I’ve been writing on this blog for more than five years. Lately my posts have been far and few between, for a lot of reasons, including that I’ve been sharing my writing elsewhere. One place I’ve been working on content for recently is a brand new initiative supporting breastfeeding families in the LDS church.
When I began this blog, it took me a whole four months to wade into the topic of breastfeeding (read that tongue in cheek) and I started with addressing the question of modesty. I’ve shared thoughts on mother’s rooms and nursing covers and how foreign breastfeeding still is to American women. I’ve continually discussed this topic in online forums as well.
In the last five years, I’ve heard repeatedly of women who’ve experienced discrimination and unrighteous dominion because of how and where they breastfeed their babies in church. Not only have there been second-hand accounts. I can personally name women who’ve experienced this.
When an acquaintance of mine was denied a temple recommend because of it, I was thrilled to see the Blogernacle and the media finally take notice in ways that will, hopefully, create real change.
Although we frequently praise the importance of motherhood, we do a terrible job as a church in supporting mothers in practice. I have a very long list of ways we need to do better. Breastfeeding is an incredibly important starting point, however.
If the average Mormon mother (with the average Mormon family size) nurses her babies for only six months, she’ll spend nearly two years breastfeeding. If she nurses for the WHO’s recommended two years, she’ll breastfeed for close to seven years.
Each mother who excuses herself from Sacrament Meeting, Sunday School, or Relief Society to breastfeed her baby misses spiritual growth and connection. Even if she is only missing 20 minutes a week, she’ll miss the equivalent of nearly a year of church over that seven years of breastfeeding.
That doesn’t seem like a great way of showing women that they’re valued in their motherhood.
We create additional difficulties for breastfeeding mothers when we expect that they will step away from their callings in Primary or Young Women’s or ignore the needs of their baby and their own physical comfort or well being to fill those callings. When a woman willingly accepts a call to serve the in her ward, but is asked to do so at the cost of her baby, it puts her in tension with her faith community.
Another example of this tension is when fathers in bishoprics and stake presidencies are expected to sit on the stand during sacrament meeting. Once again, a breastfeeding mother is placed in an impossible situation. Does the bishop’s wife try to quietly slip out with her 6 month old during the sacrament hymn and leave her two-, four-, and six-year-old alone through sacrament? Or does she try to gather them all up to go to the mothers’ room? Maybe instead she wakes up an extra hour early on Sundays to pump for the baby so that she can get her kids dressed and to church on time while her husband is in meetings. There is no good solution for these women (who absolutely exist in the church).
As long as we create this kind of social environment, words praising mothers are just words. Providing the framework that lets babies eat and lets mothers mother in comfortable, inclusive ways is a small first step that eases the weight of motherhood.
While I would be thrilled to see the church issue a policy on this topic ensuring that all LDS mothers are given this kind of consideration, individual bishops and stake presidents can do so now.
There are suggestions on the Let Babies Eat website for local leaders as well as the church as a whole. We’ve also encouraged members to consider writing letters to church leaders in Salt Lake letting them know of the importance of this issue. My mom has frequently said that good information leads to good inspiration and so this call is certainly within the realm of sustaining our leaders.
The women at Sisters Quorum have provided a form letter for those of us too busy, tired, or otherwise to write our own.
Supporting mothers in this way should be an easy step for the church at every level. After that, there is still more work to do, but we can do that work knowing that babies are being fed.