A Biblical Basis for Breastfeeding

Now before I start, this isn’t going to be some kind of rant against formula feeding or forcing any kind of breastfeeding agenda – there are plenty of other places you could go for that. It’s just a look at breastfeeding in the Bible and using breastfeeding time for prayer. That’s all. You can breathe now. And yes, I did feel like a naughty schoolboy looking up “breasts” in the Bible concordance…

I was lucky enough to grow up in a church where breastfeeding was the norm. When one lady got seriously ill after giving birth, another lady took her baby in and breastfed her (the baby is now about 20 and I’m sure she loves being reminded of this story). Another woman openly fed her baby at the back of church, without any kind of cover and I remember being both shocked and impressed by her boldness when I was 11 or so. But the thing that’s stuck with me most is an article in the church magazine, and I don’t even remember who wrote it. So I apologise to whomever it was, but thanks.

The basis was that she was finding prayer difficult to fit into her daily life with a small baby. The baby was waking her up regularly for night feeds, so she decided to use that time to pray. She sat in a rocking chair and spent time with God and her baby at the same time. Now, I don’t really wake up enough at night to pray, but Eva and I do have a feeding to sleep time every evening which I use for prayer. I like to think it soothes her and makes her sleepy, but it might just be that for once I’m feeding her without waving a phone around her head to distract her. Either way, it’s a rare peaceful moment in a noisy day for both of us.

Breastfeeding is, of course, commonplace in the Bible. There was no formula back then, so there was no alternative but, crucially, society was geared up to support women breastfeeding. Nowadays, breastfeeding is undermined in so many subtle ways – from limited amounts of maternity pay forcing women to go back to work early to prudish restaurant owners ejecting nursing mothers from their premises. Back then, it was the norm and no-one would have been shocked at the sight of a mother feeding her child.

In case you need evidence to back this up, here it is – Naomi breastfed (Ruth 4:16),  Moses was breastfed (Exodus 2:9) and Samuel was breastfed until he was old enough to be sent to the Temple (1 Sam 1:23). It is thought that Samuel was around 2 or 3 by the time this happened, and it was perfectly normal. Now, nursing a 3-year-old may get you marked as some kind of “extreme” mother, but it obviously didn’t hurt Samuel or affect his brain development. Even Jesus was breastfed – although it’s not mentioned in the Bible, there are a lot of paintings that depict the Virgin Mary breastfeeding, and it’s impossible that she wouldn’t have. Unless the infant Jesus turned water into Enfamil.

It was commonplace but, importantly, it was talked about. It wasn’t something slightly shameful – it was something joyful! Just look at the number of times Isaiah uses breastfeeding as a metaphor – there’s Isaiah 28:9 (“Who is it he is trying to teach? To whom is he explaining his message? To children weaned from their milk, to those just taken from the breast?”), Isaiah 49:15 (“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!”), Isaiah 60:16 (“You will drink the milk of nations and be nursed at royal breasts”) and Isaiah 66:11 (“For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance”). It was something that everyone could relate to, and something to be proud of – hence the use of breastfeeding as a metaphor for both God and Jerusalem at different times. And if you need any more convincing that there is nothing shameful about breasts, then check out Song of Songs. True, not all breasts look like towers, fawns or bunches of grapes but that’s poetry for you!

Basically, I said before that I’m not pushing a breastfeeding agenda. If breastfeeding hasn’t worked for you, that’s okay. But the mothers I’m really talking to are the ones that are successfully breastfeeding, yet feel awkward about feeding in public or in church or indeed even talking about it. I’m hoping that all of this has made you feel that not only are you doing something good for your child, you’re also doing something biblical. And that makes it something to proud of and open about. Don’t let anyone make you feel weird for nursing your child – the women of the Bible are on your side. It’s natural and it’s only society that has over-sexualized breasts so that you feel ashamed. True, our post-fall state decrees that some degree of modesty should probably be observed in public. (I’m not advocating all-nude churches. That would be weird). But that doesn’t mean that you need to feel embarrassed about feeding anywhere and churches should be especially welcoming of breastfeeding mothers.

So, enjoy your breastfeeding journey and just be happy that – unlike Hannah – you don’t need to send your baby off anywhere at the end of it (although by the time you have a 3-year-old boy, you might well be tempted to ship him off to a temple…).