On veiling and breastfeeding

I had an interesting conversation the other day. Apparently, the fact that I breastfeed without a cover and sit near the front at Mass is still causing a “problem” with some people (please note that I really don’t bear any animosity towards whoever commented, though it does make me sad). I also wear a mantilla, scarf, veil, snood, whatever head covering I feel like and find that morning as I’m rushing out, and I think that confuses people.

See, a comment was made that they know I’m modest, after all, I cover my head at Mass, yet I openly breastfeed (what I mean by that is that I don’t use a cover or wear special nursing clothes, but I’m not flashing anyone). I hadn’t thought of such a connection, so this was puzzling to me on two levels. One, I don’t cover my head out of modesty. I do so because of the Scriptural and historical tradition, and because it serves as a reminder of where I am. It serves as a way to humble myself before my Lord. But I wouldn’t say I do it out of modesty per se.

Then there’s the idea that openly breastfeeding is somehow immodest. Leaving aside how such a thing would mean that depictions of the Blessed Virgin Mary breastfeeding are then immodest, let’s talk about breastfeeding and whether it is immodest.

What is breastfeeding? It’s simply feeding and/or comforting a child at the breast, in the way we were designed to do. If bottles and dummies did not exist, there wouldn’t even be an option. Feeding and receiving comfort from one’s mother are not immodest activities that necessitate being covered or going elsewhere, and I’m certain no one would object if my child had a bottle or dummy and sat in the front. Therefore, there should be nothing wrong with breastfeeding, and since I wouldn’t expect a child with a bottle or dummy to be covered up, neither should I expect a breastfeeding child to be covered. Besides, it’s hot and uncomfortable, and many children dislike being covered (not to mention that nothing announces you’re about to breastfeed like throwing a blanket over your shoulder).

I suppose in one way breastfeeding is related to modesty, but not in the way many think. It seems that, as society trends towards revealing more and more, breastfeeding openly is less and less accepted. I was looking at historic images of breastfeeding and noticed that even in the 1870s, when women definitely were expected to cover their bodies, a woman was openly breastfeeding her child in the front row of her church. My kind of woman. Far from showing how openly breastfeeding is immodest, those photos show just the opposite – that it is a perfectly modest and normal part of everyday life. I hope to see a day when it is again accepted as a normal part of everyday life, and mothers can breastfeed whenever, wherever, with or without a cover (whichever makes her more comfortable), without anyone thinking anything of it.

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