A breastfeeding mom in Virginia was told to leave her church’s sanctuary and go into a private room because “the church does not allow breastfeeding without a cover because it could make men, teenagers or new churchgoers uncomfortable.”
The Washington Post reported that Annie Peguero, mother of two, whose husband is on deployment, “posted her own livestream video on Facebook — with her baby, Autumn, at her breast — telling viewers what happened and urging women to stand up for breast-feeding.” Despite that Virginia law allows for mothers to breastfeed anywhere, the church clearly did not know about the mother’s rights. This isn’t the first time a mother breastfeeding became a national news story. A church in Dallas, TX in 2014 became the center of a social media debate about breastfeeding in church.
Currently, an individual can go into a church packing a gun in Virginia, but for some, a mother packing a nursing boob for a baby is just too much.
It’s pretty disturbing that a church would ask a mother to leave the sanctuary because she is doing something that comes naturally to mothers. As a husband, father, and pastor, I support mothers, fathers, and children in worship – including breastfeeding mothers. Making worship a hospitable environment for families is a huge challenge, but one that churches must work extremely hard at addressing. Our society has torn families apart with over-scheduling, sports on weekends, increased demands of work, and customization of age-based activities. Families don’t worship together like they did 20-30-40 years ago.
Scripturally, breastfeeding, nursing mothers, and nursing children actually play a positive role in the religious life of God’s people. We read in Joel 2:16, “Gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast.” Someone once proclaimed publicly to Jesus: “A woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” (Luke 11:27)
Frankly, I feel uneasy writing or talking about breastfeeding because, well, I’m male. Usually, men don’t go around talking about breastfeeding – or even use the word on a daily basis. However, it is necessary that us men, dads, husbands, brothers, and friends support the important role mothers play in the lives of children. My experience as a dad around other families has revealed that moms don’t go around showing their chests to the world when breastfeeding. Nursing moms are discreet. I’ve never felt uncomfortable around nursing mothers. They are doing what is natural.
It’s important to see that by restricting breastfeeding in public we sexualize women’s bodies as something sinful or wrong. God created us to provide certain needs for children. For some women, that means breastfeeding. Our culture is so supercharged with sex. Sexual messages are in our advertising on TV, print, and social media. When people prohibit nursing mothers to do what is natural for their child, they turn the act of breastfeeding into something that it’s not.
Churches, resist the urge to stigmatize women, mothers, and children by forcing them to the hidden places of the church. Respect the needs of moms and children. Provide safe places, large and small, for nursing mothers.