Should All Christian Women Breastfeed? And Other Teleological Pensations.

Tino di Camaino, Charity, first quarter of
the 14th century, marble.  Museo Bardini, Florence

Pastor John Barach had a fascinating post entitled Nutrix Natorum at his blog Kata Iwannhn that I'm going to quote in its entirety. I found it kind of mind-blowing, and I think you might too.
In Imperial Rome, mothers rarely breastfed their own children. According to Hanne Sigismund Nielsen, "The persons mainly responsible for infants and minor children in Imperial Rome were their wet-nurses. There is reason to believe that most children of almost all status groups spent more than the two first years of their life with their nurse" (“Roman Children at Mealtimes,” in Inge Nielsen and Hanne Sigismund Nielsen, Meals in a Social Context: Aspects of the Communal Meal in the Hellenistic and Roman World [Aarhus University Press, 1998], 66n30). 
Among Christians, however, Nielsen claims, things changed. Augustine “mentions the fact that mothers nursed their children themselves.” In his commentary on Psalm 130, Augustine says that “a mother feeds her infant child with her own milk which is nothing but meat and bread from the dinner table changed in the mother’s body to a substance more suitable for an infant than meat and bread” (62). In his Sermon 117, he says something similar: “Was there no food on the table? Yes, but the infant was not able to share it with the others. So what does the mother do?” (cited 62). The family is eating together — something that is itself a huge change from typical Roman culture! — and the mother nurses her child so that the child can share in the family meal. 
Nielsen cites an epigram from Rome in which "a Christian woman, Turtura, is commemorated by her husband. He describes her as deo serviens, unice fidei, amica pacis, castis moribus ornata, communis fidelibus amicis, familiae grata, nutrix natorum et numquam amara marito ('serving God, being of unique faith, a friend of peace, embellished with chastity, unpretentious towards all the faithful, agreeable to her household. She nursed her own children and was never unpleasant to her husband')" (62). 
In short, it appears that as the gospel took hold on Roman society Christian mothers began to nurse their own babies instead of giving them to wet nurses to feed and raise.
The Roman habit of exposing their infants (their corollary to our abortion) and the Christian fight against that are a matter of historical record. More recently there has been excellent work on the idea that children as people, as beings with dignity, was a Christian (and Jewish) idea.

If babies have no intrinsic dignity, and no worth except in what they might one day become, it makes sense that I could easily abandon it to death or life as a slave. To extend that to nursing only makes sense, as I would want to minimize the amount of sacrifice and work I made my body go through for the little brat.

Here's the ponderization (my logism, like when I convinced my sister that "pensate" was a word): we spend so much time fighting the flesh we are often tempted to despise nature and creation. We fight our sinful nature and end up forgetting that we have a nature we're supposed to fulfill.

Few of us would consciously think "I despise Creation, my body, and my baby. Therefore I will not nurse." But is the decision made easier by our detachment from Creation?

I know I'm probably really starting to piss off some ladies, so please bear with me. I'm only suggesting some matters for thought on what is best teleologically. What is our best story, and our best fulfillment? Moving beyond breast-feeding, how much have we allowed the City of Man, This Modern Life, and The World The Flesh And The Devil to shape our lives? Are we devout fathers but work all day and never are home? Are we pious mothers who put our infants in daycare because we need to get back to our jobs?

If you are, but you see it as a necessary evil in a fallen world, pray for God's change and mercy. If you are, and it's never occurred to you that this might not be what God made you for, begin to pray for God's change and mercy. It is one thing to live these things; it is entirely another to accept them as what is best. If we can't bring ourselves to say that the way God made us is best, we are giving in to the temptation to make ourselves our gods.

A woman's choice on breast-feeding is only one example of how nearly every decision in our lives can and should be viewed through the lense of: what is man made for? What am I made for? What am I saying about God, Creation, Adam, and Jesus?

There's the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Then there are God's people. Are we remarkably different? Are we a city on a hill, a city with bizarre habits, like breastfeeding and tithing and not signing over our children to the state? Are we a people who are not afraid to give up competitive advantages, to be ridiculed, to be ostracized? Are we a people who engage and proclaim, who tell humans about the new humanity, who save babies from dumpsters and stay behind when there's plague in the city?

If we are to be, our pulpits must be so. If we are to be, our hearths and nurseries must be so.

That should have been the closing line, but I really want to reiterate that this post has not so much been about breastfeeding, but about living consciously as a Christian. That many things are lawful, but fewer are fulfilling. That "God made me and made the world" changes our world.


  1. The decision to formula feed is made easier for many women, not from a detachment from Creation, but from the fact that it was a decision between giving formula and starving their infant (personal experience). For many women the choice is not spurred by a physical reason but by a rational acknowledgment of a mother's personal circumstances. Breastfeeding can be a wonderful thing, but it is not Biblically mandated. Implying that a Christian woman has a higher responsibility to breastfeed runs the risk of adding even more unnecessary guilt on mothers who cannot. A Christian mother feeds her child. The means by which she feeds her child will not determine the number of jewels in her crown. - Emily

  2. "Few of us would consciously think 'I despise Creation, my body, and my baby. Therefore I will not nurse.' But is the decision made easier by our detachment from Creation?"

    Hudson Taylor's China Inland Mission subordinated children to the REALLY important stuff, formal missionary activity. He lost a five year old son to separation anxiety when he hardened his heart against the tears and pleas of the child, to pack him off to a missionary boarding school. The Chinese watched and learned and implemented their "one child per family" campaign.

    We have learned, within the last few decades, how often these monuments to the denial of natural parental affection gave free reign to unnatural impulses.

  3. It's never occurred to me to not breast feed. That's what I have breasts for. It's the best possible food for the baby. Custom designed by God.

    It's never crossed my mind that people would view breast feeding or putting a kid in daycare as anything else than a presumably necessary compromise.

    Good, though provoking post.

  4. I never thought about this aspect of breastfeeding even though my wife did so up till the time my children were old enough to take cow's milk. It was never a question, she just did it. Same with homeschooling. It seemed right and happened naturally. I guess it brings about conviction to other women who don't, which explains the negative comments we've received about both coming mainly from church family oddly enough.


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