Black Madonna and Child NursingI mean, I’m not Catholic and, until now, have paid only a passing attention to the new head of the Catholic church, but even the biggest heathen can’t ignore or deny the dopeness that is Pope Francis. The Time magazine story naming him Man of the Year made this abundantly clear when it laid out all the incredible ways he’s reached out to the poor, convicts, the young, the afflicted, women and gays. Plus, he turned down the Papal Mercedes and chose to push a used 1984 Renault, which, in my book totally makes him a man of the people. But news that The Pope is encouraging mothers to breastfeed their babies in public just might make me stop in my nearest Catholic church for a service or two.

In an interview with The Vatican Insider’s La Stampa, Pope Francis recounts how he encouraged a woman waiting to see him with a crying, hungry baby in her arms to feed her kid:

There are so many children that cry because they are hungry. At the Wednesday General Audience the other day there was a young mother behind one of the barriers with a baby that was just a few months old. The child was crying its eyes out as I came past.

The mother was caressing it. 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.

She was shy and didn’t want to breast-feed in public, while the pope was passing. I wish to say the same to humanity: give people something to eat! That woman had milk to give to her child; we have enough food in the world to feed everyone.

New York Times Motherlode columnist KJ Dell’Antonia questions whether the pope’s message is about breastfeeding or hunger or both, but goes on to note that The Pope was photographed kissing an infant while another mother breastfed her baby right next to them, and didn’t seem at all bothered by it. His thoughts on breastfeeding fall right in line, the column notes, with the belief that “the virgin’s nursing breast, the lactating virgin, was the primary symbol of God’s love for humanity.”

Honestly, I wish there was this level of deep thinking in my own Baptist church when my daughters were babies and I was breastfeeding. On Sundays when I knew I’d be sitting in a church pew, I’d go out of my way to feed my daughters just before we walked in so that their bellies would be full for a good part of the service, and then I’d be all anxious when they’d start fidgeting and working themselves up into the “I’m hungry and I want some ninny” cry. If service was particularly long, I’d have to excuse myself and find a quiet place to breastfeed my children because I got the distinct impression that nursing my children in the sanctuary would incur the wrath of the good deaconesses and church ladies who were so very modest that they handed out handkerchiefs to any women who sat in the front pews in skirts and with bare knees.

I took that edict so seriously that even on the day that I buried my mother, I chose to leave her eulogy to feed my baby, who was in the vestibule crying up a hot storm. She was hungry. My girlfriend Caryl couldn’t soothe her. My ninny could. So all the beautiful words the pastor said about my  mother, all the comforting words he had for those of us who loved her most, I missed because I was out in the lobby, breastfeeding my child.

To this day, I regret I made that choice. I should have stayed right there on that front pew, next to my daddy and my brother, with my baby in my arms, a young mom nursing her child as she said her final goodbyes to her own mother—strong and firm in my belief that when it comes to feeding hungry babies, your squeamishness, your comfort, truly comes a distant second to my kid’s need to eat.

I’m not sure that Pope Francis holds any sway over the Baptist church or heathens or anyone who falls in between. But I do know that I’m digging that dude—for his stance on homosexuality, abortion, poverty and now, a mother’s right to feed her baby on demand, wherever our children demand it. Go ‘head, Pope Francis.

{Editor’s Note: That delicious artwork accompanying this post is called “Gladys and Elizabeth”—one in a series of pieces in artist Kate Hansen‘s Madonna and Child project.}

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

14 Comments

  1. I’m sorry to hear about your mother.

    I think it helps that this Pope has lived out in the real world. I think it gives him a better understanding of the human condition and what is totally natural like breastfeeding.

  2. I really don’t have a problem with breastfeeding my baby anywhere. Most of the time people don’t know what to say, so they don’t say anything at all. Fortunately, I’ve been lucky that no one has had a negative comment. I even breastfeed my baby during church service. No one would ever think twice if you pulled out a bottle to feed my baby, so why my baby suffer because she is breastfed.

  3. Breast feeding is very natural , God also gives us wisdom and although breasts have multiple functions such as feeding a child they also function as sexual pleasure in the bedroom. With that said take into consideration others around who may feel uncomfortable. You know what time church service begins and you know you have plans to attend a restaurant it would not hurt to pump a bottle ahead of time. You take a shower a head of time. You plan for work ahead of time. Women who intentionally do this are selfish.

    • Selfish? Selfish is demanding a mother let her kid be hungry because YOU can’t keep your mind out of the gutter while she’s doing what GOD intended her to do with her breasts: feed her children. I know not one single breastfeeding mother who sits around exposing her breasts while she’s feeding her child so that you can ogle them. I was expert at popping a breast in my kids’ mouths damn near undetected by others around me—without need for suffocating them with blankets for YOUR benefit. As for packing a bottle: my daughters breastfed exclusively. We did not need bottles so we did not use them until I went back to work, and even then, there was no way I was putting a bottle in my kids’ mouths if I was there and able to nurse them. Don’t like the sight of babies being fed? Stop looking. Because guess what? The baby is going to eat, whether you like it or not.

    • I have to wonder why people don’t just choose to look away if they are uncomfortable instead it’s the mom who must stop feeding her hungry or upset child.

      It’s also interesting to me that people are uncomfortable with breastfeeding when you actually see more breasts when a woman has on a plunging neckline or bikini at the beach. To me that means that the issue is probably not the amount of skin they are seeing but that the breast is being used for something other than to sexual.

      People really need to get over themselves.

  4. Selfish is indeed true. Seems like older women like u Denenne don’t have a problem with public display. I will say this though out of the few women I’ve seen publicly breastfeeding they were all older and the younger ones were more private maybe ther’s a generational difference I don’t know. I’m a woman, I have male friends who find breastfeeding to be a intimate personal session between a mother and child and it makes them uncomfortable because they use breasts for pleasure, this does not make them perverts, our female anatomy was created to be desired and a rousing. Don’t forget that it is still a breast and NO it was not MADE solely for breast feeding which might I add is something that only occurs during pregnancy and not a woman’s entire life. I have no problem with feeding but I do have a problem with feeding in public. I’ve witnessed tasteful feeding where concerned, wonderful nursing mothers had gotten up and fed in a more private area and I’ve witnessed women whip it out in the lines in ROSS stores lol and on buses. No one is telling you not to feed your child, but have concern for your neighbor. Like I said before God gives us wisdom. When I give birth to my son I will definitely be breastfeeding with coufe and with consideration for my baby and others around me. See how I considered everyone and not just my baby and I? When we consider ours and mines we forget others and this makes us selfish. I won’t be back to this site, I found it on essence and I don’t care much for the articles here. Too much atheism and women’s lib , we black women have crossed too far into the white woman’s territory

    • Cece,

      I’ve said it countless times before, both in this post and up and down this thread, that no one EVER saw my breast. Why would any woman flash her private parts for the world to see? I wasn’t a stripper dropping it for dollars. I was FEEDING MY CHILDREN. All anyone ever saw was my babies nuzzled against their mother. And it sounds like you need to get you some better male friends. My BEST male friends—my husband and my father—and all my other male friends, too, knew the deal and hadn’t a problem with my kids being fed on demand. No one was uncomfortable, and if they were, they sure didn’t say it to me. And to be clear: my breasts are a part of MY body, for MY discretion—not fun bags for some guy to use at HIS discretion for HIS pleasure. If that makes me sound like a white woman—whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean—well you’re welcome to get your info on parenting somewhere else. Thanks for stopping by. Good luck with your baby and breastfeeding.

    • What really got to me is that it is so important for women to please a man over their baby. Breasts are for men’s pleasure so we should not breast feed in public so that they can stare at bosoms in a strictly sexual way? Seriously? My more important question would be: were those men breast fed? If so, that is why they feel so “turned on” by the breasts and even if they weren’t they wish they were breastfed because that is the natural way of feeding a baby whether in public or in private it is the mother’s choice! If the mother feels stressed she passes those hormones on to the child and that is the real issue here. Not how a man feels when he looks at a woman breast feeding. Please.

    • It’s not a “generational” thing, I’m a woman in her 20s and I breastfeed my child wherever she is hungry. Maybe it’s a “mother” thing and you haven’t had a child yet, so you haven’t experienced having to decide whether to let your child go hungry until you can find a private place or offend the “holiness” of others. I was in an overpriced restaurant & two older white women began making comments because my baby began crying. I breastfed my baby right there just to piss them off more. NOBODY in the world is holy enough to make my child starve. If you are so aroused by the breast, look away! And Miss Denene is not “old”, Black Don’t Crack, honey!

  5. As a Lactation Educator and breastfeeding mother who exclusively breastfed 4 children, I have learned to not be so shocked about the ignorance that surrounds breastfeeding in the AA community. With the lowest breastfeeding rates and the highest infant mortality rates, being selfish is the last thing that I am when I feed my babies in public, despite anyone’s issue with being ‘uncomfortable.’ These attitudes are going to keep us exactly where we are; in last place.

  6. I am currently a breastfeeding mother and I am APPALLED by some of the anti-breastfeeding in public comments I have seen in response to this post. The AA community has the lowest breastfeeding and highest infant mortality rates in the country! How can anyone, especially another woman criticize mothers for feeding their children in the most natural, healthy, AND affordable manner? I am rarely taken aback by comments on articles/blogs, but some of these comments really bother me. Again, I am APPALLED! Thanks for your post, Denene!

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