Pope Francis came out as an unabashed breastfeeding champion, encouraging mothers to breastfeed freely, “just as Mary breastfed Jesus.”
I love Pope Francis, and I’m not in even Catholic. I love him as a fellow peace activist.
And because he is an unabashed breastfeeding champion.
I have been in too many churches that frown upon a crying baby. No matter where you draw your spirituality, it can be startling to be on the receiving end of others’ disapproving looks on the naturalness of new life — especially if you meet that baby’s cries with breastfeeding, even if you use a cover.
I don’t have anything against using a nursing cover — I think it’s a perfectly okay choice for a mother, and they come in so many pretty colors and patterns that you can mix-and-match depending on your fashion trends and your mood for the day. But what I don’t like is what wearing a cover can represent: That breastfeeding is shameful.
Pope Francis extinguishes this idea. He tells his followers to breastfeed freely while worshipping. He reminds all that Jesus, who grew up to become a Savior worshipped around the world, was breastfed by his mother.
I know the Bible describes baby Jesus being wrapped in swaddling cloth and laid in a manger, and I’m sure this happened at some point of their stay at the stable, apparently — but because he was a baby, described to us as fully God and fully human, he could not have survived long just laying in a manger.
Baby Jesus had to have spent the majority of his time, especially if living his early days in an unheated stable, where all newborn babies are designed to be — skin-to-skin with his mother, and breastfeeding.
And while we’re on the topic, no doubt, baby Jesus breastfed well into his early childhood years if not beyond. Breastfeeding, with its astounding composition, would have been the best assurance to reach adulthood in a time of nonexistent health care.
Babies crying is just as natural as breastfeeding. It’s not anything to be shamed. It’s actually something to celebrate — a new life, a mother created, a family united, a promise and hope for the next generation. But above all, no matter how piercing we might find those cries, it is natural. It is how God designed babies, and Pope Francis honors that.
I love how a Vatican Radio correspondent put it earlier this week during one of the pope’s services:
“As the sounds of crying grew louder, the pope joked that the concert had begun. The babies are crying, he said, because they are in an unfamiliar place, or because they had to get up early, or sometimes simply because they hear another child crying. Jesus did the same, Pope Francis said, adding that he liked to think of our Lord’s first sermon as his crying in the stable. And if your children are crying because they are hungry, the pope told the mothers present, then go ahead and feed them, just as Mary breastfed Jesus.”
So Jesus’s first sermon was a baby crying in the stable, beckoning his mother to meet his needs. No matter your spiritual stance, as a breastfeeding mother, that’s a powerful picture — breastfeeding was designed in humankind to be an act of love.
Of course, modern science reveals that this is so, that breastfeeding as well as natural birth create a cascade of hormones that include oxytocin, which creates a feeling of love between mothers and their babies.
As a deeply spiritual person but also driven to seek the scientific truth, I choose to look for the science that supports the faith. It is everywhere.
Breastfeeding, through the power of oxytocin, only seals the deal for me: That we were designed to breastfeed for a reason — because it is an act of love, and through it, we not only learn how to love our babies but we are teaching the next generation the give-and-take of healthy, loving relationships just as they experienced right from the start through breastfeeding.
And that’s the scientific truth, no matter what your spiritual beliefs.