Let me clarify first . . . I am a pro-breastfeeding Mother. I believe breastfeeding is the healthiest choice for our babies (and that is has benefits for the Mother). I believe that this was one of the main purposes why God gave women breasts, and I celebrate breastfeeding as His perfect plan and one of the “glory”s He has given to womanhood . . . My own breastfed baby is over 8 months old now, and is has been a beautiful journey, that has come with many challenges.
Breastfeeding should be celebrated, normalized and encouraged in our culture. I am not against normalizing breastfeeding . . . But I am concerned with the movement called “normalize breastfeeding”.
There are Two Extreme Approaches to Breastfeeding:
When it comes to breastfeeding, I’ve noticed that there are two types of extremists.
The first extremists are the people who frown upon breastfeeding, or are disgusted by it. These people believe that breasts are only meant to be sexual, and any kind of breastfeeding in public (modest or not), is gross and indecent. They do not embrace the way God created breasts to nourish our babies, and believe that we have “evolved” since then to replace this animal-like behavior with formula (and I am NOT shaming Mothers who choose to give their babies formula, but talking about the people who believe formula should be “the only option”.)
Up until recently, many people have thought about breastfeeding in a similar way, and many Mothers have been shamed and criticized for breastfeeding their babies, instead of encouraged. My own Mother once told the story of a woman who wasn’t shy at all to show her disgust when my Mother was breastfeeding my brother, because she thought breastfeeding itself was disgusting. There are some people today who still think like this. But now we have uncovered more science proving why breastfeeding really is the healthiest choice. Today, breastfeeding is becoming more common and more accepted as Mothers are being educated on the benefits, and it is becoming more unacceptable to “shame” breastfeeding. I support this.
But now we come to the other “extreme.” . . .
There are some people who believe that the “only” purpose of breasts are for breastfeeding. While this is one of the main purposes, and it is the most important; it is not the “only” purpose. Many people believe that breasts should not be sexualized at all, but that’s where they’re wrong. Even the Bible depicts breasts in a sexual context when Proverbs 5:18-19 says “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.” Breasts are part of a woman’s “sexuality”. They are something to be celebrated within the covenant of marriage between a husband and wife. And just as anything that is sexual should be private, saved, and covered for our husbands, so should breasts. And just as any revealed sexual body part of a woman can be a stumbling block for other men, so can a woman’s breasts.
Before you tell me about all the other cultures where women go around topless, because over there, breasts “are not” sexual, I realize that. And I don’t shame those women in places like Guatemala. It is not offensive for women to be topless in countries where breasts are not considered sexual, so those women are not being disrespectful in their culture. But they are still missing out on one of the God-given purposes of breasts. They have taken something that can be intimate and private and celebrated in marriage, and made it “normal”. They are simply missing out.
But that is how some people want our culture to be like.
What They’re Really “Normalizing”:
If you look up the hashtag #normalizebreastfeeding you will see many revealing and nearly topless pictures of breasts online, simply because there is baby in front of them. These are examples of women who have taken the movement “normalize breastfeeding” too far, and are using their revealing pictures to make a point, or to draw attention. That’s because these women aren’t just trying to “normalize breastfeeding.” For the most part, breastfeeding is already accepted as “normal” today . . . What they’re trying to “normalize” now are “breasts.”
The fact is, you don’t have to “normalize” breasts in order to “normalize breastfeeding.” A Mother can still feed and nourish her baby while honoring her husband and respecting those around her by not fully exposing herself. I’ll explain some ways that don’t involve just using a “cover”.
*She can throw a receiving blanket over the rest of her breast if she has to pull down, but she doesn’t want to cover her baby’s face. All the baby needs to access is the nipple.
*She can sit facing a corner in a room where she is not throwing her breasts in people’s faces if she does not have anything to cover with.
*She can pull up instead of pulling down if she is wearing a shirt.
*She can find a private area if her baby is too distracted to nurse calmly and keeps coming off, so that she is not constantly flashing people.
She can do all this while still being able to feed her baby. She can be respectful and be a good Mom at the same time. It’s not actually necessary for her to take her entire shirt off, or pull the entire breast out, or post topless pictures of herself on Instagram. Mind blowing, isn’t it? All it takes is just “a little” effort if she wants to consider others. But any time people dare suggest these small efforts in order to consider others, they are often scolded for “shaming Mothers” or not “understanding” how hard it is for some breastfeeding Mothers.
Let me tell you something, I am a breastfeeding Mother, and I know how hard it can be. I love my baby boy’s personality, but it has made breastfeeding difficult. I don’t have one of those calm babies that sits patiently and calmly to nurse wherever I want. If I try to use the cover, he yanks on it, and I have to try to stop him to hold it in place, while holding him in position at the same time, which is very difficult. I’ve seen some breastfeeding Mothers be able to pull up (such as the woman in the picture) in public and still breastfeed very modestly, and that is wonderful for them. But because my baby wants to constantly look around at his surroundings and easily get distracted, it would be very difficult for me to pull up in public without flashing people. So many times, I’ve had to go find a quiet and private place to feed him.
There are many people who would tell me that I need to take advantage of my freedom and just nurse him however I want to in public, because it is my right. But I realize as a Christian, that not everything evolves around “me”, and I am not called to do everything for my “own” benefit. I have to put my baby before myself. But I also am called to honor my husband and consider others before myself. I choose not to expose my entire breasts, because I know that my breasts are also something to be reserved for my husband’s eyes, and not every man should be able to see them. I choose not to expose my entire breasts, because I don’t want to dishonor another wife by flashing her husband, for the same reason I wouldn’t want her to flash mine. I want to treat others the way I’d have them treat me.
As a breastfeeding Mother, I can appreciate the beauty of those breastfeeding pictures on Instagram. And sometimes I will breastfeed openly in front of other breastfeeding Mothers such as myself. But I still believe the very revealing breastfeeding pictures should not have been made public. And I do not believe it is honorable or decent for women to expose their breasts in front of men who are not their husbands.
Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should:
Some people say that if this is a modesty issue, we need to change the way men view uncovered breastfeeding, because breastfeeding is natural and not sexual. Yes, breastfeeding is natural, but an uncovered breast is still a breast, even if you stick a baby in front of it. Ladies, it isn’t fair to keep telling men how to think. You’re not a man. You are not wired like a man. You don’t think like a man. So if you keep telling a man the way he should think, it will probably mean nothing to him. What if, instead of trying to “change” men, we do our part by trying to be our brother’s keeper, by putting forth a little effort to be modest, and not make it as hard on men as we possibly can by throwing our “freedom” in their faces?
I’m not saying a woman should never breastfeed while other men are around. But she shouldn’t try to be as revealing as she possibly can be while other men are around. There is a place where we can meet in the middle. If a man sees a woman who is breastfeeding in public, while trying her best to be respectful, modest and decent, but he is still offended by it . . . that is his problem. But if a woman pulls her entire breast out in front of him, and expects him to not be offended by it . . . she is the problem.
There is a “Happy Medium” we can all find:
This is why instead of having the two extremes, there needs to be a balanced approach to breastfeeding. We need to celebrate both the purposes of breasts. When we say that breasts are only sexual, we degrade one of their high purposes. But when we say that breasts are only for breastfeeding, we degrade one of their other purposes for marriage.
This is why maybe, just maybe . . . some people who get offended when they see a breastfeeding Mother aren’t offended because she is breastfeeding . . . but are offended because she has no decency when she breastfeeds. Maybe they’re not even thinking “Eww, she’s breastfeeding. That’s gross!” Maybe they’re thinking “She doesn’t have to show her entire breast, does she have any respect?”
Let’s Respect Each Other:
Yes, we need to respect breastfeeding mothers for feeding their babies and celebrate breastfeeding. It should be normal. But breastfeeding Mothers can be respectful too. “Both” parties can be respectful. This is really what it all comesdown to . . . honor and respect. Don’t yank your entire breast out for the world to see. Don’t post topless pictures of yourself on Instagram. Breastfeeding Mothers, it’s time to start calling ourselves to a higher standard.
– Meadow Hall
Just commenting here to show more appreciation for your writing! Love how you say “Both parties need to respect each other.” I’m normally around the people who promote making women being ashamed of breastfeeding so I can sometimes be on the extreme of really just wanting it to be more accepted. Yet, I do agree that hashtag movement is bordering dangerous territories. Great article!
And I just listened to the podcast you did with Serene and Pearl on body image. And wow that was so good and encouraging!
Thank you, Keturah! You have always been so supportive! 😀
I breastfed seven out of my nine children, I was blessed to be able to with modest.
I enjoyed your post, you hit it all right on.
Breastfeeding with pride, and modesty.
Wow Meadow – thank you for sharing this!! I have thought this for a long time now. Very well said!
Meadow, this is BEAUTIFUL! So well written, and completely Biblical and classy. I say a huge THANKS for being willing to tackle hot-button issues like this with such grace and strength. Your episodes on your mother and grandmothers podcasts have been my favorites, and I would love to hear more from you!
Well this is refreshing! I love the part where you write about meeting in the middle; so often the world puts all the onus on the men, and some Christians put all the onus on the woman–but it seems so right and so good if we can all work together, and help one another!
I was interested in the part where you suggest that breasts have two purposes: one in marriage, and one in mothering. It interests me how God made many women, unlike most other mammals, to have relatively large breasts all the time, and not just when breastfeeding, such that they are noticeable even when modestly covered. Could breasts also have been made for the sake of more public beauty, too? Or should they be very covered like with a Mennonite-style cape dress? I have no idea. Myself I tend to just wear ‘normal’ clothes.