As a Christian mom, the topic of modesty & correct use of the body has gained a new facet: breast-feeding. I've been disturbed to hear some mothers come to the conclusion that a nursing mother should always isolate herself while nursing her baby for the sake of modesty, even from her other children and other women. Others -- not only Christians in this case, but Westerners in general- I've known were unable to breast-feed because they "felt uncomfortable doing it." On the other end of the spectrum, some women hold "nurse-ins" where they join together to nurse their babies in public with no covering at all. Which of these approaches is most appropriate? How does nursing fit in with Christian modesty? I think we have to step back a little further to even start to get an answer, and ask: how does nursing fit into our understanding of our bodies as women?
It seems to me that a primary function of the whole female body really is nurturing-- I'd even go so far as to say that it's crucial and central to our view of femininity. We are built to nurture, it's part of our image of God. (Isa. 49:14-15, 66:12-13, Hosea 11:1-4) It starts in Genesis with the naming (defining, in many ways) of the First Woman, and it carries on through every list of womanly virtue in the New Testament.
"The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living." (Gen. 3:20)A very basic part of this nurturing is the bearing, feeding & care of children. We, as opposed to our male fellow Image-bearers, have the body parts to carry children, to give them birth, to nurse them, and tend them. We've got the hips to carry them around, the multi-tasking brain to attend to a household, and the type of sleep that enables us to wake at a child's cry (read a fascinating article on this from the NY Times). Child-safety expert Gavin de Becker says that women are more likely to stay with a lost child until the parents are found, while a man is more likely to merely direct the child to help. My point? Whether we physically care for children or not, nurturing is still a part of our feminine make-up. Women who never bear children should still see their bodies as instruments of nurture. We are nurturing when we pick up our kids (or a neighbor's) and hug them, put an arm around a hurting friend, make a meal for a lonely person, care for a sick patient, tend a garden... we are nurturing, we are women, we are being God-like.
"No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds." (1 Tim 5:9-10)
"Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God." (Titus 2:3-5)
|This PERFECTLY captures what I'm trying to say!|
That said, we are not animals, and there is a difference between a human mother feeding her baby and a cow feeding hers. People wear clothes. Animals don't. There sure are other functions animals take NO efforts to hide that we humans treat (appropriately) as very private-- we have the glorious burden of being made in God's image, we have the shame of a sinful nature. In an effort to show respect for my body, to keep any others from stumbling (into lust), and to be considerate of those whom it might make truly uncomfortable, I practice & encourage discretion in public or around guys (covering up is not really a big deal). BUT, there are just no guarantees. I've had to nurse all over the world in all sorts of settings and I'm sure someone somewhere has seen some skin, lol, not by choice, but that's just life. The nursing of a child is a totally natural happening and it's something good. (Kind of like kissing your husband, I think-- we're not going to flaunt it and make out in public, but if someone catches us smooching we have nothing to be ashamed of!!) [As a culture check, in our church care group we had a single guy who grew up as an MK in Papua New Guinea, where women nurse children on one side & suckling pigs on the other, with no covering at ALL... everywhere!!! As you can imagine, he was absolutely comfortable around breastfeeding women, especially if they were covered up (and lacking in suckling pigs).] I do hope that my own children grow up in a world where it's not even an issue, because everyone knows that's just how babies are fed naturally!
As far as it being potentially inappropriate for children to see maternal breasts, from Scripture it would be almost impossible to say. However, kids were weaned around age 3 in Biblical times, kids were plentiful and in many families there were multiple moms in a household. It is a stretch to think that kids would grow up watching their parents & other women nurse?
What are your thoughts on this topic of modesty/feminine Image of God intersecting with breast-feeding? Do you think of nursing as an aspect of feminine nurturing, as a mere biological process, or what?
**Please note: this article is not trying to assess whether or not Christian women who are able SHOULD breast-feed or not (nor in what manner they choose to do that), but rather examining the question of how nursing fits in with our view of Christian feminine modesty.**