Mommie Dearest: Pope Francis Gives Breastfeeding In Public His Holy Endorsement
Breastfeeding in public just got a major, holy, endorsement. Pope Francis recently told mothers that they could breastfeed in the Sistine Chapel. While presiding over the baptism of 33 babies, the leader of the Catholic church said, “You mothers give your children milk and even now, if they cry because they are hungry, breastfeed them, don’t worry.” Later, during the mass, he urged the congregation to think of impoverished women struggling to feed their children.
So, what’s the big deal? Why are people getting all excited by this? I mean, it’s not like the Sistine Chapel doesn’t already have its fair share of boobs all over the place. Artwork notwithstanding, this vocal support for nursing in public by the Pope is rather significant, particularly as mothers in the U.S. are still being hassled for doing so, regardless of their legal rights. Just recently, mother Alanna Panas was kicked out of a Maryland casino for breastfeeding her infant in an empty lobby. Ocean Downs Casino security told Panas that her daughter Lilly was a “security threat,” and told her to leave, despite the fact that Panas was nowhere near the casino floor (where those under 21 are not allowed). The casino eventually reached out with a half-hearted apology, but one that certainly did not make up for the harassment Panas felt. And unfortunately, she’s not alone.
It feels like women are being harassed over breastfeeding in public almost daily. In department stores, restaurants, airplanes, hotels, and more, women are being kicked out or threatened for feeding their babies. And despite the fact that women are becoming more comfortable talking and sharing instances of breastfeeding via Twitter and Facebook, social media is still a hotbed for those calling out or shaming women for nursing in public. All of this is occurring, despite the fact that breastfeeding in public is protected by both federal and state laws.
And while 79.2 percent of US women attempted to breastfeed their babies at birth, by six months, that number drops significantly, to 49.4% according to the CDC’s 2014 Breastfeeding Report Card. There are of course numerous reasons why women opt not to breastfeed or to stop earlier than recommended (ahem: lack of support, lack of paid maternity/family leave, lack of paid sick days, poor pumping conditions at work, etc…). Yet some women point to the shame and stigma they receive or are witnesses to in public. Breastfeeding can sometimes be challenging for some, and for others it might take a great deal of effort or confidence before being ready to nurse beyond the home. Yet, babies need to eat and ladies need to live their lives, so what to do?
There’s an overarching “breast is best” message that society loves to put out there, but there’s also an unspoken caveat of “…but only if it’s done in the privacy of your home where nobody has to be forced to watch. And also because we like to have total and complete control over women’s bodies and tell them what to do with them.”
So, if the Pope wants to enthusiastically support women breastfeeding in public, and goes a step beyond to invite them to specifically nurse in the Sistine Chapel, then I say kudos and God bless. While the Pope is not necessarily someone I take my daily cues from, there are many, many people who do. And perhaps this will help change their mind, so the next time they see someone feeding their baby in public, they don’t suggest that they just “go do that in the bathroom,” or leave because it’s against some (totally made up) “policy.” Hopefully this holy approval will spur some sort of miracle where women are allowed to take up space in public doing the (totally legal and legit) things they need to do just to get through the day.