Dads for Breastfeeding

Earlier this week, Pope Francis made news when he declared that women should breastfeed their children in church. (see: Pope promotes breastfeeding in church) Apparently this set off a variety of responses supporting and condemning his suggestion. I have been blessed to be a father six times over the last 18 years and my amazing wife has breastfed all of our children. While I’m not a lactation expert or anything like that I’m certainly thankful that my wife chose this for our children. Studies have shown the benefits of breastfeeding (to both child and mother) and I’ve also observed first-hand the indelible bond my wife has formed with each child. A nursing baby is truly one of the most beautiful acts to witness in all of nature. The look of both mother and child as they gaze into each other’s eyes is priceless. There’s nothing more pure and innocent in this world. It’s truly one of the few things my wife does with/for our children that I cannot even begin to replicate in my role as stay at home dad. I can feed our 7 month old baby girl the breast milk my wife lovingly expressed for her but it’s not even close to the same as when she’s with mommy. And I’m 100% okay with that. That’s the way it should be.

And, there is nothing remotely wrong or weird about it.  With all of that being said, I’m glad that the Pope took the opportunity to publicly address the “issue” of breastfeeding in public places like church. I guess I don’t understand why it’s a big deal. With our first child, born back when we were much younger (23), my wife would retreat to the cry room at church to nurse our daughter. After a few times doing that she began to wonder why that was necessary and decided to nurse right in the sanctuary, only covering with our child’s blanket. Unless you knew what was happening you’d never be able to tell what she was doing. There was, simply, nothing inappropriate about doing that in church. Over the 18+ years of having kids my wife has nursed in the sanctuary at many churches and it’s never been a problem. Sometimes, if the baby is being a particularly noisy or active eater, she has opted to go to the quiet room but only as circumstances dictate. If there’s any place on earth that should be receptive to naturally meeting the needs of children I would think that it would be a church. I have yet to observe a time that a baby nursing has been “sexy” or “inappropriate”.

We recently returned from a trip to El Salvador with our baby. She nursed multiple times each day, including while visiting Mayan ruins and during the wedding ceremony and reception dinner/dance.

Our baby nursing at Mayan ruins in El Salvador.

Our baby nursing at Mayan ruins in El Salvador.

And not one single person cared or objected, if they even noticed at all. We had been told ahead of time that women in El Salvador don’t cover up when nursing. For one thing, it’s so hot that it might be uncomfortable for mother and child. But, I believe, the bigger issue is that Americans are so hung up on their own perversions. We’ve managed to sexualize the human body so that even something as beautiful as a breastfeeding mother is somehow inappropriate. In case you didn’t realize it, women were created with breasts to feed their young. I’ve been to the zoo with my children many times and have seen animal mothers nursing their young and not a single zoo patron complained. Same goes for field trips to a dairy farm. Yet, if a mother wants to nurse her baby in public she better go somewhere out of sight or cover up or feel the wrath. I just don’t get it.

As a dad of children ranging in age from 7 months to 18 years old, I’m glad that my kids have all seen their siblings nurse. Even though some of the older ones think it’s “gross” or “weird”, it’s my hope that by the time they become parents they will understand how natural and beautiful it truly is for both mother and child. Every time they make a negative or disparaging comment about nursing I immediately refute it, reminding them that each of them also used to nurse once-upon-a-time. I have to admit that I’ve grown so used to my wife nursing that I don’t usually bat an eye when I’m out in public with my kids and another mom sits down on a bench and starts nursing her baby. The only time that I was caught off guard was a few years ago while at a local park with two of my kids and our dog. We met a lady wearing her sleeping baby while playing fetch with her dog (multi-tasking mama!). While our dogs were playing and we were chatting the baby woke up and the lady lifted her shirt and started feeding her baby. The contented cooing that ensued was music to her ears. What impressed me was how natural it was for her to do that without feeling ashamed or embarrassed by my presence. We continued our conversation as if nothing was wrong. Which was the case. It would be wonderful if we, as dads and moms, could pass along to our children, who could then pass along to their children (and so on) that breastfeeding is a good thing, to be cherished and celebrated. It’s not awkward or weird. Moms should feel free to feed their babies wherever they are: church, park, mall, movie theater, restaurant, pool, school events and anywhere else. As dads, we should do everything in our power to support and encourage mothers who are breastfeeding. We should also encourage a positive view of breastfeeding among our children and other adults.