why this woman felt the need to share that. But, I immediately felt sorry for her and wished I had enough courage to challenge her and encourage her. This was obviously her first child and she was clearly nervous about breastfeeding in public. I remember when Joshua was a baby, I was terrified to nurse in public . . . I would shroud him and I with a huge blanket, and later, resorted to going into bathroom stalls when he got big enough to pull the blanket off (all of my children really do not like being covered while nursing). Now, with my third, I feel comfortable nursing pretty much anywhere. I am aware of other people being uncomfortable with it and will be discreet, but other's opinions do not scare me so much anymore.

I wanted to tell this woman, that it is OK to be nervous about breastfeeding in public, but that she can do it. There are great resources out there to figure it all out and that the more you do it, the easier it becomes. I wanted to tell her that it is the best thing for her baby and that I applaud her for keeping up with nursing at home. But, I did not . . . I did not say those things I wish I had.

You see, our culture seems to be so negative towards breastfeeding. Most photos of babies easting in mainstream TV shows, magazines, all show the baby eating out of a bottle. I was even reading an article in a Catholic magazine (that I know is pro-breastfeeding) about taking children to mass and the author stated that women who need to feed a baby should either bring a bottle, or if they nurse, sit in the back and completely cover yourself and the baby. I was appalled, I felt that even his pro-family publication was sending the message that breastfeeding a baby at mass is somehow discouraged. Or, at least if one has to, make sure you are out of the way and near no one else.

Our popular culture makes it hard for a woman to want to do the right thing by her child. Even formula cans say that breast milk is best, but yet . . . having a problem nursing, use formula . . . want to give up because it is too hard, use formula, worried about nursing in public, use formula . . .

I wish that it were easy for every woman. I wish that each woman had a friend help them through nursing for the first month like I did. I think I would have given up if it not were for her. I wish every woman would pick up the phone and call a lactation consultant when things got tough. Even this last time with Andrew . . . I remember praying one night as I was nursing him, "Lord, I wish I did not have to do this." But just then, I remembered why I nurse him. Within the next few days I asked friends what to do, called two different lactation consultants and stuck with it. And, you know what, it got better! I could not have done ti without the support I had from those friends and lactation consultants who rallied behind me, gave me suggestions, and the encouragement I needed to continue.

If I get the chance to meet that woman again, this time I will take the opportunity to be the encouragement she may need.


  1. Just came across your blog via the Real Learning blogroll. Welcome!

    There's nothing like "completely covering yourself and your baby" while nursing to advertise to the rest of the people around you that "Hey, folks, I'm nursing my baby here. Please be sure to look at me like I have seven heads!" :-)

    Like many new moms, I was really paranoid nursing my baby in public. I got over it with my second, and now with number seven, even nurse during Mass without hiding under a tent or sitting all the way in the back. :-)

  2. i couldn't agree more :) so nice to meet you today, and find a fellow crunchy, cloth diapering, breastfeeding catholic mama!


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