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