articles / Faith / Family life

Breastfeeding, modesty, and causing others to “stumble”

Oy Vey! I’m once again seeing posts and opinions about breastfeeding. I written before about the “distraction” of breastfeeding, so if you missed it, you can check it out here.

Here’s the thing, when a person is complaining about a woman breastfeeding in public they will say that it is either inappropriate, immodest, and may cause another person to stumble (which the Bible says we’re not supposed to do right?).

So my first question would have to be, how is breastfeeding in public inappropriate? Women bottle feed in public. Men, women, and children scarf down Big Macs in public. Babies snuggle their mother’s breast while being cradled in public. What is the difference in any of those scenarios and a woman breastfeeding? I actually read an article recently that said we should stop calling it “breast”feeding and just call it what it is, feeding a baby. I totally agree.

Next one…immodesty. This is one of the “popular” reasons why women shouldn’t breastfeed in public. Modesty is totally an issue because we’ve all seen woman after woman sitting in Arby’s with her shirt off with exposed breasts feeding her baby. No? Then you’ve probably seen some woman with her tank top pulled down, whole breast and nipple exposed while feeding her baby. No? I can say that I have NEVER seen a woman just “flop it out” and breastfeed without one tad bit of discretion. So if you haven’t seen these immodesty women and I haven’t seen them, then where are they? Maybe, just maybe “those” women are the same “they” people we refer to. You know the ones, “You know they say,” or “they advise”. Maybe those women don’t really exist or they are at least not the majority. The majority of women out there try to cover themselves in one way or another. Some women prefer to have those cute nursing covers that you drape over your head and it covers most of your body. I’m not a fan of those because I think it draws more attention than anything else. It’s like wearing a beacon that says, “Look at me I’m breastfeeding!” Not to mention it is very hot for mom and baby. Some women use their hand to cover their breast while breastfeeding. I’ve done this while camping or at the beach, just because most women are still exposing more breast than I am. I was always covering the “important parts” and able to be modest and all the while be comfortable. The rest of the time I use part of my shirt (I always layer my shirts when I might need to nurse in public to maximize modesty) or take a burp cloth and cover the exposed parts.

The final complaint…causing someone to stumble. Before I can continue I have to say, “Really? This is an argument?”

“Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” Romans 14:13

This is the verse everyone is quoting  to say that breastfeeding could cause someone to stumble. Here’s my question: Stumble how? First of all, let’s look at the context of this verse. If you back up to the beginning of chapter 14, Paul says that we should not dispute those who are weak in faith. He says that even though we may believe that it is OK to eat meat, we should not debate with someone who believes in only eating vegetables. He says that we will each stand before God at judgement. So the “judging” that Paul is referring to is the judgment of one Christian to another about the convictions we feel. Convictions such as only eating meat, wearing dresses, not getting tattoos, etc…things that aren’t explicitly discussed in the Bible. Paul says we are to resolve those issues so we don’t cause others to stumble. Some people have no conviction about the types of television they watch, some people’s convictions vary. Some people feel very strong convictions about watching Harry Potter or other shows that convey witchcraft. If I invite someone into my home and play those movies/shows anyway, despite my knowing their conviction, then I am causing them to stumble because I am debating the legitimacy of their conviction and I am passing judgement on how they feel. While they are in my home, I should avoid those types of movies out of respect for their convictions and avoid being a stumbling block.

In what way could my breastfeeding be a stumbling block to someone else? If modesty were the issue I could understand, but as I just said, modesty is not actually an issue people just think it is an issue with all those women running around without shirts on breastfeeding. As a matter of fact, I could turn that around and say by someone trying to stop me from breastfeeding, they could be a stumbling block for me. How? The Bible says that I am supposed to take care of my children. The Bible also says I’m supposed to be a good steward of my money. For my family, me breastfeeding is the way that God has shown me He wants me to take care of my children and be a good steward of my money (by avoiding the cost of formula). By  making me feel like I can’t feed my baby in public I am less likely to continue breastfeeding or succumb to the easy thing and buy formula for when I go out which will lead to me having a decreased supply and possibly leading to me stopping breastfeeding altogether. Statistics show that if a woman is made to feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding her baby or isn’t supported in her goal to feed her baby she will stop.  It only takes one time for a self-conscious mom to be ridiculed for breastfeeding for her to stop. That is a stumbling block. If a woman feels that breastfeeding her baby is the best thing for her baby and you play a part in changing  her mind, you are a stumbling block.

No I do not believe that women should run around topless and breastfeed, but I also do not believe that breastfeeding in public is an issue of modesty or a stumbling block. If people were really worried about modesty, they’d be standing outside of Wal-Mart stopping every teenager and woman that walked in showing cleavage. Many women who are covered get ridiculed for breastfeeding in public — I’ve heard women’s testimonies to that fact. Breastfeeding, due to our overly sexualized culture, is a source of discomfort for many people, including Christians.  For many people, the thought that you are breastfeeding your child is enough to make them uncomfortable. That is not the woman’s fault. A woman should not have to stop breastfeeding or face ridicule because it makes someone uncomfortable. Someone else being uncomfortable does not mean that the woman is doing something wrong or that it is sinful or that it is a stumbling block. (If you read my post about distractions then this isn’t a new concept for you).

Instead of focusing on the fact that a woman is breastfeeding, if you are one of those that loudly fights against breastfeeding in public maybe you should pray and see what your true motives are. Why does it make you uncomfortable? Is modesty really your issue? Or are you feeling a slight bit of jealousy or guilt because you/or your wife didn’t breastfeed? Is sexuality something that you struggle with so much that the thought of breasts causes you to stumble? Pray it out.

Remember, 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you are also doing.” (NKJV) The ESV says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” We are to encourage one another. We are to encourage mother’s to do what God created them to do, not tear them down and make them feel ashamed and call them a stumbling block.

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