Babies, breasts and baptism

When our babies were new, a friend told the story of her daughter’s baptism. Another child in the congregation was being baptized alongside her, and this baby was hungry. Very hungry. The baby would not be put off or consoled without being fed; so his mother fed him. The baby did not want to be put off in the middle of feeding, so to save the people from his screams, the mother held him close and kept him comforted and let him know that she was always there for him, her and her breasts, right up to the very last second.

“The priest almost baptized her boob along with the baby!” laughed my friend.

Was your reaction to that story to giggle, grimace, or whip out your special green “Angry of Essex” letter-to-the-editor pen?

On a different side of the pond (a detail which I think is not unimportant to the way in which this story is being received), mischief is being made over a photo of two women breastfeeding three children between them. Often, photos of women breastfeeding are presented as controversial here, which is pretty sigh-worthy in itself. The photographer in this instance might have been trying to capitalize on the scandal that Time magazine was trying recently to provoke with its “mom enough” breastfeeding cover ( ).

But really, the controversy is not about the photo but about our attitudes to breastfeeding, motherhood and parenting in general. There is nothing, I repeat, nothing, scandalous, notorious or titillating about women feeding their babies.

Detail via

The women in this latest photograph are wearing military uniforms. This has got some people in a stew. Some people seem to think that nurturing children in front of other people is incompatible with military service. They call it dishonorable, undignified – what?!

In the week following Memorial Day, when we honoured veterans and their families for their service, for their selfless giving, for their self-giving, we found ourselves surrounded by arguments about whether this self-giving love was compatible with that self-giving love. Whether this form of service denigrated that kind of service. The irony is miserable; this thing has got me up in arms.

I posted a link on facebook to npr’s coverage of the story: – where you can see the full photo and commentary – with a comment about our support of women, parents and babies. Being a church person, I noted that it’s a good idea to take Communion to a mother in the pews who normally comes forward to receive but is clearly otherwise engaged at the time breastfeeding her baby. You don’t even have to baptize the boob, and eye contact is in this case recommended.

I’m not giggling any more.

But I can’t help smiling every time I look at the happy, self-giving, dream-fulfilling, nurturing, strong, loving women that this picture portrays. They have my full support.

Update: What would be the public reaction to a photograph of a woman breastfeeding her baby wearing clericals? What would be your response?

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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3 Responses to Babies, breasts and baptism

  1. Ken Ranos says:

    I too thought it sad that the controversy wasn’t over the breast feeding per se, but over the military uniforms it was done in. It “sullied” the uniform and the service to have breast feeding done in that way, apparently. The idolatry of the military is already way out of hand, but this just makes me shake my head and say, “So what else is new?”

  2. Joy says:

    LOL at the last poll option!!!!!! Thanks Rosalind!

  3. Pingback: Breast feeding in church | over the water

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