What The Bible Says About Nursing In Public

 

Try as you might you won’t find a verse in the Bible that says “Thou shalt Nurse in Public.”  As a result it continues to be an issue even amongst (or, especially amongst) Christians.

In our society where breasts are visible on every billboard, magazine, and waitress it is no wonder that the breast has become taboo in Christian homes that favor modesty.  In this post I’d like to look at what the Bible does say that gives us a view into God’s view of breasts, breastfeeding, and breastfeeding in public.

What does the Bible say about Breastfeeding?

The Bible is far from silent about breastfeeding. Nursing is used as an analogy to describe great blessings,

Luke 11:27 (NIV)
As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”

Genesis 49:25 (NIV)
because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below, blessings of the breast and womb.

Breastfeeding is also associated with comforting love,

Isaiah 66:10-13 (NIV)
10 “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her.
11 For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance.”
12 For this is what the LORD says: “I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees.
13
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”

Isaiah 49:15
15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!

Job 3:12
Why were there knees to receive me and breasts that I might be nursed?

The naturalness of breastfeeding – and the craving of the baby for mother’s milk – is used as an analogy for craving spiritual maturity,

I Peter 2:2
2Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,

1.  The act of breastfeeding is seen by God as the intended purpose for breasts and a God-given blessing to mankind.

What About Modesty?

In 1st century Palestine everyone was breastfeeding so it was as common as seeing a donkey being ridden down the street.  So, the story goes that times have changed.  Just as the definition of “modesty” has changed since biblical times the view of female breasts has changed and therefore a woman breastfeeding in public is being immodest.  Let’s look at what the Bible says about modesty in the context of society.

The biblical discussions of modesty show a focus on the intentions of the heart related to appearance,

1 Timothy 2:9-10 – 9I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

1 Peter 3:3-4 – “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

Proverbs 31:25 – Strength and honour [are] her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.

Note the focus on deeds.  It is less what you wear than what you do.

But, is it possible that breasts are so sexualized in our society that the very act of breastfeeding would now be ungodly?  Or is our bowing to the culture that displays breasts for profits to be shunned?

God tells us that he judges our actions differently than the world,

1 Peter 2:12 – “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.”

1 Samuel 16:7 – “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

He once again brings it back to a matter of the heart,

Galatians 5:16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

1John 2:16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

2. Modesty is about my intent which is judged by the Lord.

God’s picture of Woman

I want to live a life that reflects God’s intent for me.  I want to honor his creation and his word.  That means my first thought is to how an action will be viewed by God not by men.

1 Corinthians 10:31 “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”

Colossians 3:17 & 23 “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him. And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.”

3.  I need to give glory to God in my actions and words.

Conclusion

I need to give glory to God (3) while being modest in my heart (2).  His view of breastfeeding is as a blessing of love and comfort.  Therefore, in my mind, breastfeeding, with the intent of nurturing my baby, could not possibly be contrary to God’s word.

I will admit I have a hard time nursing in church.  I grew up wearing different clothes to church out of respect (for example, I would wear sleeveless shirts outside church but not at church[1. This isn't some dogma of my church just a way of dressing up out of respect.  The church I attend now is not as formal.  Either way, I'm not saying that God cares how nice your shoes are - once again its all about the heart]) so it is a little uncomfortable for me.  However, I want to reclaim the blessing of nursing that God gave us.  I won’t let the sexualization of the breast take that blessing from me or my culture.  It is important to me to reclaim breastfeeding for Christianity.

So, I do it.  Without a cover.  It gets easier and easier to where it hardly bothers me now.  No one has ever said anything but I’m not sure what they think.  My hope is that if it was a shock to them the first time it is getting easier and easier for them now too.  One day it won’t hardly bother them.

The pornography that is breasts in our culture has convinced us of the sexualization of breasts through pure repetition.  It shocked at first and now we just shrug at cleavage.  I hope I can reverse the trend through my own repetition one nursing session at a time.


Art by Erika Hastings at http://mudspice.wordpress.com/

Welcome to the Carnival of Nursing in Public

Please join us all week, July 5-9, as we celebrate and support breastfeeding mothers. And visit NursingFreedom.org any time to connect with other breastfeeding supporters, learn more about your legal right to nurse in public, and read (and contribute!) articles about breastfeeding and N.I.P.

Do you support breastfeeding in public? Grab this badge for your blog or website to show your support and encourage others to educate themselves about the benefits of breastfeeding and the rights of breastfeeding mothers and children.

<center><a href=”http://www.nursingfreedom.org/p/carnival-of-nursing-in-public.html&#8221; title=”Carnival of Nursing in Public”><img src=”http://babydustdiaries.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/salvation0327081.jpgwp-content/uploads/2010/06/inip1.png&#8221; alt=”Art by Erika Hastings at http://mudspice.wordpress.com/&#8221; border=”0″></a></center>This post is just one of many being featured as part of the Carnival of Nursing in Public. Please visit our other writers each day of the Carnival. Click on the links below to see each day’s posts – new articles will be posted on the following days:

July 5 – Making Breastfeeding the Norm: Creating a Culture of Breastfeeding in a Hyper-Sexualized World

July 6 – Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers: the New, the Experienced, and the Mothers of More Than One Nursing Child

July 7 – Creating a Supportive Network: Your Stories and Celebrations of N.I.P.

July 8 – Breastfeeding: International and Religious Perspectives

July 9 – Your Legal Right to Nurse in Public, and How to Respond to Anyone Who Questions It


37 thoughts on “What The Bible Says About Nursing In Public

  1. I LOVE this post!! I wish we could pass this out to every church in America! I am always saddened by the judgmental, critical comments I read from some Christian mothers who are berating mothers for nursing without a cover. This really should be required reading.

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  2. Amen! I also breastfeed in church (and everywhere else!) without a cover. I have also never had anyone say anything, which I am grateful for. I will definitely bookmark this post just in case anyone ever does say something! (Not that I have a lack of things to say on the subject, but still…) :-)

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  3. Oh, Paige! I absolutely love this and TOTALLY agree. We are totally on the same page here, sister, as my post today focuses on the fact that we HAVE bowed to our culture and its perversions. As children of the Creator, this is so grievous.

    I appreciate how you highlighted passages from Scripture to illustrate how, though there may not be a command to nurse in public per se, the act of breastfeeding surely must be pleasing to the heart of God.

    Great thoughts, mama!

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  4. I LOVE this post!! I wish we could pass this out to every church in America! I am always saddened by the judgmental, critical comments I read from some Christian mothers who are berating mothers for nursing without a cover. This really should be required reading.

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    • excellent post!!

      i also breastfed my son at church and had to work to find my own comfort level. it was a very small, conservative church (we have a different church home now) and every one was so supportive.

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  5. I'll reiterate the praise that you've already received for doing an actual scriptural analysis! Your point that modesty lies in the orientation of the heart is right on, I think. If your goal is to shock, you have the wrong motivation…wrong disposition. What it reminded me of was a quote from John Paul II, talking of pornography:

    ˝It's not that pornography shows us too much. It's that it shows us too little.˝

    Meaning, seeing flesh is not the problem – it's the disposition behind it that is (in the case of pornography, objectification).

    Nice job!

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  6. I love the assortment of Bible verses you included. I nurse in church without a cover but with nursing clothes that mean hardly any of me is exposed. It was hard for me to get over my preconceptions about appropriate church behavior-I don’t think I actually nursed him at church until he was like 9 months old!

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  7. I’ll reiterate the praise that you’ve already received for doing an actual scriptural analysis! Your point that modesty lies in the orientation of the heart is right on, I think. If your goal is to shock, you have the wrong motivation…wrong disposition. What it reminded me of was a quote from John Paul II, talking of pornography:

    ˝It’s not that pornography shows us too much. It’s that it shows us too little.˝

    Meaning, seeing flesh is not the problem – it’s the disposition behind it that is (in the case of pornography, objectification).

    Nice job!

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    • I really appreciate this comment. I think it is the objectification of the woman’s body that is such a problem. Thank you for bringing that up. It is not “sexualization” of culture. Being sexually excited is also talked about in the scriptures. And, in a positive light. “may her (you wife’s) breasts satisfy you always.”

      Paige, your point about being modest of heart is huge. Thank you!

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  8. Church is one of the hardest places for me to nurse, for three reasons: 1. Some church friends of mine openly disapprove of public nursing without a cover, 2. I don’t see anyone else doing it, 3. There is a “mother’s room” which makes me feel like I’m required to go there (even though I’m sure it’s purely for the comfort of mothers who want privacy).

    It made me feel good to read those verses. They brought me to tears and gave me an overwhelming feeling of rightness, which tells me that the Spirit is saying that what you have written is true.

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    • I had the same issues with nursing at my (old) church! I forgot about how the mother’s room made me uncomfortable, but it really did. They made a big deal about how they had this private lounge attached to the ladies’ room, with comfy chairs and the sermon piped in on a speaker. This was in addition to the cry room. It made me feel as if maybe I should not nurse even in the cry room! Not that it stopped me, but it made me feel defensive from the get-go.

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  9. Thank you for this post! I go to a fairly laid back church and have struggled with being comfortable nursing there – even covered. They provide a very comfortable nursing moms room with rockers and a/c and a tv broadcast of the service but they don’t require nursing moms to use it. Surprisingly, I have had no problem nursing at my parent’s very formal church. I guess fear of man is rampant in my heart! Thank you for the challenge!

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  10. Thank yo so much for this. I had recently stumbled uppon a discussion over breastfeeding and “modesty” in a Christian mother’s online forum and felt so incredably out of place I decilied to participate in the discussion at all for fear of being labed some sort of “Whore of Babelon” or “Jesibel Spirt” or some such. The verses you shared here 1 Peter 2:12, 1 Samuel 16:7, and Colossians 3:17 & 23 brought tears to my eyes; it was like Jesus was reaching out to me through His Word, puting his hand on my shoulder and saying, “It’s alright.” It is good for me to be gently remended from time to time that it is God, not men (or women) Who defines what is right and what is wrong and Who’s oppinion really counts.

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  11. The verses from Isaiah 66 are part of the regular readings in the Catholic church. We heard that this past Sunday!

    I’m not usually brave enough to nurse without a cover in church. It is the one place where I insisted on a cover, which I guess is ok because now my 2 year old pulls it out of the church bag if he wants to nurse in the chapel. My mom told me I should nurse in the bathroom at the last Mass we attended together, but instead A pulled the cover over his head and nursed through the readings and all of the homily.

    I will probably try nursing my third without a cover at church. I get enough grief just nursing my 2 year old, and wouldn’t try to do it without a cover at church…though we don’t use the cover anywhere else.

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  12. As a teen-aged boy growing up in the seventies and eighties, my mom had several friends who breastfed in public, and in our home, without a cover. It was really hard on me, as an adolescent guy, a virgin, who was trying to keep a pure thought life (and failing miserably), to walk into my living room and see a woman breast feeding. See, as a guy, all you see is a nude breast. You know your’e not supposed to look, and you try not to, but you sneak peeks anyway.

    While your motives are pure, and there is nothing sexual about it to you, you’re affecting the walk of those around you. I guarantee you that every adolescent male, and a high percentage of the adult males around you are enjoying your breastfeeding very much. And with us, it’s about sex. I’m sorry, but that’s the way the human male is built. Show us a nude breast in any context, and we want to fondle it.

    I just thought you should know.

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    • To the comment about seeing breastfeeding women being a hindrance to keeping your thoughts pure as a teen:
      Our society has pushed the idea that the human breast is a sexual object if you had grown up in any other part of the world where breastfeeding is normal and common and breast aren’t commercialized as erotic and forbidden then you wouldn’t have been triggered by the sight of a woman nursing her baby.
      At this point we have two choices, we can continue to punish moms and babies and perpetuate the idea that breastfeeding is somehow dirty and should be hidden or we can raise the up and coming generations to understand that the breast was created for a pure and beautiful purpose by showing them through our actions.
      My oldest son has been around breastfeeding his whole life, he’s seen his siblings fed that way as well as our other friends and family members children. To him, breast are to feed and snuggle babies, that’s it.
      There are lots of things about the female form that men enjoy looking at, if women tried to cover them all up we would all have to wear birqas! if a woman is exposing herself to attract attention then the blame is on her but if a man is aroused by something done out of innocence like breastfeeding, then the man is the one who needs to deal with his spiritual weakness, not her.

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    • I would agree that the mere sight of a breast would not be such a sexual trigger in this society if we didn’t cover them up routinely and treat them as primarily sex objects. However, it’s also true that the breast *is* a sexual organ–though that isn’t its sole job. The hands are also sexual organs, but it certainly isn’t the only thing they do! It’s perfectly normal and not only the “fault” of society that men see breasts as sexual–I think that is biological and natural in all cultures. However, it is also incumbent upon men to learn how to master their desires as they grow up, and to learn to respond appropriately to when the situation is sexual and when it’s not (otherwise, how could a straight male doctor remain professional at all times, for instance). I can see how it would be much harder for a younger man whose hormones and lack of experience haven’t gotten him to the “mastery” stage quite yet, but for grown men, I would certainly hope that they can control themselves and keep their thoughts clean if they are in a room with a breastfeeding woman. I’m sure it takes practice for some who never saw breastfeeding before! But it’s not my job to make sure the thoughts of every man in the room remain clean, so long as I’m not being overtly sexual.

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  13. God said man should disire his wife’s breast how do you think you end up having a baby, so at least have the modesty to cover up for your husbands sake, right? From a God fearing women with three grown children all breastfeed. Were talking common since here.

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    • First off, THANK YOU PAIGE for writing this article! I will be using it as a reference point for further conversations for sure.

      Second…since when does the simple act of nursing a baby without a cover mean that anything is exposed to be seen? I nursed my son for ten months and could not cover because he would not eat with something over his head. Was I immodest? NO! Not a full inch of skin was shown.

      God created breasts to be used to feed the children that he also created. Mother’s who breastfeed should be applauded and celebrated whether they cover or not. They should not be berated because you are uncomfortable at the thought of it. And yes I said thought, because I have yet to see a breastfeeding mom stand up and expose her entire breast and jump up and down saying LOOK AT ME I AM BREAST FEEDING. So at this point it becomes not an issue of modesty but rather an issue of judging. Which is not your place or my place to do. Only GOD can pass judgment.

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    • I have always been VERY modest (I would even be embarrassed to wear shorts out in public, I only wear modest one-piece suits, and I NEVER have any cleavage showing), and I think that is something my husband always appreciated about me.

      Now I have a son who refuses to nurse with a cover over him, and I had to re-evaluate my priorities. I try to be discreet – I use a nursing tank under my shirt. It covers my torso, and usually my breast is covered by the baby, but he likes to pop off and look around sometimes and that means a brief “flash”. It doesn’t bother me anymore, because I know I am doing the best to care for my son.

      I have discussed this with my husband, because we have a relationship based on mutual respect, and although he would NEVER tell me what I had to do, I want to make sure he is comfortable and knows that I respect his feelings about the issue. He is totally fine with it. He is very supportive of my breastfeeding. He and all his siblings (except his adopted sister) were all breastfed.

      Vivian- I think it is something that couples have to decide for themselves. If it bothers the husband, than maybe he and his wife need to discuss the pros and cons of the situation and come to a compromise. If the family has decided that NIP works best for their lifestyle, or doesn’t work for them, then we should respect it as their family’s decision.

      Just my 2¢

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    • Last time I checked, you don’t get pregnant from having your breasts looked at. I didn’t “cover up” but then all that was out was covered by my baby. So, you couldn’t actually see anything. Have you actually read the bible? Because I have and there is no verse that says, “God says, man should desire his wife’s breasts.” There are a multitude of verses that celebrate breast feeding and many equating breast feeding with spiritual food from God. So, maybe you should consider a little more time spent in the word and let go of your earthly misconceptions about the true function of a woman’s breasts.

      Like

  14. This is fantastic. We dont attend a local church right now (for a couple of reasons) but I remember during the service before my son’s baptism he got fussy and I ended up in our church’s tiny cry room with a family with 3 small children. Embarassed to have forgotten a blanket, I apologized to the mother. She gave me this look and said, “Hon, I have 3 kids – it’s nothing new to them.” It was such a relief and my first truly comfortable NIP experience.

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  15. @Vivian- I think you mean “desire” and “sense”, but even ignoring the typos, I don’t understand what point you’re trying to make here. My husband, for example, is the oldest of 6 breastfed kids and supports me 100% in nursing our son, including in public & at church as needed. And he still “desires” me-the fact that I am a breastfeeding mom in no way diminishes his desire for me. I believe Christian women should try to be modest by nursing discretely, but what that means is between each woman & God-we aren’t here to play “modesty police” and tell our sisters in Christ when they’re being “immodest” by caring for their children. Why not assume each mama is doing the best she can & give her love & support instead of attacking her verbally?

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  16. vivian, do you have a biblical reference for that? I’m really curious about the context it is in. I’m really not sure what you’re trying to say – if God said (you claim) that men should desire their wife’s breast, what’s the problem with my husband seeing mine?

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  17. Vivian, your post is hard to understand. When I was nursing my first child, I attempted to use all sorts of gadgets to cover over her while nursing her. It turned into a 3 ring circus. I would place her under the blanket and start undoing my bra, while she kicked off the blanket. I would replace the blanket, uncover, she would lose interest and once again kick off the blanket. By this time, I had an uncovered breast, a receiving blanket held between my knees and in my teeth and a kicking baby underneath a billowing, twisted blanket. If you’re trying to nurse without drawing attention to yourself, that’s not the best method. This is the nursing mother’s equivalent of braided hair, gold jewelry and pearls. The message is “Hey, everybody, I’m BREASTfeeding!”

    It was more discreet and therefore more modest (I even showed less skin) when I left the blanket in the bag. I was able to unhook, cover the breast with the baby’s head and latch her on very quickly and without drawing attention. No one noticed and those who did smiled at me. Most people just thought I was holding a sleeping baby.

    I quit using the cover for my own sake, but if you’re concerned about my husband, then it was for him too. If the babies are happy, I’m happy and if I’m happy, he’s happy.

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  18. awesome awesome awesome! :)
    I’m fortunate to have a pastor and wife who are 1000% supportive of my breastfeeding my children during the service. I usually do cover, but my kids don’t mind so it works – if they were kicking it off and having trouble? good by blanket. This very week an issue has cropped up that “someone” has a problem with it – rather than discuss it with me, or our pastor – they dragged my youngest sister into it causing her to be tearful and ashamed and beg me to stop. I am quite angry about it. I informed our pastor of the situation, and he was also astounded and angry that this should be happening at all.
    One of the most helpful things he’s said on this topic to me was this; if someone has an issue with breastfeeding – the problem lies in their own mind and heart – not in what you are doing. They have the responsibility to deal with their heart – not you.
    I’m a bit nervous about this approaching Sunday – but I also have a feeling the offended person may just be my own Father – our pastor is planning on seeking out who this person is and discussing it with them in person – I’m almost hopeful it is my dad b/c he could really stand to hear that breastfeeding is normal and beautiful and a gift from God from another grown man – maybe then he’ll mature and give me a break!

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  19. Without getting into a full-blown debate on breastfeeding, I would just say that I take issue with the statement “Modesty is about my intent which is judged by the Lord.”

    It is about your intent, but it is also about your actual effect on other people. A woman could sunbathe nude in the park with the sole purpose of getting a tan for her husband to appreciate, but that doesn’t make it a modest thing to do.

    Paul says that we are not to cause our brothers (and sisters) to stumble, not to do something that would lead them to sin (Rom 14:13-23, 1 Cor 8:4-13). Certainly, there is no Scriptural command that “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not” breastfeed in public, but if it is causing or is likely to cause men to lust, then it would be a sin to continue to do so.

    Obviously this can be taken too far. Anything we ever do is at risk of somehow causing someone to sin, but if there’s a pretty good chance that something would, we’re supposed to refrain from it.

    I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do or what not to do but simply to point out that the Scriptural test is not solely our own hearts but the effect of our (otherwise permissible) actions on others. And in fact, if someone doesn’t care about the effect of their actions on others (not whether they like those actions or not, it’s actual effect), I would say that their heart probably isn’t in the right place to start.

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    • I agree that there is a degree of personal responsibility to how your modesty effects others.
      However! There are also men who think lustful thoughts of young girls in a school girl uniform. Where does my personal responsibility end and a man’s begin? I think only God knows and he knows in my heart what my motivation is for feeding my child.

      Like

  20. Pingback: Breastfeeding Myths « The Mahogany Way Birth Cafe

  21. Actually, no it’s not about sex, or about “the human male”. It is all about a sad cultural phenomenon which has lost all reason when it comes to this subject.

    My husband is a human male (obviously). But he was not raised in this porn-saturated culture with it’s twisted view of sexuality in general and breastfeeding in particular. As an adolescent, and as a man, he has no problem differentiating between breast-sexual and breast-baby food. He is not sexually bothered or stumbled to see a woman breastfeeding. Because he observed this as a natural, nonsexual mothering behavior from infancy onward–his own mother, his aunts, the church ladies, women at the market. Nobody looked twice when a mother hitched up her shirt to feed her hungry baby, because there was nothing special to look at. And this is the experience of the majority of men in his culture, at least those who remain mostly untouched by Western objectification of women as sex objects only. So either all those men are not “human males”, or you are trying to blame “God’s design” for something that is actually a cultural and social issue.

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  22. Thank you Will, I agree wholeheartedly with your comment. I come from a third world country…I am perfectly accustomed to the breast feeding culture specially amongst the natives in my country of Peru. Yes, breast feeding is certainly a beautiful act of not just giving good nutrition but also of nurturing and bonding between mother and child. However, given that we live in a fallen world, I certainly don't expect people to just "deal" with their issues simply because I grew up with seeing exposed breast feeding as normal, I cover up regardless. It would also be naive of me to think that I have the POWER to change the powers of LUST of this world, somehow needing to PROVE that my godly intent to nurse in public overrides whatever opinions, feelings, or struggles that people legitimately may be having are of no concern or consequence to me…this way of thinking/behaving doesn't seem very loving. Whatever happened with, "And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise." Luke 6:31

    "Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!"

    Unfortunately, most people seem more preoccupied with doing the reverse!

    Like

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