January 13th, 2014
12:00 PM ET

Breastfeeding in church? Pope says yes

By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editor
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(CNN) - Amid the iconic art in the Sistine Chapel on Sunday, Pope Francis told mothers that it's acceptable to breastfeed their children in public, even in holy sites like churches.

Children's voices, even when crying, make "the most beautiful choir of all," Francis said during a service in which he baptized 32 children.

"Some will cry because they are uncomfortable or because they are hungry," the Pope said. "If they are hungry, mothers, let them eat, no worries, because here, they are the main focus."

The Sistine Chapel, with its famous frescoes by Michelangelo, is the official chapel of the Apostolic Palace, traditionally the papal residence. Francis, though, lives in the Vatican guesthouse, Casa Santa Marta, saying it better suits his low-key style.

The Pope's remarks echo statements he made to an Italian newspaper in December in which he tied breastfeeding to the problem of global hunger.

At a recent General Audience - or public appearance by the Pope - a young mother sat behind a screen with her crying infant, Francis told La Stampa.

"I said to her: 'Madam, I think the child’s hungry. ... Please give it something to eat!' " the Pope said.

"She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing," he continued. "I wish to say the same to humanity: Give people something to eat! That woman had milk to give to her child; we have enough food in the world to feed everyone."

Emer McCarthy, a journalist at Vatican Radio, told Catholic News Service that she breastfed her daughter discreetly during Sunday's baptism ceremony. "Who would have thought the Pope would be this great proponent?" she said.

Breastfeeding in public, particularly in sacred sites such as churches, remains a sensitive issue for families, as noted by a recent Religion News Service article.

A blog post on "Five Places Moms Need to Breastfeed Discreetly" listed churches as No. 5, following public pools, restaurants, airplanes and sporting events.

"It's wonderful when moms want to bring the kids to church and nurture their faith early on," wrote blogger Mary Fischer. "But a coverup is a necessity with a baby in tow. Do I really have to elaborate here?"

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Church • Ethics • Faith & Health • Food • gender issues • Health • Houses of worship • Mass • Pope Francis • Sacred Spaces • Women

soundoff (1,126 Responses)
  1. Bones McCoy

    This is what happens when you live in a society where se.xuality is so heavily frowned upon by the religious folks in high positions of power who attempted to suppress it for centuries. We needed revolutions in the 20s and 30s just to allow women to wear shorts, and again in the 60s and 70s just to allow people to talk about it in music and other art. That is absolutely ridiculous and is the primary reason why breasts are considered se.x objects. When you live most of your life not seeing something like a breast, you want to see it badly. That's why movies with nudity sell so well, because society is repressed. This is what religious zealots have done to America, they turned se.x into a commercial business by trying to hide it from the population with the excuse of protecting children. I never understood protecting children from reality. After 7 years old, they should know the realities of the world. In many European countries, you see s.ex in commercials, top.less women at the beach. It's just a natural part of the body and it's used for feeding young. It's not hidden and therefor not glorified by men on the level that it is here. You see breasts all over the place when the weather is warm, just like you see to.pless men. There's no difference, in reality. Men have nip.ples, and many enjoy them being licked or massaged by their partner. There's no reason breasts should be treated as this unseeable thing that will corrupt men forever. It's time to leave that dark ages mentality in the dark ages. We live in the age of freedom now, if you don't like it, move to the middle east where you will most likely never see any part of a woman aside from her eyes.

    January 29, 2014 at 11:23 am |
  2. Mikki Vickrey

    My concern is that such a natural function is being questioned!! As the Mother if you feel shy about this, put a towel over your breast and infant. As for the folks looking at this and not liking it, turn your head!!
    We should be so concerned about real problems in the USA like feeding the starving, housing the homeless, etc!!

    January 27, 2014 at 1:14 pm |
  3. Dan


    January 26, 2014 at 1:27 am |
  4. stephen(CLT)

    in 3rd world country i can see that women breast feed in public, because they don't have money to buy milk. Here in the U.S, why breast feed in a church? get a bottle. you are a distraction.

    January 23, 2014 at 12:37 pm |
    • Atheist, me?

      This thing about formula and 3rd world countries! Have you not been told that it was research by the WHO in the West that has got them promoting exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6months of a baby's life and continuous breastfeeding till thechild is two years old?

      January 25, 2014 at 1:31 pm |
    • Bones McCoy

      Breast milk is healthier and that's the simple fact. Not all babies can drink formula, especially when really young. I mean, seriously, what's more distracting? I woman quietly and discreetly feeding her child, or a baby that won't shut up and screams and cries for the entire service? The answer is obvious and it doesn't involve fear of breasts.

      January 29, 2014 at 11:28 am |
  5. On the level

    For all of you who think breast feeding is natural and fine, fine, it's natural I suppose. But ask yourself, would you go to your mom's house and do it now? Maybe if you had a say in the matter or knew what was going on you wouldn't have done it then either.

    January 16, 2014 at 12:45 am |
    • Reality # 2

      What? Breast feeding in your Mom's house? Very natural and very common.

      January 16, 2014 at 7:57 am |
    • Kaylin

      You're very ignorant. Most mothers would encourage breastfeeding! My mom was very encouraging to me as it is difficult to nurse at times. Of course I nursed my child in my parents home, they did not have a problem with it and neither do any other mothers I know!

      January 16, 2014 at 9:01 am |
      • On the level

        You both have issues with reading comprehension.

        January 16, 2014 at 9:04 am |
        • Reality # 2

          How so?

          January 16, 2014 at 11:55 am |
        • igaftr

          They don't have a problem with reading comprehension. You have a problem with writing , since your post is confusing to say the least. It can be taken several ways, so you may want to try a bit of clarity in your post.

          January 16, 2014 at 11:59 am |
        • Piccolo

          You worded that response very confusingly. You are actually saying, "why aren't you guys as adults still breastfeeding from your mom". What an absolutely stupid and ignorant statement completely irrelevant to the topic. Non sequitar. Think about your response and try again.

          January 29, 2014 at 11:34 am |
    • Christine

      Actually, they did read incorrectly. Level was referring to whether you'd go to your mother and breastfeed now, as an adult. And he was saying that if you had a choice as a baby, some may not have wanted to breastfeed. That being said, I completely disagree with what Level has to say. Breastfeeding is the best a mother can do for her child.

      January 16, 2014 at 1:09 pm |
      • Justinian

        He wrote it very clumsily. And it clearly wasn't any sort of attempt to make a clear point for/against breastfeeding, either.

        January 18, 2014 at 9:01 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @On the level..........................You need to go back and have that lobotomy finished. Let's see, I'm over 50. My mother being able to produce milk @ 70 isn't very likely. And no I wouldn't want it. If the baby didn't want breast milk, the baby wouldn't open it's mouth to receive it. So yes, the baby does have a choice. Please go back to school.

      January 16, 2014 at 3:18 pm |
    • Acharya S

      You do understand that a baby requires feeding, and the method used is irrelevant to the said baby? Breastfeeding imparts antibodies that formula cannot mimic.
      It is what breasts are designed for.
      What a weird argument.
      By the time a baby could articulate specific wishes, the need for either breast milk or formula has already passed.

      January 18, 2014 at 5:28 pm |
    • stephen(CLT)

      if they want to breast feed in the open, women better not have problems about men looking at them.

      January 23, 2014 at 12:28 pm |
    • Piccolo

      Are you kidding me? I was the oldest of 5 and my mom breast fed all of my siblings quite often with me or my sisters present and sitting right next to her watching. No we didn't see the breast as a se.x object because it's not. That's just a commercial image.

      January 29, 2014 at 11:31 am |
      • Bones McCoy

        Learn how to read, stupid!!! The guy obviously was asking why we don't breastfeed today as adults, a totally relevant point, completely related to the article and the issue of public breast feeding. LOLZ.

        January 29, 2014 at 12:06 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.