Monday, May 24, 2010

Inquisition Monday

I'm going to try to catch up on Inquisition Monday questions from a month ago over the next couple of weeks, so you all get another church and breastfeeding post.

K La asked, "I recently read that breasfeeding in public only recently became an issue. In the 20's and 30's it was normal for women to breastfeed in public, in front of men and in front of strangers. What changed? Do you know if the church has said anything about breastfeeding in public? Do you know if women in the church breastfed in public in the 20's and 30's?"

We'll start with what I don't know: I don't know about Church breastfeeding culture in the early twentieth century. My guess is that it probably wasn't a big deal, so there really wasn't a "culture" around it. Jennifer James has a blog through that shares photos of women breastfeeding in America in the twentieth century. As you look at the dates on the pictures, you can see that breastfeeding was pretty nonchalant early on. Then it became an issue. There are probably lots of reasons for that. I think some of the big ones are

1) Near the middle of the twentieth century (WWII, Cold War, etc) a lot of America was focused on how science has advanced us: Look! We can blow up whole cities and leave them maimed for generations! Formula was touted as a great scientific advance- and it was, considering prior to the twentieth century the choices were breastmilk or death. But now, most babies could survive on processed food and suddenly, you don't have to be lowly and dirty and breastfeed your baby like the poor people. You can feed her the best science (read: men) has to offer (which is obviously better than anything that comes from a woman.)

2) Feminism. I think feminism has been great, but some people don't. In the 20s, women were wearing shorter dresses, cutting their hair short, and acting... not like "ladies." By the time the 60s came around, in the Church, as evidenced by the new BYU Honor Code, there was emphasis on women being "ladylike" and wearing skirts and not being "wordly." Suddenly "modesty" became a theme in talks and while women used to wear sleeveless dresses to Green and Gold balls, it was now looked down upon. For a good review of how modesty has been discussed in the Church over the last half of the twentieth century click here. I think over that time, wearing sleeves and covering cleavage became a way for Mormons to separate themselves from the culture around them and emphasize their "peculiarity," to use a common LDS term.

3) As for non-Mormon culture, well, why would you "burden" yourself with breastfeeding when you can easily make a bottle? And in the meantime I think through advertising, movies, etc., women were more sexualized in order to gain some "control" over these crazy, suddenly aggressive, direct, and educated women.

There are probably lots of other reasons, but in all, it's not just Mormon culture that has an issue with breasts. It's a bigger American issue.

As for the Church, this is what I know:

In official Church publications, breast milk is mentioned as the best food for babies, breasts are "intended to nourish and comfort children," and you can see a picture of breastfeeding in the Book of Mormon Reader.

Here it is at the top left of page 31. I put the toy car in for size. The linked Internet picture is kind of small.

As for the Church's more cultural face, I've seen nativities with Mary breastfeeding the Christ Child displayed publicly in the Church History Museum. With further inspection, I learned that the nativities on display that year were lent to the Church by Walter Whipple, a professor at BYU for display over the 2008 Christmas season. I've also read (can't find the link- sorry) that the Salt Lake temple used to display a painting which depicted breastfeeding. I've also been told that the Cardston, Alberta Temple displays a painting which has breastfeeding women as part of a crowd of people around Christ. I've looked for a link to a print for that, but haven't found one. If anyone in Alberta has a chance to find that picture and send me the artist or title of the painting, I'd be very interested in that! *****

So, as far as doctrinally and how the Church presents itself, it is very breastfeeding friendly. Issues with breastfeeding are issues with individual members, not the Church. I don't believe the Church has ever made a statement about breastfeeding, and I don't believe they will- and not for lack of asking on my part and many other moms I know. I really wish they would because fear of breastfeeding in Church is something many LDS moms have confided in me about. And I believe fear of public breastfeeding does contribute to early weaning. I think babies and toddlers can feel their mom's anxiety about it and will stop because of it. I also think a mom's anxiety about breastfeeding in front of family, friends, or strangers will lead her to push nursing sessions further and further apart until weaning just happens.

I think it would be an interesting project to gather up information about breastfeeding in the Church in the 1800s and early 1900s, though I don't know if much would be found. Maybe it'll be something I tackle one of these days.

****Mallory, in the comments found this link to the image (titled 3 Nephi Chapter 18- it's the fifth one down), but it's really small and you can't really see anything. I tried to find a larger picture online, but couldn't.


  1. I have had a renewal of breastfeeding passion, thanks in part to your blog! I really admire how much effort you put into normalizing breastfeeding. I feel like I need to do my part. SO...I talked to my husband and I told him that I will no longer use a cover to nurse [when our new baby is born]. I used a cover when I was nursing Bug in public, because I felt like my husband wanted me to (that was his idea of "discreet".) But, I think that he is getting used to my opinions! And he said that he would support and defend me while nursing uncovered in public!!! (Even at his parents' house, which is where -I- feel the most ostracized when it comes to breastfeeding.) It all makes me that much more excited for the baby to be born!!! I just hope that my "blushing reflex" dies down, and I will be able to handle any confrontation more easily...I've noticed it's been extremely sensitive throughout this pregnancy!

  2. It's not a painting, but a huge wall mural, in the Alberta temple. It's in the chapel, where you wait before a temple session starts. There are 3 women in the crowd (mural is of Third Nephi, where Jesus is teaching the people) openly breastfeeding top-down. There's a possible 4th woman breastfeeding, but it looked more like she was holding a sleeping baby so I just count it as 3. But these 3 are definitely nursing and nothing else--you see the breast, since women's shirts are pulled open/down to nurse their babies.

  3. I've been reading "While Others Slept" which is the autobiography of Ellis Shipp one of the first woman doctors in Utah. She has a whole journal entry where she describes what she had learned about newborn care and in it she says that all babies, unless under dire circumstances, should be breastfed exclusively until they are one year old, with no additional foods until they cut their teeth. Seeing as she was the leading authority on maternal and child health in early Utah trained nearly all the Midwives and OBS in the area I'm sure that was pretty common practice. She also mentions about how it was expected that women would attend meetings with their babes in arms because they wouldn't be able to leave them behind.

    Anyway, I'm sure that breastfeeding was VERY socially acceptable back then... but it would be really really interesting to find pictures and documents about it. I'm doing a lot of research about midwifery in Utah, if I find anything about breastfeeding I"ll let you know!

  4. Thanks, Rixa! It just occurred to me that there might be pictures from an open house or rededication. A quick google search says that the Improvement Era from Aug. 1962 has a picture of the chapel in it. Maybe there's a way to find a copy of that and see if that mural is there.

    Heatherlady- Thanks for being on the look out!

  5. Mallory-
    And I'm glad your DH is feeling more comfortable with NIP. As for blushing reflex- I still have that sometimes. Maybe I'll get 100% over it when I have 2 nurslings.

  6. Thanks for all those links. I never knew the Church had a Basic Manual for Women

  7. I was interested in the temple mural, and after doing some quick Google research, I think I found a picture of the mural from the Alberta temple.

    It is very small picture, though. I can see some babies, but it's difficult to see whether or not they are nursing. Time to start planning a vacation! :D

  8. Thanks Mallory- that looks like it! I wish it was larger too.

  9. My father talks about how women used to nurse openly in church when he was growing up, 1940s-1950s. It was only in the 1960s, when finally formula culture began to take a deeper hold along the Mormon corridor (Alberta-Arizona) that women stopped nursing in church. Nursing in church wasn't even a thing, it was just nursing, and you just did it anywhere, regardless of location: on the street cars, in parks, in stores, anywhere.

    Generally, formula culture, although certainly damaging to breastfeeding, didn't take hold along the corridor and in the West proper like it did in the East. Maybe it's the self-reliance or frugality of Westerners? It just wouldn't have made sense to use formula when you had free milk. The culture is so entrenched back East that you have generations that have forgotten how to nurse.

    In Utah, the rates of breastfeeding are still relatively high (although still abysmally low, of course.) We rank in the top five for initiation, duration, all the month markers, etc.; we're up there with Oregon and Vermont. I fully attribute this to the influence of the church, the emphasis on self-reliance (when possible,) our geo-graphic isolation from the "cultural centers," and the continued messaging that breasts are for feeding children. Generally, all of our great-grandmothers nursed, and most of our grandmothers nursed, it was our mothers who didn't. That's a far cry from the 70 years of breastfeeding loss that marks Eastern culture.

    My mother, who had us in the mid to late 70s, and early 80s nursed in church. She said she used to get a few looks, but that no one ever told her to stop. I clearly remember her nursing my toddler sister in sacrament meeting.

    I nurse in church. I think you should too.

  10. Have you considered contacting the Cardston Temple. Even if they're unwilling to take a picture of the mural {it's in the chapel/waiting room} they could probably tell you who painted it.

  11. Oh, oops. I see you found it.


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