Ask Zoe is Aleteia’s weekly advice column. If you have a dilemma, question, or need some general advice for your life, email Zoe. All questions are given consideration and names are withheld.
I am the mother of four young children and my baby is almost 14 months. We are attending a new parish at at Mass recently, I was discreetly nursing my son and noticed that a few people around me gave me dirty looks. I don’t want to start escaping to the bathroom in the basement every time my child wants to nurse, but I also don’t want to be a distraction. Am I right to ignore the scowls and go on nursing at Mass?
If there’s a topic that can raises hackles in America, it’s breastfeeding. I’ve never been able to figure out exactly why, but my best guess is that it’s because breasts are involved, and this country seems to have a thing about breasts. Maybe it’s our Puritan roots combined with our over-sexed culture—they make for strange bed-fellows. Also, breastfeeding touches on parenting choices, which brings up a lot of insecurities, judgements, and disagreements.
I’m a big fan of breastfeeding, since it’s the healthiest option for a child and a natural way to foster attachment and bonding. For these reasons and more, I support efforts to normalize breastfeeding and to make it easier for mothers to nurse. This includes educating the public about how to be more sensitive to the needs of mothers and children. Which includes people in our churches and communities.
You say you were "discreetly" nursing your son at Mass, which I presume means you tried not to make it obvious (and you may have even covered up—which some mothers do when breastfeeding in public). If this is the case, I wouldn’t lose a wink of sleep over it. With four young kids in tow, breastfeeding is probably the least of your worries when it comes to distracting behaviors at Mass. I would think fellow parishioners would be far happier with a nursing baby than one who’s crying out of hunger or distress. (And you might point that out if someone ever brings it up.)
You mention this is a new parish for your family so maybe there aren’t many other families there and people aren’t used to babies around. Or breastfeeding in public might be frowned upon by the some of the parishioners at your church—attitudes about stuff like this run deep. Perhaps try sitting in a different spot, away from the grumpier folks.
If the dirty looks continue, you might consider speaking to your priest. When I once complained about lack of friendliness towards families at my own parish, the pastor made a point to mention it from the pulpit. Of course, you could get a priest who thinks you should head to the bathroom in the basement. In that case, shake the dust from your feet and find a new spiritual home. It’s important to be considerate of others, but breastfeeding is a natural and normal parenting choice—do what’s best for your child and your family.
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Zoe Romanowsky is the Lifestyle Editor and Video Curator for Aleteia. A freelance writer, blogger, and consultant, she’s been published in many national publications including Real Simple, Catholic Digest, Baltimore Eats, and TruthAtlas. Zoe holds a Masters degree in Counseling from Franciscan University, and a certification in life coaching from the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). She’s an urban homeschooling mother of twins with a weakness for dark chocolate, Instagram, vintage Harleys, and vodka martinis—not necessarily in that order.