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January 13th, 2014
12:00 PM ET

Breastfeeding in church? Pope says yes

By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editor

(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. Greenspam

    Now women will openly flaunt themselves in front of priests to breast feed in order to seduce them. Oh mine.

    January 13, 2014 at 6:19 pm |
    • sly

      Why would any woman want to seduce a priest? Aren't they all gay?

      January 13, 2014 at 6:36 pm |
  2. EX CNN Commentor

    damn I love this man!

    January 13, 2014 at 6:14 pm |
  3. EX CNN Commentor

    God DAMN I LOVE THIS MAN!!! sorry sir...

    January 13, 2014 at 6:13 pm |
  4. One one

    It could get a little weird if the kid was 2 yo.

    January 13, 2014 at 6:09 pm |
  5. Wildfawn

    There is nothing in the world more natural than feeding one's child. God designed a woman's body to give the baby the perfect food. Anyone who has a problem with that is welcome to take it up with the Engineer Himself. That being said, there's nothing wrong with being discreet. I myself always put a receiving blanket over my shoulder. It is interesting that in Iran, one of the most conservative countries in the world, breastfeeding one's child in public goes unnoticed and unremarked. What does that say about the U.S.'s silly preoccupation with it?

    January 13, 2014 at 5:56 pm |
    • Landru

      Well said.

      January 13, 2014 at 6:00 pm |
    • One one

      I agree, BF in church is OK. Not sure I would go with the "natural bodily functions" rational though.

      January 13, 2014 at 6:07 pm |
    • Hcalla

      Agree completely. People worried about a mother feeding her child fall into a special group of busybodies

      January 13, 2014 at 6:09 pm |
      • Maleficent

        Sorry, but when you are in a restaurant and somebody does it right next to you it has nothing to do with being a busybody – more like the mother is forcefully sharing her business with everyone else.

        January 13, 2014 at 6:16 pm |
        • Ken Margo

          Would you feel better if the child cried their brains out? That would make for a very enjoyable dinner!

          January 13, 2014 at 6:21 pm |
        • sam stone

          it would not bother me a bit if a woman breastfed her child next to me in a restaurant. why would it bother you? are you that repressed?

          January 13, 2014 at 6:41 pm |
  6. ME II

    I'm curious, how does the Pope reconcile breastfeeding with his views on contraception?

    January 13, 2014 at 5:56 pm |
    • midwest rail

      I'm curious what needs reconciling ?

      January 13, 2014 at 5:59 pm |
      • ME II

        Sorry, bad joke, but breastfeeding apparently can be used as birth control, if done properly.

        January 13, 2014 at 6:01 pm |
        • Shazzam

          No, that is a misconception. (no pun) I was shocked to resume menses and all while exclusively breast feeding, but you can nurse one child while conceiving and carrying the next.

          January 13, 2014 at 6:14 pm |
        • ME II

          I'm not an expert, but apparently it works for some people:

          http://www.webmd.com/parenting/tc/breast-feeding-as-birth-control-topic-overview

          January 13, 2014 at 6:16 pm |
        • Alex

          The Catholic Church only approves of 'natural' birth control ike the rhythm method and breast feeding. It is the artificial, condoms, pills, patches, and barriers that are sins.

          January 13, 2014 at 6:18 pm |
        • Ken Margo

          Simple explanation. People are different. What works for some may not work for others. I just wouldn't rely on that method only.

          January 13, 2014 at 6:19 pm |
        • Shazzam

          Perhaps it can delay pregnancy a couple months but the Planned Parenthood "if done correctly" clause is nonsense. It's nothing to encourage people to rely on for birth control, to advocate breast feeding yes. You can't measure the amount the baby is nursing, if the baby is ill or just not having a growth spurt they nurse less even though they may appear to be nursing the same. You won't know when you've ovulated, surprise! Don't spread unreliable advice.

          January 13, 2014 at 6:26 pm |
        • ME II

          @Shazzam,
          "Don't spread unreliable advice."

          I have no experience or expertise in this and won't bring it up again, but I'm not seeing any that contradicts the articles. However, the following articles does seem to indicate a concern about it's "misuse" if that's the right term.

          "New mothers are receiving incorrect contraceptive advice, experts warn
          While breastfeeding is an effective form, missing even one feed negates this
          There has been an ‘anecdotal, but definite rise’ in pregnancies, says charity
          Rise in new mums breastfeeding is exacerbating the problem"
          Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2282763/Unplanned-pregnancies-rise-new-mothers-wrongly-rely-breastfeeding-contraception.html#ixzz2qKCm1nrA

          That being said I'll shut up now.

          January 13, 2014 at 6:41 pm |
      • Ken Margo

        Breastfeeding is a form of birth control? I know I'm slow, but please explain that to me.

        January 13, 2014 at 6:05 pm |
        • ME II

          http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/birth-control/breastfeeding-4219.htm

          January 13, 2014 at 6:06 pm |
        • Ken Margo

          Ok I'm convinced.

          January 13, 2014 at 6:09 pm |
  7. Seattle Sue

    Well, doesn't that just sucks!

    January 13, 2014 at 5:53 pm |
  8. aizen

    breastfeeding is the most natural thing ever. i only saw it as a problem in north america and i dont understand why? it is a person feeding, i dont see people telling you not to eat when you are hungry so why should a baby not feed? or is it man here get excited by seeing a breast? i dont get the logic...

    January 13, 2014 at 5:52 pm |
    • Landru

      Because there is no logic behind it. Angry old men in the bible belt. That's where it comes from.

      January 13, 2014 at 6:01 pm |
  9. 00 00

    u c, love is invisible. it doesn't exist.

    I'm with you L.E.M.
    Though it's a shame that it had to be you
    The mother ship is just a blip
    From our trip made for two

    I'm with you boys
    So please employ just a little extra care
    It's on my mind
    I'm left behind when I should have been there
    Walking with you, with you, with you

    Jethro Tull – For Michael Collins, Jeffrey And Me

    mother ship?

    January 13, 2014 at 5:52 pm |
  10. Jesus Christ Son of God

    Does this mean women will be shirtless, if so, I'm becoming catholic.

    January 13, 2014 at 5:52 pm |
  11. brian

    A church is a "holy place" ? That's a matter of opinion.

    January 13, 2014 at 5:50 pm |
  12. al

    breastfeeding is a very natural thing in life and it shouldn't be considered offensive. but maybe women should just develop the proper ettiquette when doing so in order to keep peeping toms and perverts from offensive stares. now something like the dance that miley cyrus did now that was offensive and many people dont have a problem with that. and that is unatural.

    January 13, 2014 at 5:47 pm |
    • ME II

      Did the Pope sanction Twerking too?

      January 13, 2014 at 5:51 pm |
    • Dot

      There is nothing natural about Miley Cyrus.

      January 13, 2014 at 5:51 pm |
    • Willow

      I agree. One doesn't need to show all when breastfeeding. It is possible to be discreet while doing it.

      January 13, 2014 at 5:56 pm |
  13. Side issue

    I was just thinking about this today. Why are there multiple toilets in a public bathroom? If you really have to go then you have no choice but to smell others, hear others, even if you can't see others. Smelling others is far worse. Who designed these things?

    January 13, 2014 at 5:45 pm |
  14. PS

    I believe it was National Geographic that had a myriad of portraits of Mary in one of their issues many years ago. Several of them included her breastfeeding Christ, and if I recall correctly, they were from the Byzantine and Renaissance periods. People clearly weren't uptight about it then – why do we consider ourselves progressive in the 21st century in comparison when we have become SO freaked out over breasts that we harass mothers who feed their children with them, as God and nature intended?

    January 13, 2014 at 5:40 pm |
    • CommonSensed

      Remember that in the middle ages breasts were OK to show, but ankles were forbidden.

      Whatever…Sharia law is sharia law no matter who's papa its coming from.

      January 13, 2014 at 5:44 pm |
  15. Brrrr

    I'm sorry but it's just not an experience I care to have with anybody who is
    a.) Under 18
    b.) Toothless
    C.) A relative

    Bald used to be on that list too but that went out the window last March

    January 13, 2014 at 5:36 pm |
    • ... it's Cold out here!

      Then you must really have problems with how you got here in the first place....

      January 13, 2014 at 6:03 pm |
      • Brrr

        I know everybody involved was a consenting adult

        January 13, 2014 at 6:32 pm |
    • Hcalla

      look the other way

      January 13, 2014 at 6:14 pm |
      • Brrrr

        Don't worry about it, I don't go to church, but if you bring it out here by my then you can look the other way while I poop.

        January 13, 2014 at 6:32 pm |
  16. 00 00

    u c, love is invisible. it doesn't exist.

    January 13, 2014 at 5:35 pm |
    • G to the T

      Don't know why I'm feeding you but... "Love is invisible. It doesn't exist." In the objective sense – yes. "Love" is a description of what we feel. What we feel is controlled by the chemistry in our brain. So while it has no objective reality (other than a particular set of chemical sequences in brain) its subjective existence is very much certain.

      That help?

      January 14, 2014 at 12:10 pm |
  17. Wayne

    It's OK to bare your breasts in church for any reason. Or no reason. But if you're particularly old or unattractive, people may throw shoes at you for doing so. #YOLO

    January 13, 2014 at 5:33 pm |
    • CommonSensed

      You got your hashtag wrong. You should have put #WAF – Wayne's A Fool

      January 13, 2014 at 5:41 pm |
  18. Marty

    What is a "Pope" and where do I find in the Word of God?,..because I read it and it's NOT there.

    January 13, 2014 at 5:27 pm |
    • ME II

      Word of God? oh, you mean the Bible. Why get hung up on specifics, like "Pope", "Rapture", claims of divinity, etc.?

      January 13, 2014 at 5:43 pm |
  19. Rick

    What did you expect from a 3rd world pope? civility LOL.

    January 13, 2014 at 5:24 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      What's not civil here??

      January 13, 2014 at 5:26 pm |
    • ME II

      @Rick,
      Perhaps you mean civilized behavior? A civilized person would know the difference.

      January 13, 2014 at 5:28 pm |
  20. TomGI

    "It's OK to breastfeed in church"

    If francis wants to breast feed in church it's fine with me. I'm not catholic so he's not my 'papa'

    January 13, 2014 at 5:19 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.