What the Pope Thinks About Public Breastfeeding

When a mother makes the choice to breastfeed her new baby, she can usually find support through her family, medical team, and local lactation groups. Where she may find trouble instead of support is with the general public. New and experienced moms find themselves on the fence.

One of the universal struggles is the issue of whether or not to breastfeed in public. There’s stigma, misinformation, and controversy attached to the act. The American Academy of Pediatric supports breastfeeding, and now nursing moms have another popular advocate: the pope.

During a recent service at the Sistine Chapel, Pope Francis encouraged mothers to feed their hungry babies to help calm them. A special baptism ceremony was being held for more than two dozen babies, so naturally little infant cries and murmurs were heard throughout the church. He jokingly called it a choir!

This wasn’t the first time the pope has expressed support for breastfeeding women either. A previous baptism ceremony that included nearly thirty babies saw him offering the same reassurance. He cited how Jesus was once a nursing infant and those moms should nurse without fear as his mother once did.

Instead of ignoring them or continuing with his address, he acknowledged that hungry children should be fed, and that the mothers should not feel apprehensive. He also acknowledged the fact that lengthy ceremonies would understandably make a child hungry.

Time Magazine quoted Pope Francis from an interview with an Italian publication on the matter:

“There was a young mother behind one of the barriers with a baby that was just a few months old. The child was crying its eyes out as I came past. The mother was caressing it. I said to her: Madam, I think the child’s hungry. “Yes, it’s probably time…” she replied. “Please give it something to eat!” I said. She was shy and didn’t want to breast-feed in public, while the Pope was passing. I wish to say the same to humanity: Give people something to eat!”

His comments come at a time when so much controversy and commentary has been spread about breastfeeding in public. Moms have been asked to stop or to relocate to a bathroom, including in places of worship. Some have gotten kicked out of places for not covering up. Nurse-ins have been staged to protest places that have done things to shame or prohibit public nursing.

Here in the U.S. federal law backs it up, but bystanders are still uncomfortable, prudish, or offended about the act altogether. Because of this, some nursing moms feel the same. For a figure like Pope Francis to be an advocate, many women might feel a bit more welcome and secure about where they nurse, especially if it’s at church.

Perhaps the pope’s words will curb a few would-be harassers from approaching that nursing mom they see sitting in Starbucks. Perhaps not. What do you think about the pope’s position on public breastfeeding? Have you felt a certain way about breastfeeding in public? Tell us in the comments!