Visit our new site at

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - Mother and Child

This Sunday many Christians will observe the feast of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Mothering is a most holy calling, and a distinctive "term of that call" shapes our question for the matriarchs today.

I am just back from maternity leave and wondering if you have any advice around the issue of breastfeeding my infant while working. I usually have a bottle or two for church time while she's in the nursery, but what about after coffee hour when most everyone has gone home? Is it appropriate to nurse her in my office with the door closed, or in the church nursery the way other mothers do, or at a church event like a picnic? What about during a pastoral visit at someone's home? What if they have come to my home? We have a number of parents of young children with up to 12 babies in our nursery on any given Sunday and although I don't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable in any way, I also want to affirm for the other new mothers that it's okay for them to breast feed their babies while at the church or in the presence of the church community. I should also mention that this is my second child and I'm much more adept at nursing this time around. I do have special clothes that facilitate the process (though no clericals that do), and on the whole feel as though I can manage it in a very discreet manner. I'd love to hear what others think about when and where nursing is appropriate.


First from our newest matriarch, Muthuh+

OK, I have to ‘fess up to being of the ‘older generation’ when such things as nursing were not even discussed in mixed company AND I am not a mother. But I want to encourage you to do what you are comfortable with. I am guessing that you are not the senior pastor, however, and being a woman and in a subordinate position could provide some problems. If you are not the senior pastor talk this over with your spouse and your pastor so that you will have the support you need to nurse your child at church. If you are sr. pastor, then talk to your council or pastor support committee. Most likely they will support you if you are comfortable with it. You can get some good feed back there. It is always important not spring things on people.
Be clear in how you are going to address criticism from some of the older crowd who were shamed into not being open about nursing when their children were coming up. Be gentle with them and let them know that you are trying to help other women bring their infants to church rather than staying at home. There will be those who disapprove, but if it is done “in decency and in order,” I believe you will be doing the Church a great favor.
As one of those who was early in my denomination’s ordaining of women, it was precisely things like this that I wanted the Church to address. Often the whole thing about “the birthin’ of babies” was pushed so much behind closed doors for women. This IS a part of what it means to be woman. The nurture of children is what we should be about in the Christian community. And I want to commend you for being willing to try to help other young women to care for their children in the sight of the Church.

SingingOwl, blogging at offers this:

This question makes me smile. It certainly is one of those issues unique to womenpastors. I applaud your decision to breast-feed your little one, first of all. I have some precious memories of my babies gazing up at me while nursing—as well as some funny incidents. I think it is completely appropriate for you to nurse your baby in your closed office, and in the nursery too, for that matter, especially if the nursery has a comfy rocking chair. Breast feeding can be done quite discreetly, as you note, and I think that is a key. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, nor should it be.

If someone is at your home you might excuse yourself for a bit (not if the person is then left sitting alone, of course) or if the person is a relaxed type, just ask if it is okay. When visiting others—that’s a bit more tricky. I expect that in some cases it would be wiser to have a bottle handy, so as to give closer attention to the one you are visiting—or not to scandalize some dear 97 year old church member. But in other cases it would be fine. Use your best judgment depending on the circumstances. If you do nurse your baby while at someone’s home, I would suggest you warn them. Something like, “Oh, ________s getting hungry. Do you mind if I nurse her?” I can’t imagine very many people saying no. Congratulations and blessings on the whole family. This can all be a joy to the church family, and I sincerely hope it will be.

And from Ruth, blogging at ‘Sunday’s coming’

I can’t speak from experience of breast-feeding as a minister – but I can speak from experiences of others breast-feeding whilst I’m talking to them. Personally I find I feel perfectly comfortable in a small group if someone is feeding, because the attention in the group is diffused: but uncomfortable in a one-to-one situation, where I want to give the other woman my attention but also want to give her ‘space’. So my instinct would be to say ‘yes’ to feeding in a group, especially where other mothers are present and, as you say, you want to give a string message of this being OK, but ‘no’ to feeding when in a one-to-one pastoral conversation with someone. I think it might also feel to the person you are talking to that your attention is not entirely on them!

I hope this helps & doesn’t just make me seem uptight!

Jennifer from An Orientation of Heart adds

Blessings upon you and your new baby! You’re to be commended for your sensitivity to others around the issue of breastfeeding. Many corporate workplaces have policies around breastfeeding, but few churches do. I’d suggest that you first determine what you’re most comfortable with, and then speak with a few key, understanding and sensitive leaders to get their sense of things related to what happens at the church. (This also has the added benefit of letting others know what you’re considering and that you value their opinions.) Perhaps whoever oversees the nursery can weigh in on breastfeeding in the nursery and the word can be shared in general, rather than completely connected to the pastor’s practice at church.

I believe that what you do in your own home is your own business. When I nursed my babies years ago, I always asked others in my presence if they were comfortable, and left the room if they were not. Almost always, the comfortable were women and other young mothers. Older women and men were less comfortable, and frankly, I knew my folks well enough to anticipate their comfort or discomfort. Having several options of quiet places to nurse off the beaten path always worked best for me and for my kiddos.

And from Mompriest blogging at Seeking Authentic Voice

I nursed both of my children, although it's been 21 and 18 years since my children were infants, and at the time I was not ordained. I was comfortable nursing anywhere anytime, in a discreet manner. I think it's a great idea that you want to model this natural maternal care and feeding of babies for other young moms. However whether or not it will be acceptable in your setting is hard from me to discern. There is the potential that it could set a great example. There is also the potential that people will wonder about what you are doing, and the appropriateness of it in such a public manner (even if you are discreet).
That said I think it will be fine for you to nurse your baby in your office behind closed doors. I also think it's fine to pump and feed the baby in a more public setting. Additionally it may be fine to nurse the baby in the home of some members of the congregation but not others. And likewise it may be fine to nurse the baby in your own home in front of some members but not others. I guess what I'm saying is this is something that will need to be decided on a case by case basis regardless of where and with whom. Blessings on you and your baby during this sweet time.

Our new mother would like to hear from you too. Use the "Post a Comment" function to share your experience.

May you live in God's amazing grace+

image by Baton Pompeo, courtesy of wikimedia


  1. I was a breast-feeding mom before I was a pastor, so I have done both, but not at the same time. I see this as more of a boundary issue than a breast-feeding issue.

    I can't imagine censoring my usual activities in my own home, no matter who is there. That said, my own comfort level is that I don't want my parishioners seeing me in a swim suit so, even if I would do that in my own home, I don't dress that way in front of parishioners anywhere! So what is your own personal comfort level around parishioners about how much body you show? If you aren't showing them any breast, and you want to feed the baby, I think the problem then becomes squarely someone else's. Just because someone "can tell" that you are breast feeding (somewhere under there!), that should never be cause for discomfort. God made boobs to deliver healthy food to babies.

    The other boundary issue is bringing the baby on pastoral calls. Because all babies, not just breast-feeding babies, require much attention, I can't see how taking a baby along is compatible with doing pastoral duties, such as visits, where parishioners have an expectation that pastoral attention will be focused on them. I see visits (and worship time, and confirmation class, for example) as being a more focused and intense kind of pastoral time than, say, after church, at a church picnic, or in the church nursery with other moms, where, at times, you can be more like "one of the folks" even though, as you know, it's all pastor time whenever and wherever we are.

    I hope you get a lot of creative advice about how to juggle it all, and I hope you feel totally supported by all of us as you welcome this little one into the world of church and life. Many blessings!

  2. Blessings to you!

    I breast fed both of my daughters. My policy was that when I needed to feed my girls, I would go into my office and close the door. With my first daughter, some moms would breast feed in the nursery. With my second daughter, there were no breast feeding moms. So I just preferred my office, but I did have the option of the nursery.

    Now I will admit to having breast fed a child during an interview. We had dinner with the committee and when she got fussy, I went into the other room to get her to latch on and then came back in the room covered up. I was not one who whipped it out, but discretely could nurse. I always covered myself and the baby with a towel.

    As far as pastoral visits, I would take the girls on some visits, but would also be upfront with people before I arrived that they would be coming along. Many older members like to see the babies. I also did make a day in my office where my daughter would come to work with me each week. People knew that on those days if they schedule something that there would also be "entertainment" during the committee meetings or appointments.

  3. This makes two of us! I head back to work from my maternity leave on Monday and also have a nursing child. This is my 3rd, and I have navigated this territory 2 other times.

    I definitely lean farther to the "nursing anywhere" side than I do worrying about how comfortable other people are. My husband cares for our little ones during worship and has pumped bottles on hand for that duty, but usually not too long after worship I take the little back and will nurse as needed while "on duty" with church stuff. If I am just visiting with folks in fellowship time I will nurse or if I'm attending the adult ed class I'll nurse in that, too, as needed. I won't if I am teaching a class, even if it's a sitting down discussion class.

    I will bring the baby and nurse at evening meetings that I am attending as a resource/participant, but not as a leader. I make sure the baby is at home for the meetings I am leading.

    Pastoral visits I would play by ear, considering them on a case-by-case basis. My kids go to daycare before they are school-aged, so for MOST of my visits the baby will be there instead of with me. However, I do know that I also want to take her to meet a few shut-ins, so I'll have to deal with that here. Most likely I would bring a bottle to visit an elderly man alone, and visits to elderly women or couples would depend on my relationship and comfort level with those people.

    I've never had pastoral visits in my own home, so I don't know about those. It would probably be a case-by-case situation, too. I would probably be more likely to nurse in my own home than not, though. My house, my comfort.

    I have two nursing dresses for the first time, but I have to admit that fumble with them more than with my regular clothes. A non-nursing twinset is probably the easiest thing for me to use to nurse discreetly. I don't wear clericals, but if I did, I think I would just skip them for the year of nursing if "legal" in the tradition.

    Pumping for bottles is a pain in the rear and a time sucker. In general, I won't pump and feed a bottle for someome else's comfort if breastfeeding is easy and readily available.

  4. 12 and 15 years ago, I nursed both my sons while I was the solo pastor; after 8 weeks of maternity leave, one came to work with me for another 6 months, the other for 4 months.

    I considered my office a completely fine place to nurse, with the door closed; it was the spot I was most likely to use. I also pumped in there for many more months. I am trying to remember if I ever used the nursery; I may have, because there were comfy chairs in there.

    In planning visits with the baby, I generally tried to nurse beforehand. I'd let people know I'd be bringing him along (if it wasn't appropriate, I waited for an evening or weekend) and if I thought we were in the likely range of a nursing time, I'd mention that as we were picking a time; the person's reaction gave me a good clue as to whether nursing would be well received or not.

    I thought it was a little hard on people to ask if they minded me nursing unless I was very confident the of the answer (in which case it was a courtesy on my part). I think that really puts them on the spot, because they know what they are "supposed to" say regardless of how they feel. Not a good dynamic for whatever was planned for the meeting or conversation!

    I also am pretty sure that I did not nurse in the company of men who were parish members. I can say what I want about the unfairness of it, but I simply wasn't comfortable combining those images in their mind.

    Among male and female friends and in social public settings, I nursed discreetly without concern. I wasn't uncomfortable nursing my boys, but I really wanted not to make parish members feel awkward.

  5. What a joy that other clergywomen are taking this image of women's bodies out into the open!

    I nursed all three of my children while pastoring. Each time it was a bit different. In general, I nursed in my office when I had the time and in the nursery when I only had a few minutes between duties. I nursed pretty freely around other mothers but almost never around men.

    I only nursed once at a shut-in visit, and that was because the member, a woman and a farmer, insisted that I do so when the baby got fussy! It was a lovely bonding experience for us!

    I nursed my children for over two years, and I found that most people were fine with the idea when they were infants, but as soon as the babies got any mobility, nursing became "off-limits". I curtailed public nursing around parishioners when they reached six months or so, not because I minded but because it made others so squeamish - and a potential barrier to their perception that I could effectively pastor and mother at the same time.

    Many blessings to you as you navigate this new and exciting world!

  6. Oh ok so I'm late responding Here's my thought. 30 years ago I was nursing my babies...and in a part of the world where that wasn't done in public.
    I did go into my office and close the door and with my back to the door rocked and nursed my kids.
    Two funny things... one morning at 7am I was nursing our son in our kitchen and an elder who thought the manse was his opened the door kitchen door and walked in and saw my son cuddling at the breast and said...OH MY!! I asked him please knock.
    A second time I was in my husband's office with the door closed and the head of staff burst in while I was nursing and said OH MY! and turned and walked out.
    all in all if you have support of the other mom's ==ask them==then join them in parenting. they should just love it.

  7. As with everything else it is important to balance the needs of your parishioners with your own needs and the needs of your family. My youngest is recently weaned but I was a long term nursing mom as a seminarian, intern, and first call pastor. I would never nurse while leading worship but I have nursed discretely while attending worship.

    I can not think of any reason not to nurse in your own office with the door closed. But I personally didn't do that much on a Sundays because it meant being away from everyone and so for those Sunday mornings and other times when you need to be out with people but still need to feed (not all babies are considerate enough to take a bottle- mine never would) I would highly suggest getting a good nursing cover like the "Hooter Hider" or make one there are lots of free patterns on line


You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.