Breastfeeding can be a hot topic in any circle, including among Christians. Unfortunately, there are many things from Scripture that I feel are left out on the controversial topic of breastfeeding, both along the topic of simply breastfeeding itself as well as on the controversy of modesty vs. immodesty.
Consequently, I would like to take a few moments to detail some of the often missed Scripture, as well as the limits we tend to have in America on this topic as a result of societal norms.
One of my favorite verses from Scripture demonstrates the very incredible blessing associated with breasts for nursing a child:
While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.” Luke 11:27
Now in America today, we probably wouldn’t see someone call out in the streets about Tim Tebow “blessed are the breasts at which you nursed!” That would definitely get some strange looks! Already we can see where our society has gone away from Scripture on this topic.
Additional verses prove the beauty and blessing of breasts that nurse a child:
From the God of your father who helps you, And by the Almighty who blesses you With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. Genesis 49:25
Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb; You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts. Psalm 22:9
Shaddai means primarily “the breasted.” God is “Shaddai,” because He is the Nourisher, the Strength-giver, and so, in a secondary sense, the Satisfier, who pours himself into believing lives. As a fretful, unsatisfied babe is not only strengthened and nourished from the mother’s breast, but also is quieted, rested, satisfied, so El Shaddai is that name of God which sets Him forth as the Strength-giver and Satisfier of His people.
The Hebrew word “shad”–meaning breast–occurs 24 times throughout Scripture to signify one who nourishes, supplies, and satisfies. Check this verse out:
You will drink the milk of nations and be nursed at royal breasts. Then you will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. (Isaiah 60:16)
These are just a few examples of how God BOASTS in the beauty of a breast to nourish a child, spiritually and physically.
If those verses make anyone uncomfortable, than that is clear evidence that their perception of breasts is perverted.
For those who claim it is immodest to breastfeed openly, this implies that breastfeeding is a sexual act. This reveals the belief that breasts are purely sexual. Some even use verses in Song of Solomon and Proverbs to prove that breasts are sexual.
But according to Song of Solomon, teeth could be considered an object of sexual desire as well:
Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn, coming up from the washing. Each has its twin; not one of them is alone. (Song of Solomon 4:2)
And the neck:
Your neck is as beautiful as an ivory tower. (Song of Solomon 7:4)
IN FACT, while verses from Song of Solomon list numerous parts of the body, it also lists breasts as a blessed part of the body FOR BREASTFEEDING!
If only you were to me like a brother, who was nursed at my mother’s breasts! (Song of Solomon 8:1)
My point is that just because the writer of Song of Solomon has listed breasts as an object of romantic beauty does not mean they are sexual objects. THIS is where the controversy goes wrong. In our culture, Christians take the verses about breasts, but not about other parts of the body, and use them to argue that breasts are sexual. Clearly we see God expressing the breasts as a blessing, as nourishing and comforting.
But let’s just say Scripture says they are both. Say God says they are for comfort and nourishment while Man (author of Song of Solomon and Proverbs) claims they are sexual as well. Then we can theoretically say they are both.
But we cannot simply take the verses from Song of Solomon and state that breasts are only for sexual purposes according to God’s Word, because then we clearly miss the other verses demonstrated above where breasts are also a source of nourishment, safety, and security for the young.
Also, if we are to look at breasts the way God sees them, there is absolutely no question as to what that is based on the verses and El Shaddai meaning shared above. If we do not see them that way, even a little bit, then we do not see them the way God sees them.
It’s interesting to note that each culture has different body parts of what they perceive as the main attracting, sexual objects. For instance, many cultures view lips as sexual. (Of course because we all eat food with our lips, they can also see them as something other than sexual.) Other cultures view ears as quite attractive sexually. The object(s) of sexuality varies widely around the world.
Studies (strange that studies have even been done on this topic!) have shown that even heterosexual women in America experience greater blood flow to the vaginal area when seeing breasts of sexualized women (as opposed to tribal women) more than when they see pictures of a naked man. Researchers have coined it a “breast fetish” and state:
Fetishes are created by selectively hiding and revealing — making that which is hidden enticing. Both men and women become intrigued.
One instructor details the experience of their female student’s time living in Iran where women cover everything except their face. The instructor reported of his student’s experience:
She told me that every now and again she would pull her veil back a little and watch the men go wild over her “hair cleavage.”
He goes on to mention:
In America around the turn of the last century even seeing an ankle was sexy because they were always covered. In some old family photos one of my grandmothers is pulling her skirt up above her ankle to look scandalously sexy. I couldn’t even comprehend what she was doing until someone explained.
Before this “breast fetish,” we saw many beautiful works of art demonstrating the breast and the infant Jesus according to the way God sees it–a source of nourishment, security, and blessing.
Look at how the scene of Christ blessing the children was portrayed in the 1500’s:
In most of the early paintings and depictions of the scene with Christ blessing the children, you will notice at least one woman breastfeeding. This is because it was so commonplace and synonymous with children.
From St. Peter’s List in reference to the way Americans view breastfeeding:
The modern notion of the breast as a source of sexual gratification alone has reached a point that our culture esteems the perfect breast to be the fake breast. In contradistinction, the use of Mary’s breast in Maria Lactans stands as a sign of life, nourishment, and maternity. Particularly with Mother Mary, her life-giving milk nourished our Savior, who in turn would give his life-giving blood over for all humanity.
(Emphasis mine. Because I personally find that statement incredibly beautiful and poetic. But at one time in my life, I would not have when I viewed breasts wrongly.)
Notice in these paintings and sculpture–none of the bystanders are bothered nor phased by the woman breastfeeding. If we are to claim that verses in Song of Solomon and Proverbs make breasts a sexual object, clearly these bystanders in history missed those verses!
To claim that breastfeeding openly is immodest is to claim that the women in these works of art are sinning, or at the very least causing others to sin. The problem is not with modesty, but with us getting perversion out of our minds and seeing the breasts nursing a child the way God sees it.
Even today in other countries, we do not see the same discomfort associated with “open” breastfeeding but see them model the perception of breastfeeding as depicted in artwork throughout history.
We are missing out on the beauty and blessing of breasts that was once realized. And we are taking our discomfort and condemning breastfeeding, rather than seeking to see this how God sees it. And at the same time, we are making it a bigger deal than it is!
Think of a kiss with the lips. Between two adults, it could be seen as sexual and stir up romantic feelings for bystanders. But a kiss with the lips from a mother to her child is seen as an act of motherly love. If we can separate this with the act of kissing with lips, why can’t we do it with breasts?
Apart from seeing the blessing that a woman’s breast is to her children, there are very important reasons why I desire to see God’s people change their perception of this topic. These reasons are:
1. To increase the amount of breastfed babies in America
Research has clearly demonstrated that the negative perception about breastfeeding in America is responsible for a large majority of moms who choose not to breastfeed their babies. While a mother’s perception about breasts for breastfeeding may be right, the perceptions of her extended family and friends (which results in a lack of social support) deters many mothers from breastfeeding.
Additional research shows that immigrants are less likely to breastfeed their babies with each generation that is in America due to the cultural perception of breastfeeding. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK52688/)
In a nutshell, our over-sexualization of breasts is responsible for many babies not being given the most perfect, God-intended nourishment (physically and emotionally). Whenever we ask women to cover up while breastfeeding, we are making breasts a sexual object and contributing to this social attitude and over-sexualization.
If the true concern of breastfeeding openly was for the welfare of others, we must consider the impact it also has on the health of millions of babies in America.
2. To reduce the breast fetish for the spiritual health of the younger generations
As demonstrated above, the attitude of considering breastfeeding openly “immodest” ironically contributes to the breast fetish. This allows each young generation of boys to grow up believing breasts are purely sexual.
Think of a boy who never sees breastfeeding and is raised to only see breasts as sexual. Boys NEED to see women breastfeeding before they can see breasts in this over-sexualized way that the Enemy wants our boys to see breasts! If we don’t expose our boys to the nourishing, sacred purpose of breasts, they will be added to the numbers of men who see breasts purely as sexual. Thus we start the vicious cycle again with men who do not support their wife breastfeeding and men who are bothered by seeing women breastfeed.
Some of the men I’ve known to be most uncomfortable with breastfeeding are those with a history of pornography addiction. Coincidentally, I have witnessed some of these men have daughters who breastfeed openly in front of them, thus completely balancing their view of a woman’s breasts.
Ironically, the very thing God’s people are trying to protect men from is what they are making worse.
As God’s children, we must at least seek to see how God sees the breasts. If we are uncomfortable with the way He references breasts in His word and His role as our mighty breasted one, then that is a good indication we are wrong in the way we perceive breasts. This would be a good opportunity to ask God to remove any remaining perversion hiding in our hearts.
Now I am not saying we need to breastfeed our beautiful babies with everything showing. And I am not saying we need to “flaunt” it.
But if we realize this beauty in the breasts the way God created it to be, how can we help but not share this beauty and this blessing with others if we are going to shift our culture away from the over-sexualization of breasts.
Because hiding breasts and making breastfeeding secretive is not the answer for pornography of the breasts. The answer is to share the beauty in how God sees them as we come to see them that way as well.
God is our mighty breasted one, the perfect Father who takes us into His bosom to provide us with nourishment and security. I find so much beauty and comfort in that, and I hope you do too.
Be sure to check out some of my other articles on breastfeeding: