Women are still being shamed for breastfeeding in public. It’s mind-boggling, especially when you consider the fact that it is legal to breastfeed in public in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Despite facts — and, you know, nature — being on the side of breastfeeding mothers, one woman’s decision to breastfeed her child in a house of worship has now landed her in the hot seat with church leaders.
The mother of four shared her story with BuzzFeed News anonymously, explaining how her Sunday routine of attending services turned into a debate on where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints stands on supporting families. She was subjected to condemnation by several church leaders and was made to feel like she should be humiliated for feeding her child in public. While the woman is committed to keeping her faith and continuing to attend services at that particular church, the incident has called attention to the lack of consistent policy regarding breastfeeding within the Mormon church.
A Mormon mother of four sat in a foyer with her family during Sunday services. She began breastfeeding her 19-month-old.
After the services ended, her bishop asked her to come in for a talk. He told her that people had complained about her decision to breastfeed. The bishop expressed concern that young men might sexualize her breastfeeding.
“I basically told him that I wasn’t going to change what I’m doing and that the Lord is the only one that can get me to change my standpoint on this issue,” she told BuzzFeed News.
A few weeks passed before the stake president (a leader above the bishop) called her in and told her she had to cover up when breastfeeding. The stake president then quoted a pamphlet intended for teenagers regarding sexual feelings that said women “should be clothed and modest at all times so that men don’t have dirty thoughts.”
The woman, who was understandably annoyed at the way the situation escalated, walked out of the meeting three different times. During one of those times, the stake president instructed her husband, who was also in attendance, to “control” her.
Luckily, her husband supported her stance. They stood as a united front and told the stake president they disagreed with the policy and would continue to breastfeed as necessary.
At that point, the stake president told the couple he would not sign their “temple recommends.” These documents are essential for Mormons to gain access to certain sacred spaces and rites.
What’s controversial about this is that the church lauds itself as supportive of families, as families are units of the church. Not all churches within the Mormon community offer a room in which mothers can breastfeed, and some that do have inadequate accommodations that don’t allow participating in services while tending to the child.
Since each church is run by a different set of people, and there’s no overarching practice or rule for the Mormon church as a whole, the handling of breastfeeding and any possible repercussions can vary greatly from one church to another.
Furthermore, many church leaders are insistent that the problem lies with the breastfeeding mother, rather than any men who might sexualize the practice. Women shouldn’t be excluded from their faith for performing basic functions of motherhood.
The mother in question prayed for guidance and came to the conclusion that her dedication to the church was important enough for her to meet them halfway on the issue. She continues to breastfeed publicly but wears two shirts when doing so to cover up.
This isn’t a feasible option for all breastfeeding mothers, however. Many are calling for the church to issue a clear church-wide policy and to provide basic amenities for mothers so that they can participate in worship while breastfeeding.
Seeing how the issue is one that has led many women to leave the church altogether, it certainly seems that it would be in the church’s best interest to address it.
Mormon women everywhere are hopeful the church will do the right thing and support families first and foremost.