Why the Mothers’ Room makes me sad

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Our church building, like many church buildings, has a “mothers’ room” in it. It has a small carpet-covered counter top, a garbage can for baby diapers and two easy chairs. Unlike many of the mothers’ rooms in the LDS church houses, it is not in a bathroom.

In the five months since we started attending church in this building, I’ve been to the mothers’ room only a handful of times. Mostly dear, sweet Husband does diaper changes at church and I never use the mothers’ room to nurse (dang hippie).

When I occasionally do change a diaper at church, there are often other moms sitting there, nursing their babies. Often, these women have their backs turned to the door and a nursing cover draped over themselves and their babies. It makes me sad.

Now, I understand sometimes a nursing cover is helpful. I do own one and use it on occasion, mostly when Monkey is too squirmy and distracted to pay attention to eating. I also realize that I am kind of a hippie. I am swimming against the current, rejecting and challenging cultural norms. Not every woman is going to ever be comfortable nursing a baby in Sunday School (truthfully, while I am more comfortable than I was six months ago, I’m not totally comfortable doing it).

However, if there is any place women should feel comfortable nursing openly it should be the mothers’ room at church!

Good heavens, if a woman cannot feel comfortable nursing her baby – doing one of the things her body was designed by God to do – surrounded only by other women who also believe in the sanctity of motherhood, is there any place that nursing will be acceptable?

This may not seem to matter (who cares if you can’t nurse openly, in public or without a cover?). However, this attitude has long-reaching effects.

Breastfeeding has been stigmatized over the years. When I was born, formula was “the way to go” if you could afford it. Thankfully, my mom could not. However, this past preference towards formula – funded by a nearly $8 billion industry – has resulted in a generation of women who do not know how to breastfeed.

It is not always innate or instinctual for mom or baby in the beginning. Anecdotally, almost all of the women I’ve talked to who have had their first babies in the last two years have had issues with breastfeeding. We have not been exposed to it and it is not easy in the beginning. Many give up. By creating a culture supportive of breastfeeding, we support women, teach that it is normal to breastfeed, raise healthier babies and, possibly most importantly of all, help change the cultural attitudes about women’s bodies and help them trust those bodies.

American culture glorifies a woman’s body (as long as it is “perfect”) as sexual, using it to sell everything from cheeseburgers to tires. Simultaneously, it reinforces messages like “birth is dangerous” and “breastfeeding is natural, but so is pooping.” We are taught be exposure that if we have an airbrushed, supermodel body we are valuable as a sex object and otherwise we should not trust our bodies. They are imperfect, broken and dangerous. It is no wonder women hate their bodies!

God’s message is much different. In Genesis, we are told that we are made in His image. In the LDS church, we believe that this is literal, that God does in fact have a body and our bodies are made in the likeness of His. There are very few areas where we are fulfilling a divine role nearly as much as when we are succoring and sustaining our little babies. And yet women hide away in a little room and tuck themselves under a cover as though what they are doing is shameful.

It is tragic and has long-reaching consequences, including breastfeeding “failure” and a twisted view of women’s bodies.

I don’t blame the women who I see in the mothers’ room. I wish they knew to think differently and then had the courage to act differently. I wish we didn’t live in a culture that objectified and shamed women. I wish we didn’t live in a culture that didn’t teach us to disconnect from and hate our own bodies while we envy other women’s. I wish we didn’t live in a society that had a messed up view of modesty and sexuality.

I am not condemning the mothers’ room or women who cover while nursing. To me, they are just symptoms. And it makes me incredibly sad.

That is why I will continue to nurse my baby wherever and whenever she wants to eat, generally without a nursing cover. Hopefully I will be a part – however small – of changing attitudes about what it means to be a woman and how sacred our bodies are, especially nursing mothers!

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20 responses »

  1. Amen! I don’t have much to add. The effects of our cultural attitudes makes me sad, and the expectation that I follow along and hide to feed my babies makes me angry. Wonderful post.

  2. I am lucky that 18 months ago, while nursing my first son, who was just a few weeks old, in the mothers room the following happened. “Thank you for nursing your baby.” “Congratulations on the goos work keep it up.” “Its okay to nurse uncovered in sacrement if you want to” “i always nurse my babies till three” “i am glad this time i am only nursing a singleton, the twins were exosting, but I did it. The 6 different nursing moms I saw that first time, and their possitive comments gave the strength. Of I do have a crunchier ward.

    • Lucky you! Just today I saw a bunch of moms bottle feeding their babies in Sacrament meeting. We’ve got lots of young/first time moms and so I see the effects that culture has on new moms. I wish our ward was more pro-natural.

  3. I am not Mormon but the church I attend also has a mothers room I have never used it either. I refuse to hide when it comes to nursing. If people are uncomfortable with it they need to search within themselves and find out why. It is natural, and the way God intended us to feed our babies. Way to go for speaking out and up!

    • Thanks! I’m not “anti mothers’ room”, just anti hiding. I go to church primarily to get an added boost of God’s word and to take the Sacrament (communion). If I’m hiding somewhere because I need to also feed my baby, I’ve defeated the purpose of going to church and I might as well have stayed home, which would’ve been easier to begin with.

  4. I am one of those mothers who sit in the mother’s room and turn towards the wall and cover myself up. Please don’t feel sad for me. I fully support and encourage breast feeding! Formula is never an option for me. I don’t turn to the wall and cover up because I am ashamed or don’t feel modest if I don’t. I turn to the wall so my baby will eat better and isn’t distracted by the other mothers and babies in the room. And I never cover his face unless he falls asleep and I don’t want the bright light in his face.

    • Sarah, I’m glad to hear it. I know that case-by-case it varies and that some babies need the situation carefully controlled to not be distracted. Sometimes that’s my baby. I just wish we lived in a culture where that was the only reason women felt like they needed to use the mother’s room/cover up.

  5. I agree with Sarah that there are times when a quiet dark mothers room is a haven for a squirmy overtired baby. I also wish other mothers felt comfortable enough to nurse in public so that I didn’t have to wonder if it’s “OK” in sacrament meeting or Sunday School. I especially wish I felt more comfortable nursing in Relief Society–I mean we’re all women there, right? It should be the most welcoming place to nurse, and yet it’s still not very easy to do in many wards.

    • You are going to love the post I’ve drafted for Thursday. I hope it will totally answer your question if it’s ok. It’s long, but if you don’t have time to read the whole thing, scroll to the end and read the quote from the Parent’s Guide. I’ve linked all my sources and walked readers through my reasoning about whether or not it was appropriate.

      In the end, it was the doctrine that confirmed all the other good reasons I came up with to support nursing openly in public like I do.

      • Doctrinally and in every other way I think nursing in public is the “right” thing to do, and I’ve never had anybody overtly ask me to stop–it’s just that I have a feeling–perhaps not rational– that I’m making other people vaguely uncomfortable, and that because of that, they’re less likely to want to be my friend socially later. I wish there was a public, explicit way to say “you’re welcome to nurse here,” so that everyone was on the same page and I wouldn’t have to wonder.

      • Maybe you could talk with your Relief Society president about putting together an “extra meeting” (I don’t know what your ward calls your weekday meetings, that what ours call them), about post-baby care and support and see if you can get a Lactation Consultant to come talk to the women in the ward about the importance of sisterhood support especially in the early days.

        This sort of thing used to be in the regular scope of the Relief Society as many women in the Salt Lake valley held church callings as midwives. This would have value to all the women in a ward and would be totally appropriate as an extra meeting.

  6. Sure breastfeeding is natural and normal. But the world is not natural and normal, or in a state to think things are sacred. That’s the problem with hippies. Its all or nothing. Just because you are ok with so many things, somehow translates into the whole world must now be ok with all of these things too. And if they aren’t, you are going to force it on them. Let me just put my breasts on display for the whole world. I am an LDS woman. I am totally fine with my body, but I have no desire to see another woman’s breasts. The Lord clothed Adam and Eve not because they weren’t ok with their bodies, or they hadn’t reached the exalted hippie way of life, but because modesty matters. If you want to breastfeed anytime and anywhere go for it. But if I woman chooses to cover herself when she breastfeeds don’t act like she is inferior to you in some way. Just be grateful you get to choose and let others enjoy the same freedom you do.

    • Ha! I’m not sure if you misunderstand me on purpose or genuinely. Of course modesty matters. However, it’s only our twisted culture that sees breasts as primarily sexual and makes them so taboo. LDS doctrine doesn’t teach this. LDS culture historically does not teach this. It’s only our modern world which makes breast = sex that makes us feel like we have to cover them to stay modest and pure. I’m not advocating for letting them all hang out.

      If a woman wants to and chooses to cover even after she understands that breasts do not equal sex and that history and doctrine do not teach that uncovering your breast to feed a baby is immodest, I’m all for that. However, if a woman feels like she has to cover because she might be sexual impure, immodest, tempt a man, contribute to a pornography problem and so on if she doesn’t, I am really opposed to that. I’m not blaming women. I’m blaming culture. The problem is the culture.

      Feeling the need to cover up is a symptom of the messed up world. Covering up contributes to that (again, not blaming women; just stating the facts). It also leads to unfamiliarity with female breasts in their proper role, which itself has a whole host of problems including breastfeeding failure for women and curiosity about breasts for boys and men which may lead to a pornography addiction (I’m not saying this always happens or blaming pornography addictions on women who do cover to nurse, but it does happen; I’ll share more about that in a later post).

      I appreciate your feedback. However, I think you’ve misunderstood where I place blame (the devil and the culture) and my end-goal (normalization of breastfeeding and de-sexualization and -objectification of women’s bodies).

      For a more complete answer to the modesty question, please visit my page tomorrow. I’ve written a doctrinally-based answer to this objection.

  7. I’m a member and have breastfed five children, one for three and half years, and have never found feeding a problem. Thirty years ago with my first there were no facilities for mothers; supermarkets didn’t even have customer toilets. I fed whenever and wherever needed. I used to feed in the foyer at church, didn’t bother me. Our lovely Bishop said to me one day that I could use his office and comfortable chair if I wished, (if I wished, my choice), rather than be surrounded by a sea of legs. I used it sometimes, seeing the offer as a kindness, rather than anything else. I see no problem with ‘mother’s rooms’…as long as the use of them is a real choice and not ‘expected”. As for covering up; we are taught modesty from a very young age. We do not wear revealing attire and ensure our breasts are sufficiently covered, for our own benefit and also the benefit of those young men who are also taught to respect women and keep their thoughts clean, (and I’m aware that feeding is not sexual). Modesty is not just in what we wear but also how we behave; it is an attitude of mind. Women who cover up whilst feeding are not ashamed of feeding, but respecting the modesty they have within themselves in public. The women who do so are probably those who also wouldn’t blithely undress in changing rooms and bare their breasts to all around either, just because everyone there is female. Feeding is no different in this respect. I fed anywhere, but I did so discretely, because my breasts are mine, and I decide who does and does not see them. I did not want just anyone to see my entire breast when I spend most of the time covering up modestly..feeding was no different. I also would not want to cause problems for the young men, especially missionaries, who would have to try to be careful not to appear to be looking at my breasts,for fear that it might be misconstrued or would offend me. Things are not so black and white, and there is always more than one way of looking at something. The Lord is the one who asks for our modesty and certain behaviours…it is up to each individual to decide for themselves what that consists of. Women should be allowed to feed anywhere if necessary, but exposing their breast to the entire world is maybe another matter; the two do not necessarily have to go together.

    • Debbie, thank you for your kind and clear comment. I do not disagree with your points. The only thing I would add is that our attitude about breasts has changed and that covering up may actually be contributing to problems we never intended to create.

      I’m working on a “why it matters” sort of posts with input from IBCLC, women who, like me, wish we had had more exposure to bfing and from men.

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