Babies and breasts in church? Oh my!

Pope Benedict XVI walks past a figurine of baby Jesus as he leads the Christmas Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica … Continued


Pope Benedict XVI walks past a figurine of baby Jesus as he leads the Christmas Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican December 24, 2011. REUTERS/Max Ross (MAX ROSSI — REUTERS)

Recently, a fellow new mom directed this article to my attention, about a nurse-in that protested a magazine column which described breastfeeding in church as “ick” and “putting on a show in the house of the Lord.”

And if you follow the Catholic blogosphere, there is currently a debate raging about whether or not people should even bring their babies to Mass at all.

Let me help.

Babies belong in church. Not sure where I am getting this, but my Sunday School memories conjure up something about letting little children come to Jesus and stop keeping them away because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. Something like that.

Now, babies do this weird thing. They cry. Yes, if they are screaming and won’t stop, take them out. If they make a few little wails and you turn around and glare at the parents, well, good luck defending that one on judgment day.

Babies do another weird thing. They eat. For the first few months of their lives, they need to eat every one-to-two hours. If they are breastfeeding, that means they basically cannot be separated from their mothers. And no, it’s not as simple as leaving a bottle. Some babies won’t even take a bottle initially. And for breastfeeding to succeed, it’s often necessary for the mother to nurse exclusively, until milk supply is well established. Therefore, there are frequently situations where mothers cannot leave their babies home to fulfill their basic obligation to visit “the house of the Lord” every Sunday during those initial weeks and months. Furthermore, many new mothers may desire to attend Mass during the week. They may have no one with whom to leave their baby. When you add in commute time and Mass schedules, odds are the mom is going to have to feed her baby with her God-given bottles: her breasts.

Mothers should absolutely try to cover themselves should they need to nurse their babies, and they should look for discreet seating, but I’ve never once been in a church that offered nursing mothers a place to breastfeed. I’ve done it in church bathrooms and huddled in corners like some freak of nature, despite doing something wholly natural and necessary.

People absolutely need to stop questioning whether babies belong in church. Babies belong with their parents, and mothers should feel accommodated and welcomed if we are going to call ourselves pro-life.

And it sounds like we could all take a cue from Pope Francis, who didn’t run from those icky breastfeeding mothers. No, he leaned right in and paid homage.

Ashley E. McGuire is editor-in-chief of AltCatholicah and mother of a baby whom she breastfed in church.

  • MattBlanc

    In the 1950s during the baby boom years, churches frequently had special sections that were glassed in, called the ‘baby rooms.’ Families with crying infants were encouraged to use that room. I think nursing went on in those rooms, but can’t be sure. It seemed like mothers waited until they were back in the family car before feeding the babies. Families with children old enough to behave (and that was around 3 back in the day) would sit in the main seating area. There were also smokers’ rooms in some churches. And unfortunately in a couple of instances the baby room and the smokers room were the same room.

  • resplinodell

    Most LDS (Mormon) chapels today have “mothers’ rooms,” more colloquially referred to as “cry rooms,” usually but not always adjoining the women’s restroom, where women can go to breastfeed in relative privacy and comfort (they usually have couches or upholstered chairs of some sort). They are also often used for diaper changing, entertaining fussy children, etc.

  • di89

    Common sense, people. Unobtrusive nursing and reasonably peaceful infants are not a problem in the pew.

    Newer or remodeled Catholic churches also often have “cry rooms” or “children’s chapels” which also often have a restroom. There is no obligation to sit there, but if you’ve got an infant, toddler, or restless preschooler it sure is handy. Transitioning to the main church somewhere between three and five years (if you are old enough to go to pre-K or kinder, you can sit in a pew) is common. A lot of people will start out in the main area and if Junior gets fussy, go to the cry room.

    As for obligation–the care of infants has long been accepted as an excused absence, along with illness or physical impediments to getting there. So yes, make a good faith effort to get to Mass, but don’t feel guilty if it’s just not happening one day, or you spend most of Mass out in the car. And you are not obliged to take a very small baby–if Mom and Dad (or grandma or whoever) go to Mass in shifts that’s OK too.

  • SODDI

    Catholics only care about babies BEFORE they exit the birth canal.

    Catholics only care about women while they are being the birth canal.

  • Els92108

    Nearly all Catholic churches I have been in have a “baby room.” I have seen a lot of nursing going on there. No one was bothered. Indeed, most people smiled indulgently and could not wait until Mass was over to coo over the baby.

  • Catken1

    The Catholic church where my husband’s grandmother’s funeral was held had a “cry room” – I watched much of the service from there with my SIL’s husband (is he technically my BIL or my BILIL?) and their two boys. (We being the non-blood descendants of the lady in question, it made sense for us to take the kids back there when they got rambunctious, or in the case of my then-infant, needed feeding. I breastfed, but used a drape, as I generally did.)
    That said, though, I don’t see why breastfeeding during a service is a big deal. Don’t most Catholic churches have statues of a certain breastfeeding Lady rather prominently displayed? If Mary did it, isn’t it something to be emulated?

  • di89

    Mary, I’m sure, did not take up half a pew in the synagogue with baby gear and allow her Son to scatter Cheerios for people at the next service to sit and step in…THAT we could do without.

    People with good or bad manners will have the same in church as anywhere else.

  • patriot1

    Idiotic comment. I’ve read your comments before and all you like to do is bash the RCC. Depart from me satan worshipper.

  • patriot1

    I attend a Catholic church that has no baby room. I don’t think anyone cares when a child cries or does something else disruptive. In fact at the 11:15 am Mass, the little children sit near the altar during Consecration. Since most churches aren’t packed to capacity, a breast feeding mother, could find a discreet pew. It seems the WP likes to bash the Church any way they can. I’ve seen more people annoyed in a restaurant, with children.

  • Catken1

    Ah, so it’s idiotic and unkind to criticize the RCC, but it’s civil and decent to call anyone who doesn’t kiss your church’s rear a “satan worshipper?”

  • justaguy22

    How odd. My relatively small Baptist Church offers a room in the back for nursing mother and families with small children to sit. There is a big window to the sanctuary and speakers so we can hear the singing, prayers and sermon.

  • justaguy22

    I attend Catholic church when I visit my friends a couple of times per year. When our children were young and cried, I simply carried them out of the service and walked around with them in the entryway. The church had speakers so that we could hear the mass while out there. there were also seats so that a mother could nurse if she needed to do so.

  • patriot1

    Ditto to you.

  • patriot1

    To areyou: Are you one of them? You must be a pervert. No matter what religious topic, you always mention the pedophiles. You can meet all of them when you spend eternity in hell.

  • Dorkyman

    Figures it would be a Washington Post article. Long on opinion, short of facts.

    Babies are great. If they’re wailing, though, it disrupts the service. Surely you can see that.

    For that reason EVERY CATHOLIC CHURCH I’ve been in has a glassed-in room at the rear.

    Ditto for Mammaries. Breasts are great, visible breasts disrupt a service. In case you were not aware, a visible breast is very distracting to a man. Yeah, I know; we’re pigs.

  • patriot1

    Agree with you on everything, except my old church doesn’t have a baby room. Doesn’t matter, no one cares. Parents usually go to the back of the church for a few minutes.

  • mhr614

    The lady is simply attempting to be provocative and get her name in the paper. Now you’ve done it. Go away!

  • Catken1

    Awww, poor dear Patriot, izzums being persecuted? How dare those nasty people criticize your faith!
    I mean, you yourself talk about others “spending eternity in hell,” in an infinite and unimaginable agony, because they believed the wrong thing – and tell us that your religion requires flattering, fawning on, and kissing the rear of the abusive father who burns and tortures your siblings for their beliefs, lest he burn you too. But that’s not justification for criticism, oh, no.
    You call everyone who disagrees with you “satan worshippers”, but that’s not justification for criticism.
    I mean, you can say anything you want, and it’s just fine, because you stick a label marked “religious” on it. But the moment anyone says anything negative about your beliefs, you whine and cry and throw a tantrum about how PERSECUTED you are.
    Poor dear. Get a backbone, and learn to take what you dish out.

  • patriot1

    To Catken: Criticize the RCC that’s fine. I don’t really care. But many times ignorant people keep mentioning pedophiles over and over again. We keep going in circles. I’m ashamed of the priests that were peds. What more do you want? Do you keep knocking the BSA, teachers, policemen, coaches etc. I’m tired of dealing with people that discuss nothing else. I’ve said my piece. and you know where I stand.

  • FloridaTom

    The important thing to remember is to be reverent at Church and focus on prayer, the Gospel and Blood and Body of Christ. with that said, more babies the better. If the mother needs to breast feed just remember the reverent part. I admit I’ve been tested sitting next to a crying baby but I just keep telling myself they are God’s children and it doesn’t bother me as much.

  • Jade2016

    I have to agree with you patriot1.

    The constant drone about pedophiles has nothing to do with protecting children. If it did, those same idiots would be sounding against the public school system and other organizations which have a much higher incidence, per child, of pedophiliac incidents.

  • Jade2016

    This just might be the most stupid article I have ever read in a mainstream newspaper.

  • patriot1

    To Jade: Thank you for agreeing with me. I made my above comments to those others, because they make vile comments every chance they get. I’ve seen their same comments on different issues regarding the RCC. Again, I have no problem with people criticizing the Church on an intellectual basis. I do it myself at times.

  • patriot1

    Do you even go to church, in order to criticize? This article is so stupid and you fall for it. I’ve never heard this issue or non issue before.

  • patriot1

    To the non Catholics or those that don’t attend any church. I attend church every week. We don’t have a baby room, like new churches. No one cares about children crying, etc. Since we have three Masses, at different times, there is plenty of room to sit and discreetly breastfeed your child. For those of you who go to a different denomination, what happens there? Do the mothers breastfeed their children? Maybe you could shed some light on this non issue.

  • wilsan

    This absolutely should not be a problem… I have been a Sunday School Teacher, Deacon, Elder for years… Mothers who are breastfeeding are normal, natural, and welcomed. Discretion is appropriate, of course, but is normally the observed case.

    Blessings to all Mothers and their Children!

  • patriot1

    Ashley writes this article, it seems like on a whim. Where does she get her facts from? As I said below, this is a non issue.

  • Catken1

    The difference there, though, is that in the public school system a pedophilic teacher, once caught, is fired.
    Now, I don’t think pedophilia is by any means a strictly Catholic priest issue- but I do take issue with the way the Church has handled the problem.

    But I’m as tired of Christians whining about how PERSECUTED they are as you are of the whole pedophilia thing.

  • lepidopteryx

    It’s a breast. It makes milk.
    It’s a baby. It needs milk.
    Baby, meet breast. Problem solved. No reason for mothers to have to leave the room or drape themselves in a makeshift tent to feed a hungry baby.
    If you’re paying attention to the sermon, you aren’t going to notice the woman in the next pew nursing her baby anyway.

  • Wildflower68

    The Catholic Church has never banned breast feeding. This is a cultural issue more than a religious one. Historically women have always openly nursed their infants. This issue in the USA arose in the early to mid 20th century when formula companies wanted to sell their product and discouraged women from this natural and healthy practice. Now the pendulum is swinging back. Please don’t assume the Church has banned something or is teaching something unless you can find it in an official Church document or hear it from a priest or bishop. People’s opinions–even if they are Catholic–are not equivalent to the teachings and practices of the Church. I am always amazed to discover just how little many know.

  • Wildflower68

    I couldn’t disagree with you more. I am a convert to Catholicism and the mother of five children. I find just the opposite to be true. I am quite familiar with the teachings of the Church and find them, especially John Paul II theology of the body, to be very balanced and respectful of women’s health, lives, and roles. Unfortunately many who don’t know the Church’s actual teachings believe what they are told she teaches, and have no context or explanation for why she teaches as she does. If you took an honest look at the facts you would be amazed at the service rendered to the sick and needy and to women and children around the world by the Roman Catholic Church.

  • one nation

    A mother that breast feeds her baby when the baby is hungry is correct. Christ was breast feed as a baby when hungry. What is the problem?

  • patriot1

    THere is none. They are trying to make an issue where there is no problem. Pls, read the article. She’s making a mole hill out of NOTHING!

  • jonsie1533

    Yes, many Catholics publicly support abortion, same sex marriage and contraception.. Pelosi comes to mind.. but we all realize that is not doctrine of the Catholic Church… just a woman trying to make God fit her agenda, not her trying obey God’s laws…and yes I agree this is a non issue where I come from.. I seem to remember the bible quoting Jesus, Suffer the little ones to come unto me, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven..seems pretty clear to me..

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