Didn’t Mary Breastfeed Baby Jesus?

 This past weekend, several of the Montana Childbirth Collective  ladies, including myself and six-year-old Ellie, conducted a campaign of distributing Mothering Magazine’s International Breastfeeding Symbol stickers and window clings to well over 100 businesses in the greater Bozeman area.

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The goal?

1.  To promote wide-spread recognition of this symbol, just as we are accustomed to these symbols:

international-symbols

2.  To encourage businesses to show support for nursing moms and babies by displaying the symbol and, better yet, providing a comfortable, quiet and/or welcoming place for mothers to nurse their children while away from home.

3.  To teach our culture that whenever/wherever anyone (mothers needing to breastfeed or just plain anyone) sees this symbol, it represents a friendly place for nursing–A.K.A not a place where a breastfeeding mom ought to expect to be on the receiving end of dirty looks, chiding comments and, worst of all, requests that she “cover up” or discontinue feeding her child or find an alternative location (such as a public bathroom stall).

It’s hard to say how much affect we’ve had just yet.  Because we were distributing on the weekend, plenty of stores, staffed by workers other than the owners themselves, are in possession of the stickers/window clings, but few have displayed them as of yet.  (It’s far too easy and, in most cases, required, for a barista or book store worker to punt to higher management or the shop owner for making the final decision as to whether or not a little 4×4″ sticker might be placed on a window.

What we, as a group, found interesting during this little exercise, was the response we received in the most unexpected of places.

Of course we expected businesses like maternity clothing and baby toy stores to be more than willing to display the sticker as well as some locally owned stores with known breastfeeding families at the helm.  But who would’ve thought the employee at Taco Bell would’ve been so excited about the sticker?  Or a trendy women’s shoe store?  Or one of the twelve or so coffee shops in town?

Moreover, who would’ve thought one of the natural food stores in town (Oak Street Market) would’ve flat out turned us down, claiming “they don’t like to put anything on their windows”?  Or the Family Christian Book Store, in which the employee approached by one of our members went out of her way to state she wouldn’t mind a mom breastfeeding in their store as long as she “went in the bathroom and shut the door.” This was the same woman who referred to breastfeeding on several occasions as “disgusting.” 

Did I mention public breastfeeding has been a legally protected activity, according to Montana State Law, since 1999?

I’m sorry, but wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that Mary breastfed baby Jesus?  Does the woman at the Christian book store mentioned above presume that, upon the arrival of the Three Wisemen, Joseph whispered into Mary’s ear, “better cover up honey, we’ve got company”  ?

Well I must presume that, back in the day, Caesar didn’t carve a law into stone (literally) to protect a mother’s right to breastfeed outside the confines of her tent.  He wouldn’t have had to.  Chances are, people in the first century AD weren’t quite as prudish as our culture has strangely become.  (Prudish, despite the thousands of images of scantily clad women that drip from newsstands each day:  Images contained in the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Edition.  Maxxim.  When Girls Go Wild–Spring Break videos.  Do folks that abhor the idea of breastfeeding ever stop to consider the fact that way more boobieis most likely displayed by their neighbor’s teenage daughter while taking notes in Algebra than by a mother discreetly breastfeeding her child?

Call me naive, but I would’ve thought a store with the words family and Christian in the title might have been a little more supportive of a HUGE family-oriented issue.

Anyway, we garnered some nice local media coverage for the project (check out Gabe and I during my interview with KBZK’s Beth Saboe) and, hopefully, we will start to see those stickers appearing in windows around town as the powers that be make their decisions.

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If you’re reading this and are local to Bozeman, the following is a short list of businesses included in the distribution.  If you happen into one of these places and don’t see a sticker/window cling, would you consider asking them about it?

Thanks.

Stores that received International Breastfeeding Symbol stickers:

Leaf & Bean – Main & N 19th
Country Book Shelf
Burger Bobs
8 Miles to the Border
Rockford Coffee
Rocky Mountain Roasters
Co-Op
The Bay
Barnes & Nobles
Naked Noodle
Sweet Pea Bakery
Home Page
Western Drug Store
The Club
Bozeman Public Library
Ale Works
Main Street Overeasy
Bozeman Birth Center
Bibs & Binkies
Old Navy
Taco Del Mar
Subway
Samaria Sams
Borders Books

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19 Comments

Filed under Childbirth Issues, family, From One Mother to Another, General Health, Kids, Mommy and Motherhood, politics

19 responses to “Didn’t Mary Breastfeed Baby Jesus?

  1. Shelly

    But did Mary feed him in public? One possible solution which my sister uses is to pump her milk and when in public use a bottle to feed the baby. I am sure there are a number of other ideas that will keep baby satisfied and not offend the public. Great idea on the stickers!

  2. Wow, Kimmelin!

    I assumed that breastfeeding mothers today got better treatment than when I had my babies, but I can see I was wrong. Is it still taboo to feed our children in public???

    It always bothered me that I had to schedule my errands around feeding times because there was no comfortable place for me to breastfeed my baby. NO ONE wanted to witness a baby drinking from the breast. I was especially conscious because both times around, breastfeeding came with pain, leaks, and a team of lactitions at my side. The added public pressure to “do it secretly and silently” was too much.

    The only business I have EVER seen take this issue seriously is Nordstrom. When I was an employee there 15 years ago, breastpumps and breastmilk dominated the employee lounge. Many young moms worked there, so the company set up a special private area for employees including a very comfy sofa.

    But what if it was different? What if a new mother could leave the house and run her household errands, knowing that she could take care of her baby in a comfortable welcoming environment?

    She might find the company of another new mother, feel less isolated, and enjoy her time in that establishment so much that she returned to shop (or eat, or whatever) there. She’d probably tell her friends about it. And that business would have a unique way to keep the dollars rolling in during our economic crisis.

    Smart businesses will jump on this and display the breasfeeding stickers. Congratulations on leading a worthy cause!

    Windy Lynn

    • In some cities, in some circles, breastfeeding moms do receive better treatment, but there are always those hold-outs who like to taint the waters.

      I’m glad to hear about the Nordstrom provision of a comfortable, quiet pumping area…yet again, Nordstrom sets the bar!

  3. When my older son was born 16 years ago this was an issue and I’m shocked that it still is. I didn’t have many negative experiences because most of the time people had no idea I was nursing. I was quite clever with the blanket. I see moms today using these giant, tent-like cover-ups that scream “I’m nursing!” and cover the baby’s head. It’s not pleasant breathing under a blanket. I wish these women didn’t feel like they needed to over cover themselves and their child. Maybe the stickers will help with that.

  4. Andrea

    “Did Mary feed him in public?” Probably
    I would never suggest using a bottle unless its absolutely necessary. And frankly, going out in public is hardly that. Studies show that introducing a bottle can cause nipple confusion. Which will cause problems in the nursing relationship. We want women to have successful nursing relationships. Why make it harder on these mums and their babies? We all know that breastmilk is the best for babes.

  5. @Shelly and Andrea:

    Thank you both for your comments.

    While nipple confusion certainly can be a problem…and while some moms do choose to pump and then feed their babies (successfully) from a bottle during outtings, I still feel a huge issue here is the fact that some women feel compelled to do the pump and bottle thing simply for the benefit of other people’s fragile feelings about breastfeeding. (If the woman choses to pump and bottle feed for the sake of her own feelings…then that’s another issue.) It’s the perception here that’s the problem!

    Imagine if, every time a puppy or kitten got themselves connected to the teet, a prudish human being with misplaced anxiety over nursing threw a blanket over the dogs/cats. Wouldn’t that be so silly? Right, it would. Because IT’S NORMAL for dogs/cats/pigs/cows/horses to nurse their babies. Even Mr. Rogers thought so… having done a segment on his show many years ago about “how we feed our babies.” And, guess what folks…those beings mentioned above: they’re MAMMALS. And guess what else? So are we. Do you know what the base of the word mammal refers to? Mammary…as in MAMMARY GLANDS…those things that are meant to feed the young. I’m talkin’ basic anthropology and physiology here folks. We are meant to use our mammary glands (our breasts) just like we are meant to walk upright on two feet, use our frontal cortexes for reasoning and advanced thought processes and use our thumbs for enhanced dexterity. And, in taking advantage of those frontal cortexes, we also have the ability to analyze why “breast is best” for our babies. (Perfect nutrition for each individual baby, easily digested, protective against allergies, asthma, obesity, breast cancer, enhanced bonding between mom and baby, no nipple confusion…the list goes on.)

    So, thank you again ladies, for all your thoughtful comments. Keep up the dialog. Keep thinking about it. Maybe some day, the act of breastfeeding in this country will truly be the non-issue (and at the same time, a hugely important one) that it really is meant to be!

  6. Gloria

    Thank you Kimmelin, for helping to raise awareness about this issue that for some reason is still an issue. As a breastfeeding mother in this town, I have been asked to nurse my baby in the FAIRGROUNDS bathroom during the Rock and Gem show, have been offered a blanket to “cover up” while nursing at the thrift store, and told I was seeking attention and needed to find a private place to nurse while feeding my baby in the Post Office. I have often received dirty looks from other guests at the coffee shop. And I am rather discreet, if that point even matters. Each time I felt misunderstood and mistreated for doing something so NORMAL and NATURAL, breastfeeding my baby. Most of these instances were with my first baby, 6 years ago. Now I am nursing my second baby, and occasionally in public I choose to wear one of those nursing cover-ups, not because I want to or I like them or to please anybody else, only to protect myself and my new baby from the negative energy I have received in the past.

  7. Gloria,

    I’m so thankful for you to share your perspective as a presently nursing mom. Hopefully folks who come across this blog post and ensuing comments will take into consideration how the NURSING MOM feels upon receiving “negative energy” as you so aptly put it, while feeding her baby. To suggest a nursing mother is “trying to get attention” is so beyond asinine, I can’t even begin to fathom how someone can say that.

    You are a tremendous mama to both your boys, a beautiful, discreet, breastfeeding lady and also a tremendous advocate for the normalcy of this method of nurturing our children. (Of course, even if you weren’t discreet, I’d still find your breastfeeding self lovely and all but…I digress…)

  8. Claire

    I just wanted to chime in as another local breastfeeding mom. Although it is not always the case, I wanted to share some of the “positive energy” I have received recently, while breastfeeding my toddler (which is of course another issue)! I was walking around the farmer’s market this weekend, nursing, (sans baby carrier!), feeling somewhat self-conscious. I got a “Power to the nipple!” shout-out from another mom, whom I know nurses her own toddler, discreetly, at home! As well as a “Beautiful!” comment, that I assume was referring to my daughter’s sunhat that I was trying to use, (somewhat unsuccessfully!), to shield our nursing from public view. Although, perhaps that comment was referring to exactly what they saw! Anyway, thanks for raising this awareness!

  9. I am nursing twins. . . quite the challenge in public! I usually just do one at a time, sometimes covered, sometimes not. I did manage to feed both at the same time while at the park. I did use a cover that time!! Too much mammary showing when nursing two!!
    I struggled with breastfeeding from day one- PCOS, twins, prematurity, c/section, NICU- you name it I struggled with it. But the three of us perceivered and almost 4 months later they are exclusively breast fed. I really want to promote breastfeeding with the general community.

    How can I get one of those stickers? I would love to have one on my car.

    Jill

  10. Just came across this post as I was searching for a nice poem or something about Mary’s feeling as she breastfed Jesus. Not quite what I had in mind but great post nonetheless.
    I was at my husband’s extended family Christmas celebration and, right at the dinner table, ended up having to nurse my 20 month old son (you try getting a hungry toddler to sit still while we do 20 mins of devotions and singing!) and I got some strange looks but no one said a word :)
    I’ve also nursed my toddler in museums and shopping malls etc. No one has ever said anything but my response to them would be something akin to “would you rather I nurse him and he’s quiet and well behaved or not nurse him and have him screaming and throwing a fit?”
    Good for you for getting the work out that puplic breastfeeding is just as normal as any other aspect of child-rearing.

    Side note: I saw a boy who looked about 4 sucking on a bottle, and a boy who I swear was like 6 sucking on a soother, why are fake nipples okay but real ones aren’t?

  11. Tessa,

    My prepared reply to a public nursing naysayer would have always been something quite similar to yours.

    Interestingly enough, prior to having children, I never would have anticipated becoming so passionate about this topic. Like you pointed out (artificial nipples vs real ones) there are so many hypocritical viewpoints in our culture–especially when it comes to child rearing issues.

    Praise the day when women in our country don’t have to maintain a prepared come back, poised and ready in our collective frontal cortex, to defend their choice to naturally feed their child anywhere they please!

    Thanks for the comment.

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  13. Rebecca

    Yes, Mary would have nursed Jesus in public. Nursing was normal and from over a thousand years ago there are images in art of Mary nursing baby Jesus.

    Regardless of the sad and outdated arguments, one thing can be said for sure. The problem with nursing in public has so many sources that there is no one answer to ending the problem. To cite a few issues… 1) A woman’s breasts have been over sexualized and therefore are seen as sex objects for men (and women) to look at for their pleasure or discomfort. 2) Being a mother (or “just a mother”) is seen as not worthy of respect by many people and so the nurturing act of breastfeeding is also not respected as it should be. 3) The life of an unborn baby is disposable to some people, so how can the act of nurturing a baby be that important to those people either. 4) There is still a lot of ignorance about just how important breastfeeding is, just how hard it is to do it well, and just what a wonderful blessing it is.

    I hope and pray that someday we can stop being so PC and be honest that the breast is best, breastfeeding should be celebrated, and it is not only beautiful but normal and natural to breastfeed. My heart goes out to mom’s who cannot breastfeed for whatever reason. They should be nurtured and loved and not judged. For those who choose to bottle feed because breastfeeding is in their opinion “gross,” “too limiting,” “not worth it,” “uncomfortable,” “embarrassing”, etc., please educate yourselves and support those who are breastfeeding. There does not need to be hard feelings between those who bottle and those who breastfeed. Honesty, knowledge, acceptance and unity need to be our focus. I will never agree that bottle feeding is a good choice for the average woman, but I do not think every women should or can breastfeed. If you cannot or should not breastfeed, then of course bottle feeding is a great choice. You can be just as good a mother bottle feeding, but it will take extra work and a commitment to feeding your baby correctly while using that bottle. Propping a bottle up and walking away because you are too busy, not holding the baby and connecting to them as you feed them, having others feed your baby most of the time even when you could, etc. will negatively affect your baby. Skin to skin contact is crucial for a baby, so if you bottle feed make time to hold the baby against your bare skin while bottle feeding. Make sure you cradle hold, have eye contact with and talk to your baby as you feed them.

    Keep up the good work mommies of the world. Remember that “the hand the rocks the cradle rules the world.”

  14. Carol Franchini

    Hooray!!!! Keep up the good work in this distorted world we live in….. Our nursing babies grow into loving adults :). I nursed both mine for 2 years and they are 38 & 32 and continue to nurture others… My grandson is 18 months and not looking to wean yet!

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