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Spiritual Mothering

posted Mar 30, 2015, 12:16 PM by Carolyn Honea, IBCLC, CLC   [ updated Mar 28, 2018, 8:28 AM ]
Although the case for breastfeeding can easily be made from observable science, many religions also contribute to the topic of breastfeeding. The Quran, for instance, strongly encourages Islamic women to breastfeed at least two years. During my first year of motherhood, I did some research to find out what the Christian Bible had to say about motherhood and breastfeeding. Although I had been a practicing Christian my whole life, I wasn't even sure if the Bible spoke to that topic. Much to my surprise, I found that the Scriptures referenced breastfeeding 26 times! Here are 3 of my favorites:

Mary & Jesus
“Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her,
all you who love her;
rejoice greatly with her,
all you who mourn over her.
For you will nurse and be satisfied
at her comforting breasts;
you will drink deeply
and delight in her overflowing abundance.”
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.
As a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”
Isaiah 66:10-13

Paraphrase: God comforts his people like a nursing mother. The picture painted in poetic language is a mother comforting her baby by breastfeeding, and a baby that is fully satisfied and happy...carried near to her mother in her arms and lap. This divine image of motherhood stands is stark contrast to a strict, unattached mother dutifully scheduling her baby's feedings, withholding comfort nursing, and training her baby to be content away from her. And yet in many Christian circles the latter approach has been promoted as "parenting God's way." Apparently they didn't read this beautiful passage where God self describes himself in such nurturing, maternal language! 

My next favorite comes from Paul, one of Jesus' followers who was writing a letter to a church he had started,

But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
1 Thessalonians 2:7-9

Paraphrase: Paul described himself as gentle, giving of himself night and day because of his affection...just like a nursing mother caring for her little ones. Again, we get to glimpse the real Christian portrait of mothering.

Icon Mary Breastfeeding Jesus

All embarrassment and false modesty goes out the window when we consider that even Jesus was breastfed by his mother Mary, as depicted in hundreds of historic works of art: 

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

This Easter, I hope you will be encouraged to listen to the soft, still voice within that whispers to hold your precious baby a little longer, and a little closer. Nursing and nurturing your baby is building the foundation of love and security that all the later years of childhood are built upon. And if you are searching for a faith community that will not bat an eye at breastfeeding during a gathering and honors your role of mother, I would like to personally invite you to my spiritual home, Church of The Good Shepherd in Cornelius, NC: