Let’s Flesh This Out – Breastfeeding and the Bible

Aliza nursing in her early days 

There is a line of thought common to Christians that breastfeeding is sexual.  Or, breastfeeding might not be sexual per se, but it’s still something that should be done out of sight and possibly/preferably out of the room.

I disagree.

In my effort to double check my theories against the bible and God’s theories, I did some research.  The bible has a LOT of references to breasts.  A lot.  They’re all over the place.  Most often, the word breast is an anatomical reference.  The right breast for a sacrifice or the growth of breasts to symbolize puberty.  Then, there are the sexual references.  All seven of them.  Four in Song of Solomon, one in Proverbs, two in Ezekiel.  How many times does the bible reference breasts in the context of breastfeeding?  14.  Plus 10 other references to nursing and drinking mother’s milk.  Twenty-four times the bible references breastfeeding without shame.   Without hesitation.  Without hiding it under a blanket or in another room.

Breasts are used for feeding and comforting babies twice as often as they are used for the ‘comforting’ of a man.  And the authors of the bible (talking about the penholders here) referenced breastfeeding in a way that is so tender.  There’s almost a longing or reminiscing about the days of being comforted at their mothers’ breasts.  Because breastfeeding is so much more than food.  So much more than simple calories.

God designed women (and men!) to have a biochemical response to babies, particularly to breastfeeding babies.  Not only do women let down their milk as a result of an oxytocin release (a hormone that provides feelings of bonding and love) by men are physiologically impacted by the continued presence of a lactating woman.  A man’s estrogen level increases as his primary female partner (aka wife) nears the end of her pregnancy and this hormone level remains high for a period of time after the baby is born, suppressing his libido.  This isn’t an accident.  God didn’t let this slide as a side-effect of our design.  Breastfeeding stimulates feelings of love and attachment, and those feelings are recalled throughout life by members of both sexes.

But love does not have to include sex.  A man is perfectly capable of loving a lactating woman without being either turned on or turned off by her milk.  Just because a man sees a woman breastfeeding a baby/child does not mean he is enticed to lust.

Breastfeeding is not enticement.  Even though breasts may or may not be visible during breastfeeding (even without a nursing cover, there usually isn’t much to see), the simple presence of a breast is not enough to encourage a man to lust.  Each person’s lust is wholly within themselves; as Christ put it: “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed lust with her in his heart.”  The man doesn’t need the woman at all.  He can lust without her knowledge or consent. And his lust is fully within himself.

Hiding breastfeeding does not help a man to avoid lust, either.  Hiding breastfeeding (in another room or under a nursing cover) only furthers the separation of that man’s experience with breasts and the true function and purpose of breasts.  Further entrenching him on an inescapable island of helplessness.  If/when men only see breasts in a sexualized way, the sexuality is reinforced with each exposure.  When you start to temper that extreme view, you desensitize him to his incorrect notion that breasts are only for him.  Only for his own selfish pleasure.  Breasts are first and foremost for the nourishment and care of small children.  Only as an addition can we consider the sexual qualities of breasts.  And if men were seeing breastfeeding twice as often as breasts as sexual toys, we wouldn’t have to have this discussion at all.  Breastfeeding, uncovered, in the presence of men is the only way that I can help a man gain control of his lust.  Not because I expose him to something sexual and give him the opportunity to control himself, but because I expose him to something decidedly asexual and give him the opportunity to understand that.

 

I wonder if that’s why breastfeeding is a more common biblical context for breasts than sex.

25 Comments

Filed under Christian Parenting

25 responses to “Let’s Flesh This Out – Breastfeeding and the Bible

  1. Great post, very thought provoking. Thank you

  2. believer

    That is great! When my oldest daughter was 11 weeks old, I went to stay with a friend of mine who was pregnant and on bedrest with her 4th child so I could help to take care of her other 3 children. I was sitting talking to her and breastfeeding my daughter and her husband walked in and started talking to us. She stoped him after a minute or so and pointed out that I was nursing my baby and might be uncomfortable with him there. I was not and he said that he was so used to seeing her nursing their babies that he did not even think anything of me nursing my baby – it just was the natural thing to do and did not strike him as anything to worry about.

  3. Mandie

    Amen! God made and designed the breast to nourish our children. Not the men in our lives. Albeit that it’s a lively second function. I so wish women as well as men could stop viewing the breasts as “for the men” and seeing breastfeeding as “weird”. It’s not weird. It’s the way we were made! This is a very well written post! Thank you!’

  4. I love this post! Mind if I link to it over at Toddler In Tow? I’ve been without a lot of breastfeeding content lately :)

  5. Pingback: Uninhibited Breastfeeding in Public {Reclaiming my Womanhood From Perversity}

  6. I love this, and referenced this post in my post today on uninhibited breastfeeding in public. I am your latest subscriber :)

  7. So, I went to add you to my google reader, but I can’t find an RSS feature on your blog. Can I only subscribe by email?

  8. I found your blog through Rixa’s blog post on nursing covers. I love your post and how you have analyzed the scripture references to breastfeeding. It is interesting to me how often the prophets refer to it in a nurturing sense and as a sexual one as a side note. Sadly, we have lost part of the divine nature that our breasts were intended for. I had to blog about my own experiences with breastfeeding in public, particularly in church.
    http://thegiftofgivinglife.com/breastfeeding-and-modesty/
    Thank you for putting together this great information.

  9. Mandie

    Would be interested in seeing the list of references to breastfeeding in the bible :-)

  10. leanne

    So glad I found this. I have just moved to the U.S. and am constantly being made to feel shameful for nursing my daughter. In Australia I nursed everywhere, in church, while talking to my dad, really everywhere with no cover. It is completely normal behaviour in most other countries I have travelled to as well.

    I can’t help but notice that when I go into a bra store here everything says sexy sexy sexy. I am used to “reduce your bounce up to 50%”, “most supportive”, “most comfortable”. Sexy lingerie exists but it is only one part of the bra industry down under. Breasts are not so highly sexualised.

    Recently while hiding myself away in outdoor seating at a cafe on a day with bad weather (i thought surely this way I can nurse without the glaring bad looks and just a bit too loud for me to not hear comments) I was leered at by a approximately 15 year old boy walking past – he almost fell over he was staring so much and then he came back for another look. Let me set the scene: woman in her mid 30s, saggy old breasys, wearing dowdy beige bra, with a CHILD ATTACHED!!!! I was too confused to even be offended by this boy’s staring at me. This has never happened to me in Australia.

    All I can say is PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE teach your kids, male and female, that the breast is a functional organ, a mammary gland. Don’t let them learn all about breasts from two and a half men (I hate everything that show stands for)

  11. Joyce McCart

    I think that back in the 1960′s, women were put down for breastfeeding. They were led to believe that it was old fashioned and it tied them to their children. I think this blog is so very profound, and in the last 35 years women have come full circle about not only the benefits of the healhy aspects of it but how wonderful the everlasting bonds of the children to the parents becomes, lets not forget God gives us these abilities and I for one believe nurchering is the greatest we can teach. I had someone close to me say that I was dening my husband the joy of feeding his children. I imediatly told her about pumping my milk so he could feed them and learn that amazing bond, and if we chose to have our date nights we had that option. Women who have lots of milk can also pump and donate breastmilk for sick or premature babies, these programs can be found at lots of hospitals. MY CHILDREN HAD ONLY MY BREASTMILK UNTIL THEY WERE OVER 18 MONTHS AND THEN I LET THEM DECIDE WHEN TO NURSE. My children are both in there 30′s an they undrstand why God made breasts. It is certainly about pleasure but not the sexual kind. Be proud of the time and tenderness involved in breastfeeding, and cover youself or not that should be each couples decision. These are again my thoughts, but certainly the joys and benifits are memories my husband still have to this day. We held each other last week on our 37th anniversary and without saying a word shared all those amazing times. I thanked God for my life, my husband and for the gift God gave us both, our precious babies.

    Be proud to feed your children milk, heath, love, joy, and remember they will this way today and tomorrow they will be handing you your super precious grandchild.

  12. Emily

    I love almost every single word. Where you lost me was when you described a man’s sexual desire for the breast as selfish. It’s not. Sexual desire is not selfish, dirty or anything else bad.

  13. I would love to read these bible refferences! Can you please share them? I’ve been looking for some but haven’t had much luck!

    • A few people have asked about the list of references I used for this post. Unfortunately the computer I used to make this list has long since crashed. But I was just telling my husband the other day how much I’d love to revisit the list. I left out a lot, a LOT of verses that referred to the breast as an anatomical reference, because it didn’t seem relevant to what the questions I was asking. Now it seems very relevant. I’d love to start over with that list soon.

      • lizwun

        Please do! I’m very interested in this list. I’ll be looking into my concordance tonight but am curious as to the information you have.

  14. Fabulous! Thank you!!

  15. Pingback: The Medici Madonna | Naturally Crazy

  16. maggie

    Spot-on. Sharing.

  17. Madyson

    I am so happy someone put it out there! I get so much crap from my family for breastfeeding! I love it. My son is about to be four months and I love our bond.

  18. Bekah

    Thank you for this well-thought out post! It’s an often-overlooked part of the Bible and one that even devout Christians don’t think about–God created us to feed our children this way, so how could anyone think we could improve on it or think it could be shameful?

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