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I opened up a huge can of worms when I posted recently about breastfeeding in church. 

Originally on Facebook, we were just talking about weird atmospheres in some evangelical churches where some guys refuse to even look at women because they may be dangerous and the men want to stay pure. So the women are ignored and feel like they’re dangerous, which is a terrible feeling.

In the comments, several women told stories of the shame they felt when breastfeeding, which led to a rather amusing comment which I turned into a graphic:

Instagram Breastfeeding quote - Can We Talk Breastfeeding in Church?

Well, that led to a ton more comments!

This week we’re looking at how the message “all men struggle with lust; it’s every man’s battle” hurts both women and men.

We stared off with the podcast, where we talked about how most men don’t actually lust, but we’ve taught them they do because we’ve conflated lust and sexual attraction. And as we’ve been having this discussion here, I’ve also been talking about this on Facebook, and breastfeeding came up. I’d like to share some of their comments today

One thing I want to say first is that many women said that they had never had any issues with breastfeeding in church at all.

That would also have been my experience back in the 90s. I was at a downtown Toronto church, and I usually breastfed in the nursery, but sometimes I’d take the baby into the last pew in the church if I wanted to hear the sermon, because the nursery area tended to be quite loud with lots of conversation going on. But I can’t remember a single negative reaction by anyone.

So problems in church are not universal; many churches are great. And I hope we can get all in that category! I had many, many stories like this one: 

 

Both churches I’ve attended have been WONDERFUL about my breastfeeding my babies. I’ve received nothing but praise for keeping them in church and taking care of their needs. I’m a 2 shirt method breastfeeder, so you can’t see anything anyway, unless you were reeeeally trying. It also helps to have a supportive husband that would knock someone’s block off if they had something to say. He thinks it’s ridiculous that men gawking at breastfeeding women is the woman’s fault. You have eyelids and a neck, LOOK AWAY.

And some awesome men chimed in, too:

Yeah, this is not a thing. Normal adult men can handle being around breastfeeding.

Then there were stories like this which weren’t about breastfeeding per se, but about the general feel of the church when it came to lust:

I don’t feel comfortable breastfeeding in the sanctuary. I usually go to the church office or nursery. Some men in the congregation already look at me a little too closely.

Most stories, though, were of problems specifically with breastfeeding, in and of itself.

And as I talked about yesterday in my post on how churches can create a culture where lust is less common, normalizing something like breastfeeding I believe is a large part of that. Breasts are not just sexual. Normalizing that breasts could be used for feeding babies without causing men to lust I think is an important part in this journey.

So listen in to these stories, and share your own, and hopefully we can make these things less common!

“I was told breastfeeding in church would cause men to lust”

When my last child was born I intended to take her along to youth group, where I lead a small group study. I fully intended to feed her there, with no intention of using a cover as I believe that reinforces that this is an inappropriate act that will cause men/boys to lust. I go to a church that is unfortunately very conservative about these things. In anticipation of complaints either from leaders or parents, I talked to the youth minister about it. He said he understood where I was coming from but he has also known men that this is a big problem for in a bible study setting and we need to be loving towards those people. The conversation finished by him saying he trusted me to make wise choices and I said I would compromise by sitting off to the side of the group (in the same room) and not actually leading the study while breastfeeding.

It ended up not being an issue because my baby refused to eat in a place with all that noise!

Fast forward a couple of years and a friend disclosed that he had serious issues with women breastfeeding in his growth group so he stopped going. He talked to leader about this issue and the whole thing simultaneously saddened and maddened me. My friend felt uncomfortable not because in any way breastfeeding causes him to lust but because he is so afraid of the perception from the others in the group that he IS looking and lusting that he didn’t know what to do. When he spoke to that leader he was offered a lot of sympathy and they talked to the women and it was decided they would either cover or leave the room because they didn’t want to make him uncomfortable or have him not come. Other friends also reinforced this, saying it was entirely inappropriate for these mums to be feeding in front of men.

I said to the friend, “actually, no one thinks that you are being gross by simply being in the same room while someone feeds their baby. Those women clearly feel comfortable to feed in front of you and do not think you are checking them out or they wouldn’t do it. Breastfeeding is not a sexual act, you know that and they know that. Just continue to treat them like a person. Do not avoid them or avoid eye contact. Just be normal and before long, the whole situation will feel normal to you!”

He said, “Geez, why didn’t I speak to you 12 months ago about this, it would have saved me a lot of heartache.”

I still feed so sad about this. Someone who did not even grow up in the church has been seriously affected by this teaching and it’s heartbreaking to watch.

We went to a small church for a while where we had the only child. I would sit upstairs in the empty nursery with him and listen to the sermon on a speaker. He was 18mos and still nursing. So of course I would nurse him when he wanted it, uncovered bc we were alone in an empty nursery. He was wiggly and hated covers and I did away with them whenever I could.

The pastor pulled me aside and said I had to stop bc there was a camera in the nursery for safety, and it fed to the sound guy’s booth and he could see. I. Had to stop. Nursing my baby. In an empty nursery. Because the sound guy couldn’t look away. I have never been so simultaneously embarrassed, humiliated, and angry in my life.

Was told I would be a stumbling block to my brothers if I dared to nurse without a cover by several ladies. It’s funny, when I would nurse with a cover I had looks from others, nursing without a cover and no one has a clue what I’m doing.

I was nursing, with my skin completely covered, in the lobby area of the church. I was completely alone in there during the service. One of the men walked by, and I guess figured out what I was doing (even though a few of the older ladies in the church had also walked by at other times and came up and patted baby’s head thinking he was just sleeping until I TOLD them… so totally modest by any definition, right?) He COVERS HIS EYES WITH HIS HAND as he walks by. I asked his wife about it later, and she said that he does that to anyone that isn’t dressed modestly so that he’s not tempted. She said this like he was completely in the right, and I was doing something wrong! 

I’ve had worse said to me, but not at church… 4 babies and a combined total of 11+ years of breastfeeding and I’ve learned not to care one whit what others think of how I feed my children!

“I was relegated to a tiny/gross place while breastfeeding in church and was lonely and missed out.”

So many women expressed some form of this. Why am I showering and getting dressed to go to church, only to spend the whole time sitting alone in the nursery where I can’t even hear the service anyway?

I remember visiting a church and seeing signs up that breastfeeding was only allowed in the “designated area,” which was a cubby inside the women’s restroom. I was horrified. That’s enough to keep me from returning to that church.

I remember mother’s shutting themselves in a teeny tiny room in between the nurseries at church…. Apparently, even the nurseries weren’t safe for breast feeding. I still would never dare breastfeed in church despite attending a very welcoming church now. The horror still lingers.

We have a nursing mother’s room at our church where you can watch the service and nurse privately. I found myself feeling completely isolated, as I would usually have to be in there all throughout the service and then in bible study as well, since babies cry. I wish I had the courage just do it at least in bible study. It was a very lonely time.

I’m a pastor, married to a pastor in Canada. We were at a ministers conference in Atlanta, Georgia. My daughter was only a few months old and I put a blanket over me and started to nurse her. A moment later an usher came over and asked me if I’d be more comfortable in the nursing section. I went… it was a row of chairs in the back hall, all facing the wall. I went back to my seat and finished nursing there. At our home church, I’ve nursed in the front row!

I can’t say that at the time I felt shamed for feeding my baby, but I did feel like I was expected to leave the room or the service. I did leave (because that’s what the mothers before me had done or because I had been shown a “quiet room” upon entering someone’s home) and I hated it. I often would return home and wonder why I had even gone out in the first place. I know the friends and family whose homes I was in were trying to be kind and helpful and it was nice to know where I could go if I needed a quiet place. I also don’t think anyone in my church ever nursed their baby in the service before then. I only left the room with my first child. My next three were nursed anywhere I was and it was so freeing! And no one ever said a negative word to me. We’ve since moved away from that church, but I hope I did a little bit to help normalize discreet public breastfeeding there.

Several people from our church went to a local event. One male acquaintance got really awkward when I started trying to nurse, and my husband helped me get situated. I was standing and had a nursing scarf, so actually covered that time and not even my baby was visible. He asked if I’d go nurse in his car in June or July in Texas.

“I was told it was inappropriate/gross to breastfeed.”

I’ve been told to bring a bottle for my exclusively breastfed two week old when we start going to church again, because even if I get up to go to the nursery, it will be obvious what I’m going to do. Kind of makes me not eager to get back to church.

Not at church, but my Dad(not a believer) came to my home 4 weeks after my oldest was born. Out of respect, in july, I used a blanket to cover while I fed. My dad says to his wife(my stepmom), “I used to make fun of women at church for doing that.” I asked him to repeat, thinking I must have not understood. He repeated, aghast that I could be feeding my child in front of him. Under a blanket. My newborn. For crying out loud. That put some strain on our relationship.

I was told that I shouldn’t breastfeed in church because people knew what I was doing under there. I responded that I’d been doing it for months and no one had ever even noticed. I was also told I should go to the nursery to nurse and I refused. I rarely got out of the house and if I’d showered and gotten real clothes on me and my baby and got to church, I wasn’t about to go sit in the nursery and miss out on the service because it might make someone uncomfortable.

I was also told that I should cover up because it was more discreet. God created my body to breastfeed and there’s nothing indecent about it. Our youth pastor used to make jokes about it when my baby was first born because he was obviously uncomfortable. The more I nursed my baby around him and others in our friend group, the more everyone got used to it and it wasn’t a big deal anymore. This is why nursing in public is important!! The more we normalize it, the less people will think it’s gross or weird.

I did have a family member get noticeably worried when I was discreetly nursing with the two shirt method while visiting a different relative’s church. She kind of gasped and “helped” me pull my shirt down when she thought it was too high (it wasn’t). She is 100% pro breastfeeding but said to me I should probably use a cover since older people there wouldn’t like me not using one in church. I doubt anyone at all noticed and her “helping” probably drew more attention. But I knew if I didn’t nurse in a congregation, I might as well not even attend one at all. My babies had tummy issues that made them very fussy and they didn’t handle nurseries well so I just determined to nurse wherever I was or else I could get super isolated which would be terrible while also fighting postpartum depression in the first place.

I was asked to nurse my babe elsewhere as someone had complained – they “knew what was going on under there” and that was “upsetting”. It was also suggested to all of us young mothers that we should plan our nursing sessions better, to not interfere with attending services.

OH MY GOODNESS, yes, I do. I was feeding with a cover on in the lobby while listening to the sermon. Two ushers were standing about 30 feet away. Later, the pastor’s wife pulled me aside and said that she had been told I was nursing in public. She chided me for nursing in public and asked me to resort to the germ-filled nursery (this church didn’t believe in sanitizer), because sitting on a bench and feeding my baby was not appropriate and made some “certain men” uncomfortable. I was completely shocked and angry and embarrassed. And I “obeyed” because it was a patriarchal church. *eyeroll*

So on the whole–I think it’s getting better than it was. Most people who had had trouble had had it because people were uncomfortable. The more we make breastfeeding normal, the more that comfort level is likely to rise. And I think that’s a good thing!


We’re doing our first Facebook Live in our Book Ambassador Facebook Group tonight!

One quick announcement: Our new book The Great Sex Rescue launches March 2, and if you want to be part of our book ambassador team, it all gets started tonight!

To be a book ambassador, all you have to do is:

  1. Preorder the book and send us in your receipt (all the information is here!) and you’ll get an invite to the Facebook group
  2. Agree to write a heart-felt review on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever

That’s it! You don’t have to have your own blog or anything. And then:

  •  You get access to the book right away (you don’t have to wait until March 2).
  • You get Facebook lives where you can ask us questions (tonight we’re talking about that scorecard you got as a pre-order bonus!)
  • You get a chance to win some great prizes

(And even if you’re not on Facebook, you can still be part and get the book early!)

So if you haven’t pre-ordered yet, don’t miss the fun!

The Great Sex Rescue

Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.

Great Sex Rescue Cover - Can We Talk Breastfeeding in Church?

What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the things that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these messages?

Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.

Breastfeeding in Church - Can We Talk Breastfeeding in Church?

What was your experience? How can we make this more positive for everyone? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila has been married to Keith for 28 years, and happily married for 25! (It took a while to adjust). She’s also an award-winning author of 8 books, including The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila is passionate about changing the evangelical conversation about sex and marriage to line up with kingdom principles. ENTJ, straight 8

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