In Theory: Thoughts on nursing babies in the church

American mothers are choosing to breast-feed their babies in increasing numbers, with about 77% of infants being breast-fed at some point. Public breast-feeding is becoming more socially acceptable — but does that include church?

“Breasts were made to feed a baby,” says Misti Ryan, who's described as “a devout Christian lactation consultant in Texas” in an interview on She believes babies should be allowed to be nursed — modestly — in church if the mother wants or needs to.

Pope Francis has hit the headlines with his pro-breast-feeding comment to a young mother at a recent audience: “I said to her: madam, I think the child’s hungry. 'Yes, it’s probably time…' she replied. 'Please give it something to eat!' I said.”

And a group of Mormon women have formed Latter-Day Lactivism to make breast-feeding an accepted practice in congregations.

Advocates of breast-feeding acknowledge that the practice can draw disapproval. Blogger Mary Fischer says, “The last thing I want to do is be listening to a sermon and look over and see boobs. If you need to do it, fine. Just make sure you have a cover-up.”

Q: What are your feelings about mothers who want to breast-feed in church? 

The Mormon church encourages nursing. And given that our services are family oriented, it is quite common to have infants in the chapel.

Most mothers choose to use rooms set aside for the purpose, although this isn’t required. When meetings are underway, audio is provided in these areas. I’m not aware of breast-feeding having been a problem in any of the congregations I have belonged to, nor is my wife, who nursed our seven children.

Having said that, I agree that young mothers deserve consideration and sympathy as they tend to infants in public places. I understand very well the stress they are under. So it’s disheartening to read that the faith of some women has been damaged over breast-feeding. I sincerely hope members are reaching out to them with compassion.

As a journalist, I have to point out there’s no indication that the authors of these articles tried to contact those accused of offending the mothers. No comment from the bishops, relief society presidents or “judgmental” members. Making an effort to reach them, and letting the reader know you did, is fundamental to good reporting. Because these were local incidents, calling church headquarters isn’t enough.

Some articles refer to art depicting an uncovered Mary feeding the infant Jesus to suggest hypocrisy on the part of those who urge modesty. Others write that society’s acceptance of revealing clothes makes uncovered nursing acceptable. Neither argument works. First, no artist really knows what Mary did. More important, neither art nor current fashion is the measure by which we ought to live today.

From the LDS perspective, the issue was best addressed by church spokesman Scott Trotter, who has been quoted as saying “countless thousands of mothers have been accommodated in church for generations, simply by everyone observing common sense, discretion and respect.”

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta

Breasts have two applications: they feed babies like fleshy milk-bottles, and they impress husbands as sexual identifiers. God tells men to enjoy; “may her breasts satisfy you always” (Pro 5:19). Our society takes this divine opinion to some unnatural realm where gals have doctors implant pouches to increase their busts to cartoonish proportions. Men appreciate differences, but do we really need super-hero excess?

It’s hard for many to differentiate between breasts on display, and breasts on call. I think it inappropriate for women to “whip it out” and “damn the pervs,” when they have to feed their babes, but it’s always appropriate for women to feed their offspring anywhere, any time, as far as I’m concerned. God says nothing negative regarding this, and many passages cite breasts in highly positive ways. God created them, remember?

I’m amazed that this is questionable. Who’d object? Yet, I’ve worked churches where noisy babies, diaper changing, and breast-feeding were expected in the rear, sound-proof, side-room to avoid disturbance. This is fine, but if a woman knows her child, and that any immediate disturbance may be quickly quelled by breast milk, then we ought to observe with approval.

Have you ever looked across a woman breast-feeding? It’s not usually her that feels uncomfortable, but us. We have the problem. In some cultures, women don’t wear tops, and men don’t seem to act abnormally sexual; it’s part of life. We should probably be more civilized and acknowledge the same when it concerns the current issue. Otherwise, aren’t we being kind of weird? What’s up? I have nipples, and so does everyone else on the planet. It just happens that females get to use them. I think we’d better consider how God made everything before banning anything. Really, I’d have a bigger problem with someone’s cellphone going off than a quiet mother putting a nipple into her child’s mouth during service.

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


While I sympathize with blogger Mary Fischer, I have also consulted with one of the young mothers in my church, and she has told me that nursing a child takes a long time, like 30 to 45 minutes. Also, I know that nursing a child is better for the child than giving it a bottle. What's more, churches really want to appeal to the young families — so there is no way I'm going to say anything against breast feeding in church!

However, as the blogger mentioned above points out, it would be appropriate for the young mother to be discreet and cover up as much as possible. A church is like any other group of people: some will be offended by public breast feeding and some will not be. So to those who don't approve, I ask for tolerance, and for those who want to breast-feed, I ask for discretion.

The King James Version of the gospel according to Matthew says, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me”....(Matt. 19:14). So if you forbid breast-feeding mothers in church, you just may be pushing the children away, and that's not what Jesus intended.

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge


Breast feeding continues to become more popular and commonly practiced in our culture. I have two adult daughters who have given me a grandson and granddaughter. They've also educated me on the advantages of breast-feeding for both the physical and emotional health of the mother and the infant.

Clearly breast-feeding is the most natural and healthy alternative for infant nutrition. I find that most mothers are able to nurse discreetly and I have no difficulty with them breast-feeding during the church service.

I am aware that, unfortunately, we live in a highly sexualized society in which the human anatomy is marketed to promote everything from deodorant to alcohol to motorcycles. Every day we are teased with sexual imagery on the Internet, television, magazines, billboards, etc. It is impossible to be in our present culture and avoid these images.

I am also aware that in a heterogeneous congregation containing multiple ethnicities, age groups and levels of both emotional and spiritual maturity, there are a variety of attitudes toward breast-feeding in public. For many, breast-feeding is a nonissue, but for some it is offensive, distracting or even sexually stimulating.

I anticipate that as breast-feeding in public continues to be commonly practiced, it will become increasingly accepted as a behavioral norm that doesn't raise an eyebrow. Until then, I appreciate the fact that mothers in our congregation are sensitive to the attitudes of those around them and breast-feed with discretion and respect for others.

Pastor Ché Ahn
HRock Church


Nature, or as some would say, a divine creator, has come up with an excellent system for nutrition delivery to human infants.

I feel astonished that anyone, and particularly a breast-feeding advocate, is suggesting that a glimpse of the surface of the human mammary organ is offensive. I feel total support for mothers who want to breast-feed and I don't care where they do it.

I can tell you that back in the fertile ’50s, when I was a kid and a regular church-goer, nursing there was common, and a hanky strategically draped was sufficient. It still is. Boys of any age, boyhood being a condition that can last a lifetime, must learn to be cool.

Today intimate body areas are seen everywhere. To single out breast-feeding mothers for disapproval is ridiculous.

Obviously a nursing mother would prefer privacy, but I'm with Pope Francis — sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Is he not a high enough authority OK-ing breast-feeding in church?

Roberta Medford


As someone who raised my children when breast-feeding was not as common as it is today, I remember feeling a little uncomfortable nursing my babies in public and generally did not. But many things have changed since then, including both the percentage of mothers who nurse their babies and the openness in our culture toward the exposure of our bodies in public. So I am surprised that the issue of whether to breast-feed babies in public would be up for discussion.

And I am particularly surprised at the location that is in question — the church. It would seem to me that a church, synagogue, or mosque would be one of the most natural places of all for a woman to feed her child, since most religious traditions honor the role of women as mothers and religious institutions are seen a places where people are nurtured both in body and spirit.

The only question that I would raise is how discreet or open a mother would be while nursing in a religious meeting or service. One issue would be the sensitivities of the mother herself. My guess is that most mothers would want to cover themselves to some extent to feel comfortable. The experience of breast-feeding is a very personal one between the mother and her baby, not something that all women would want to share with others. The other issue for me would be how disruptive the sight and sound of a nursing baby might be to those nearby — hopefully not an issue for most people. But that would be something that each religious community would have to discuss, not for me to decide.

The only thing that I can say for sure is that I would have no issue with a mother nursing her baby in any meeting or service I was leading or attending. Women have been breast-feeding their babies throughout human history. It is strange that we would want to hide that natural activity from view. I believe we are both physical and spiritual beings. What better place is there to acknowledge that reality than in our religious communities?

The Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills
La Crescenta

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