Does God Hate Her Breasts? February 28, 2011

Does God Hate Her Breasts?

As a male who has no children, I’m not about to make a recommendation to anyone regarding breastfeeding. But reader Mary sent me an article in which the author, Monica Bielanko, says she didn’t breastfeed her kids… for a reason I hadn’t heard before:

The real reason I’m not breastfeeding is deeply personal and deeply embarrassing: I’m not comfortable with the concept of busting out a boob anywhere. Sometimes not even my own bedroom. Yes, I have issues. I’m well aware, as is my long-suffering husband.

A lot of it has to do with my being raised a Mormon. You could say I grew up ashamed of my sexuality. I developed early and often wore a regular bra, a sports bra and two t-shirts to hide my burgeoning bosom. I was constantly reminded by well-meaning relatives and religious leaders not to let the boys touch my private parts. I even had to discuss in detail with my bishop (Mormon version of a priest) about letting a junior high boyfriend touch me “inappropriately.” I was told to repent immediately and never let it happen again. I wanted to get married in the temple, didn’t I? Hanky-panky with the opposite sex was no way to accomplish the ultimate goal of every virtuous, young Mormon gal.

So, when I turned up pregnant at seventeen, I felt like a failure. I doubled down on my sin and went ahead and had an abortion, the news of which spread all around my high school. The experience scarred me. I was led by numerous adults to believe I was shameful and unclean. Sex is bad, and sex before marriage? Hell and damnation await all transgressors!

What I’m saying here is that I’ve always associated nudity, especially breasts, with sexuality and then sin and shame. And because breastfeeding involves breasts, it’s gotten tangled up in those associations.

If breastfeeding is as beneficial as the author herself admits, this sounds like a poor (but understandable) reason to withhold breastmilk from children. It’s ultimately her choice, but I think I’d feel more comfortable about her decision (as if it matters what I think) if there was a more scientific rationale behind it.

Mary adds in her email:

Religion often teaches women to be ashamed of their bodies, to be “modest,” etc. The idea that this teaching leads them to formula-feed their babies because they are ashamed to “pop out a boob” is so frustrating! I’ve wrestled with this to some extent as I feed my 3-month-old. But reading about it as a legitimate argument to deny a baby breast milk really gets to me.

Again, I’m a guy with no children. So what do I know about any of this. But don’t most people feel uncomfortable with their bodies as they’re growing up? Certainly, Monica’s not the only person who grew up in a culture where sexuality was always stifled, but I haven’t heard of other religious women not breastfeeding as a result of that.

I’m curious if any women reading this had a similar thought process when their children were born — how did you work through it?

In any case, I hope the feelings of sexual repression eventually disappear for Monica. That’s a horrible thing for any religion to do to someone.

***Update***: I wanted to clarify a few things:

I don’t know if it’s better to breastfeed or not. It’s entirely Monica’s decision. But to completely close off the idea of breastfeeding because her religion makes her feel ashamed of her body is what bothers me. This whole post is not so much about breastfeeding as it is about the awful way Mormons (and other religions) make women feel about their bodies and sexuality.

If mothers — religious or otherwise — willingly choose not to breastfeed, I’m not knowledgeable enough about the issue to offer an opinion on the matter.

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  • Sara

    What she says is horrible, and it is a bad reason not to breastfeed if she wanted to breastfeed and didn’t do it out of pure shame. On the other hand, some breastfeeding advocates will likely use this as further ammunition to bully and shame women who choose to formula feed their babies, for whatever reason. It’s pretty typical for extreme breastfeding activists to call women who don’t breastfeed “repressed” and “anti-breast” or whatever else. Not all brestfeeding advocates act that way, but it’s enough of a problem that I grit my teeth any time the subject comes up, because I know the more extreme “lactivists” are going to descend like creationists on a high-school biology book. My sister went through it when she wasn’t able to produce enough milk for her baby, and switching between breastmilk and formula was giving him serious acid reflux. People told her she was feeding her baby “rat poison.”

  • Vanessa

    I am not a mother, but I grew up as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses so I can identify with her being ashamed of her sexuality. It’s not just a sense of feeling uncomfortable in your own skin. You’re raised, especially as a woman, to believe that your core worth lies in your sexual purity. Your virginity defines you.

    You’re not allowed to even acknowledge that you are a sexual being until after marriage. It took me two years after deconverting to work through many layers of repression. Until I was nineteen, my body image did not include breasts or “below my stomach and above my thighs.”

    I can sympathize with Mary. If breastfeeding was associated with sexuality, I would feel ashamed (and almost incestuous) to bare my breasts to my child.

  • It’s something that is discussed quite often in certain circles. Many women have significant trouble coming to terms with the sexual abuse (let’s not be coy here) of religious persons.

    That said, the benefits of breastfeeding are mostly for the mother, and all are overstated. The most important thing a mother can give her child is a healthy, happy mother prepared to respond positively to the child.

    This woman should seek some counseling to deal with the reality of the trauma she suffered as a child. It’s a shame that people would discount clear trauma because “aren’t most people uncomfortable with their bodies growing up.” After that, she can work through her feelings on breastfeeding specifically.

  • i am not a mother, bu i am the aunt of 6 children under the age of 7 and i was a nanny to my oldest nephew for the first year of his life.

    breastfeeding is a complicated topic. one of my sisters did, to the point she got a breast pump and prepared natural milk for her children when she was at work (you pump it and put it in the fridge for later use). my other sister hated breast feeding, and all four of her kids, including the twins, are formula fed (twins are notorious for ‘draining’ mothers’ breasts of milk). all my nieces and nephews are healthy. both moms are happy. and those are the most important goals.

    however, science is pretty damn clear on the issues of breast milk vs formula. breast milk is better, by a wide margin. of course it is, evolution is real and the breast can keep a child alive thru the fifth year, if necessary. i have a very poor friend and she fed her son breast milk and not much more until he was four. in some cultures, breast feeding is also birth control- the longer a woman lactates, the longer it’s unlikely she’ll become pregnant again. this matters in mobile or poor cultures in which it would be a dangerous burden to have too many young children at the same time.

    now, this poor (ex, i hope) Mormon woman is to be pitied. the breast isn’t “dirty” or “shameful.” it’s a part of the human body, nothing more or less. i am militant in my support of mothers who want to breastfeed, in public or private. literally nothing is more natural and normal than a mother feeding her child. i’m sorry she was brainwashed into hating her own body. it makes me angry that religion can still do that to women. the worst part is that there is a chance her children will be less healthy and intelligent as a result. not a big one, but still some chance. stories like this are why i hate organized religion.

  • What angers me (and disgusts me) is the piss-poor argument used against public breastfeeding, that says that going to the bathroom is also natural, but should it be done in public? My response is that I’ve never heard of urine being a source of nutrition for babies, nor have I heard of breast milk being a waste product.

  • As a mother of two children, who nursed her first and is currently nursing her second child (he’s latched on as I type this), I can undeniably attest that breastfeeding is the most UNsexual act. From one moment to the next, the instant your child is born and is placed on your chest to nurse, your boobs go from “sexy-play-with-me-fun-bags” to “food-for-my-child”. There is nothing sexual nor anything shameful in the act and it makes me ill that women are taught to believe such by ancient primitive dogmas written by MEN.

    I blogged about nursing recently:

    Religion is the prime motivator of misogyny.

  • Claudia

    I’m not a mother and have not researched the topic deeply. From what little I’ve read the scientific consensus is that breastfeeding is clearly a better choice. Every healthcare system I’ve ever been around (in 3 different countries) promote it quite actively and I assume there’s a reason for that.

    The mother writing this understands that breastfeeding is better. She also understands that her reasons for not breastfeeding are irrational. She simply is not willing to undergo what for her is a very uncomfortable situation for the benefit of her children. I’m not in her head so I can’t really know how difficult a situation this is for her. It could be that if she breastfed the trauma would cause her stress or depression, which wouldn’t benefit the baby either. On the other hand, it could be that she is putting her own ease and comfort ahead of the health benefits of her infant, which would be her choice, but something to be legitimately questioned.

  • JD

    Did those bishops and family members say anything to the boys she was around? It seems like they’re saying it’s her fault for being an object of temptation, but they don’t fault the tempted for falling for it. I wouldn’t be surprised if they would suggest it’s the fault of a rape victim for looking pretty.

  • Ruby

    I didn’t have shame issues attached to nursing, but I wasn’t raised religious. I nursed all 4 children, including my twins (no trouble with being “drained”; I always had plenty of milk), and I did not nurse in bathrooms. I never really got bothered in public, either. It is a real shame what these teachings do to women, because I do know women who feel uncomfortable with nursing because they don’t know any way to think about their breasts that isn’t sexual and or “dirty.” Sad commentary, that is.

  • dartigen

    My mother had no trouble breastfeeding two children (the first was unrelated; he was too tiny to feed properly and kept falling asleep before he was properly fed). Her problem was, however, with everyone else being all ‘EWWW BOOBIES PUT THEM AWAY’ (this being late 1980s-early 90s Australia which was apparently a time of many prudes).

    Her usual solution was to quietly excuse herself to a restroom or another quiet, private place, or, failing that, just throw a towel over her shoulder. However, she did say that it was a serious problem – but she didn’t understand it, seeing as it was ‘the way things are meant to be done’. (With that being said, she stopped as soon as milk teeth came through – partly because smacking a baby every time it bites doesn’t actually work, and partly because she felt that it was ‘nature’s sign’ that it was time for proper food.)

    I’ve never really heard of women getting funny about breastfeeding – the main problem I hear of here is either difficulties with having enough milk, or difficulties getting a baby to feed properly. However, I wonder if it’s purely visual (i.e. if she didn’t look, would it be ok? She could put a towel over her shoulder, or just look away perhaps, if this is the case) or if it extends further than that. To me it sounds like she may (sadly) need some counselling to help her cope, at least while she has the baby (after that, well, meh, she can always go back to double bras and thick tops*).

    I don’t understand what other people get out of making girls hate their bodies (it’s not just religion – look at all the girls who are anorexic or bulimic because ‘thin is pretty’ when in reality it’s not at all – society plays a big factor in it too, although I suspect it’s more women with the wrong idea of men’s ideals than men themselves – but that’s a whole other discussion). We can’t do anything about it. We have breasts, that is it, end of story. Why other people can’t get used to it is beyond me.
    (Though why breasts are considered ‘sexy’ is beyond me. I don’t understand that either, but then again I don’t understand a lot of things about human sexuality, so there you go.)

    *: not a mother, but I was already wearing bras at 12 and ended up at a D cup. Being rather short, for a long time I was very paranoid about people looking down my top – so I wouldn’t wear anything cut lower than my collarbone. It took a long time for me to get past that, and I still don’t like to wear low-cut tops. But I was never one for going that extreme – then again, Australia, thick tops in summer are an invitation for heat exhaustion and a trip to the hospital and a very long lecture from a nurse about appropriate hot weather clothing.

  • Kaylya

    It’s unfortunate that she feels that way, but if she has a strong negative emotional reaction to the idea of breastfeeding, then that is a good reason for her to not breastfeed. The “scientific” reason here is that it causes her severe emotional distress to breastfeed. Perhaps after recognizing this with her first child, she can take steps to see a therapist to work through it for any future children she has.

    The positive effects of breastfeeding on children are small but statistically significant. However, they do not outweigh the benefits of a happy, healthy, mother. I do think breast should be Plan A, but it’s absolutely wonderful that we now have a viable Plan B, aka formula, due to science.

  • Sounds like Monica has a lot to deal with. I feel sorry for her situation. Listen everyone…. bottle feeding your baby is normally very healthy for them if done correctly. If there are benefits to breastfeeding, they are fairly small.

    Give mothers a break. If they want to bottle feed they should do so without the rest of us getting in their face about it.

    Good luck Monica!

  • redhairedagent

    That said, the benefits of breastfeeding are mostly for the mother, and all are overstated.


    I nursed both of my children for a combined total of 2.5 years. I would not have sacrificed my body in such a way for that long solely for my benefit. Weight loss aside, I lost just about all nipple sensitivity, and my tits looked terrible. I kept it up for my kids. The benefits of breastfeeding are overwhelmingly for the child. Breastfed children have better immune systems, and are less likely to be obese. They also have statistically higher I.Q.’s than formula babies. Not to mention breastmilk is chemically perfect for human infants and its composition changes over time to.adjust to the growing and developing child.

  • For someone who keeps saying, “It’s not my place” you seem to be judging her pretty harshly, Hemant. Her excuse isn’t “good enough” and you’d accept it more readily if it were more “scientific”? What she’s been through has left her with some pretty significant psychological scars, which shouldn’t be taken lightly. Attempting to force her way through them in order to nurse her baby would likely only result in panic attacks at feeding time and resentment toward her child. Would you also tell someone with PTS to just get over it because their trigger doesn’t have enough published journal articles to support its legitimacy?

    (Hemant says: Her excuse isn’t a good one. I stand by that. If she willingly chose not to breastfeed, so be it. But to have her religion essentially make that decision for her by making her feel that awkward about her sexuality/body? That isn’t right. I feel bad for her. I’m not chastizing her for the decision she made. If her religion forced her to breastfeed her child and she didn’t want to do that, I’d be writing pretty much the same thing.)

    WhatPaleBlueDot: “That said, the benefits of breastfeeding are mostly for the mother, and all are overstated.”

    You want to back that up with a source, please? Because every science-based resource I’ve read has stressed the importance of a neonate’s stomach and small intestine being able to transport large proteins such as immunoglobulins (aka antibodies) across its membrane and directly into the blood steam for the first 24 hours or so postpartum. In fact, there are some species (ex. pigs) that will die if not fed a colostrum meal within the first few hours of being born.

  • I don’t think that piling shame onto shame is the best way to handle this for her. She needs some help getting comfortable with her body following the trauma of the way she was brought up to feel about herself.

    While the benefits of breastfeeding are positive compared to formula, they are not so great as to force her to add a new level of trauma in order to “be a good Mom.”

    Secular society has its own problems with the messages we give about womens’ bodies and how they should feel about them. The Mormons (and other churches) don’t have exclusivity on this, and telling her she should just buck up and do it for the kid is another way of telling her that her existence is more for her kids than for herself. Parenting is difficult enough without being told by people who have no children that her reasons for not breastfeeding are “not good enough.”

    I hope she finds a good resolution, and yes, her baby can grow up to be healthy even if she feeds him or her with formula.

  • redhairedagent

    I’m a little disturbed by the multiple comments here about the benefits of breastfeeding being “statistically small”. Aside from the obvious health benefits to the baby, there is the fact that nursing is completely renewable, and waste-free. There are no bottles to clean, no cartons to recycle or (gasp!) throw away. It’s totally convenient, no bottles to carry, mix and wash.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking formula. Some babies don’t latch on correctly, and some mothers don’t produce enough milk or are on medication or have an illness that keeps them from nursing. In this woman’s case, she’s obviously not going to be able to nurse her child due to a psychological issue. Hell, I used formula for both of my kids because I worked and couldn’t pump enough milk to keep them fed while I was at work.

    But please stop minimizing the huge advantage to breastfeeding. It’s a stigma enough in this country without you adding to it.

  • Erin

    I nursed my son for 21 months and the majority of the women I met who nursed where very religious, the Quiverfull type religious, and that movement is very much “stand on your own, don’t rely on society”. So it made sense for them to nurse their (many) kids. Although I came to resent how much emphasis they placed on religion they were extremely knowledgeable about breastfeeding.

    Now that I consider myself atheist(as opposed to just not caring) I feel better being able to defend the scientific reasons to nurse. AND my state, Wisconsin, passed a law that allows breastfeeding “anywhere a women can legally be”!

    I have never nursed in a bathroom and thankfully having my son at 18 let me have to rebellious mentality that if any one gave me dirty looks I would make sure William ate ALOT! Whne you’re trying to be a good young mother can’t reel against much, so I chose to battle peoples ideas about teen moms and nursing!

  • Sarah TX

    I think breastfeeding is one of those issues where other people don’t get to feel “uncomfortable” with any “decisions”.

    It’s pretty clear to me that Monica didn’t make any “decision” about breastfeeding – she can’t breastfeed because she was abused as a child, pure and simple. Do we really feel comfortable lecturing abuse victims about how they deal with their abuse, especially when the alternative (forcing a mother to undergo a daily traumatic experience and specifically relating it to a baby that she’s supposed to be loving and caring for) is much worse than the side-effects of bottle feeding.

  • Sarah TX

    In other words, “My body, my choice” extends not just to our wombs, but to our boobs.

  • MRL

    “Again, I’m a guy with no children. So what do I know about any of this”

    You don’t need to be a woman or a mother to know that the Pediatric medical community is pretty much 100% behind breastfeeding.

    Its a health question. There is a “right” answer. This isn’t to say that non-breastfeeding moms should be shamed or chastened, but breastfeeding is, objectively, better.

  • Aimee

    Body shame is something that can manifest in many ways. It seems that the source of her shame was primarily her chest which would make breastfeeding more uncomfortable.

    I know many women who breastfeed but would not do so in public, even a new infant. It makes me mad that people – men and women – try to shame a nursing mother. I’ve never had that happen but I also tend to cover up unless its quite hot. I always figured if it bothered someone they didn’t have to look. There’s no way I’d nurse in the bathroom.

    The problem comes if a woman goes back to work. I did after my first baby and it was hell to pump. I don’t know if my experience is normal, but It hurt so much and did not work well. I could not keep up supply so my baby got about half mine and half formula. I also had dreadful conditions to pump in – no door, nowhere to sit, foul smell, no extra breaks. There are a variety of reasons that women simply can’t nurse their baby and I always hesitate to say anything negative about it because of my experience.

    If the woman still hasn’t had her baby, I’d suggest she give breastfeeding a try. Its hard at first (painful) but I am quite happy to be able to breastfeed my second baby and its much more convenient in many ways than bottle feeding. But most of all I hope she manages to work through her religious inspired self image problems.

    Its tough because there are people on both sides: shaming if you breastfeed in public, shaming if you choose to bottle feed instead. Its really annoying to get unsolicited parenting advice and the breast debate is one of the worst.

  • There are many cover-ups available to help with privacy, but I suggest just going to the mall and nursing. Get it over with and the embarrassment will fade. And when you think of all the health benefits a child gets, it is worth it. Experience helps build confidence and erode any worries. I nursed two kids for roughly a year a piece so I have some experience.
    As for it being sexual…well, it just isn’t.
    Also, take a lactation class at your local hospital. It will give you loads of info and lots of perspective.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    The original post by Hemant, and many of the comments here, really start to demonstrate the severe limitation of the dominant paradigm that many of my fellow atheists seem to use for looking at the world. People here, Hemant included, are arguing that breastfeeding is scientifically the best way to feed children. (Hemant adds: I never said that. See the update in the original post.) Well, I’m sure that is true. But did you read the woman’s email? Did you see how she describes how her religious upbringing distorted her relationship with her own body? There is a lot going on here. This woman deserves compassion. She likely would benefit from counseling; it’s something I hope she would explore. But a comment thread of atheists saying “breastfeeding is rationally the best choice; she should do it” isn’t going to change anything or take away the trauma of her religious upbringing.

    This woman is precisely the kind of person that the atheist community needs to extend compassion and understanding to. She has experienced what I could only call religious trauma. One of the most #@$!ed up things about religion is how it distorts our views of our own bodies and sexuality. She may be better off avoiding breastfeeding now, and I’m sure her child will come out just fine, but I hope that she can get the support she needs to overcome these issues over time.

  • Cyndi

    I breastfed my 6 year old for three and a half years and my 21 year old for two years. I mostly did it because it was easier and way less expensive but I enjoyed it because there was a bond that I can’t describe. It was a pleasure mostly.

    I rarely had to pop a nip in public though. I usually knew how to prepare. It doesn’t hurt to express your milk and it can be a great convenience. I never understood the mentality that you had to put your child straight to the teat to get the benefits.

    I’m pretty modest about my body ordinarily just because I am uncomfortable with my appearance. It has nothing to do with religion though. No, the media has had me thinking most of my life that I should live with a bag over my head because I’m not beautiful by their standards. With the stretchmarks and veins and what I saw as funny looking nipples there would be no way I’d pop them out if I could run to the car or carry a bottle of expressed milk.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    Also, what Sarah TX said:

    In other words, “My body, my choice” extends not just to our wombs, but to our boobs.

    Exactly. This ties into the fact that 1) women should be able to breastfeed their children anywhere it is convenient, and 2) women who do not breastfeed their children shouldn’t be subjected to shaming from the atheist community because they are neglecting to make the most rational, scientific choice.

  • Cyndi

    I don’t see the point in associating her embarrassment with being raised Mormon. LDS moms are not less likely to nurse so this seems like an excuse, not a valid reason. If she is ashamed of her body to the point that breastfeeding squicks her out it’s her right not to, but blaming it on her religious upbringing just does not make sense. Calling her upbringing “abuse” is just silly. Breasts being seen as shameful or sexual has nothing to do with religion. It’s far more likely to be cultural.
    Hell half the religious images of Mary and Jesus have him nursing at her breast!

  • Roxane

    With breastfeeding, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you do breastfeed, as I did, you have to put up with people who go “Eww!” unless you do it in a separate room, preferably under a burqa and facing into the corner of a room. If you don’t–even if you have made that choice for perfectly valid reasons–you get a lot of crap from self-righteous people who are oh-so-much-superior to you, whether because they understand the science (as I did) or because they were just a better Earth Mother than I was. I’ve been in both situations.

    Bottom line–back off, everybody. Monica has had enough people pontificating at her. And if she’s that stressed about it, she might not be producing enough milk anyway.

  • Lauren

    if the woman is still mormon (I hope not) talking to an elder about the appropriateness of breastfeeding may help put it in a non sexual context.

    the woman seems to want to breastfeed in teh context of her letter. and getting over body shame is useful whether or not one decides to breast feed. counseling sounds like a very useful tactic.

    the female body as sexual is everywhere in society, not just in church. it is a real issue to combat that is tied in with street harassment and rape apology.

  • Valhar2000

    I’ve never heard the particular argument that Monica makes, but I am aware of no shortage of women who think that breastfeeding is indecent, particularly in public. One more example of the American Prudishness that annoys me so much.

  • Grimalkin

    I know it’s been said a ton already, but breastfeeding is “better” and “best,” but you won’t be harming your child for not doing it. There are advantages, but they tend to be very short-term and are often overstated. Formula companies have done an amazing job at providing a perfectly suitable alternative if you can’t or won’t breastfeed.

    By far a more important factor in child health is having at least one parent who is comfortable, happy, and responsive.

    If certain individuals understood the meaning of punctuality, I should have become a mother yesterday. As is, I’m trolling the internet waiting for things to get moving. But as an impending mother, I’ve been bombarded with all this breastfeeding stuff from both sides – the lactivists telling me that I’m going to “break” my baby if I don’t breastfeed (and if my boobs don’t work? It’s probably because I’m just such a horrible mother that I’m not dedicated enough), and the formula companies the hospital I’m registered with apparently sold my name to sending me all sorts of propaganda and free formula samples. Yay.

    As others have said, you just can’t win. There’s still so much stigma around breastfeeding, it makes many new mothers feel like they are trapped at home because they don’t have feeding options if they go outside. We’ve even had problems with cops who don’t know their own laws giving women trouble for “indecent exposure” while breastfeeding (never mind that it’s legal for a woman to be topless here). But if you don’t breastfeed, all hell breaks loose! It becomes a “blame mom” party.

    Adding religion and religious guilt to the mix is just adding insult to injury. There are so many perfectly legitimate why a woman might choose not to breastfeed, but feeling like it’s some kind of shameful pornographic sex thing should never ever be a factor. Shame on these people for making a woman feel so low about her own body!

  • KatAStrophic

    I have an eleven-month old. I tried really hard to breastfeed, just as I tried really hard to have a natural birth- it just didn’t quite work out as planned. We spent extra time in the hospital just so I could get extra advice from the resident lactation consultants- I took a class on it while I was pregnant too- when it came down to it, my nipples were flat and I had to use shields, which the baby somehow always managed to tear off- so I was frustrated and on top of that, like most new mothers, I wasn’t getting any sleep [to the point of forgetting my son’s name when asked at a doctor’s appointment]- I pumped for the next month or so, then I said to heck with it. The baby was an impatient eater and would cry the whole time I was pumping and the whole thing felt completely unnatural and unnecessary. Not to mention he was eating every two hours and I felt as though I had no time left for any sort of a normal life. Mothers deserve respect and understanding and are under a LOT of stress when a baby is first born, it is really not the time to criticize them for their choices if they are honestly trying to do the best for their baby. Probably if I had the support of other breastfeeding mothers I would have done it for longer but personally I don’t know anyone who has breastfed successfully-

    Also, although breastfeeding is NOT sexual at all, it IS very gender-specific. If you come from a background where women are considered inferior to men, there can be an element of discomfort involved in the idea. I think this also played into my failure to keep breastfeeding.

  • That poor, poor girl. I want to reach through the computer and give her a giant hug.

    I hated breastfeeding for multiple reason and gave it up within a couple weeks. Myself and my two siblings were raised on formula exclusively. I am well aware of the anecdotal nature of my experience, but all four of us have very high IQs with very healthy immune systems.

    Her kid will be alright as long as she holds it and loves it and does her best not to propagate the psychological abuse.

    I was, however, saddened to see so many chastising her for being ‘unscientific’ in her choice. Whichever the choice, we should be supporting her turning away from the abuse of religion, and not shaming her for making a different choice than you would have, were you female with a newborn.

  • Did those bishops and family members say anything to the boys she was around?

    JD, having grown up mormon…and male at that time, the most they usually will do is tell the boys “no, no, don’t even think about breasts or you’ll have to talk to the bishop about your disgusting thoughts”

    As to the email…I think its horrible cause mormons try and push the idea that the body is a temple and you should keep it pure…but at the SLIGHTEST mention of the naked body its like someone stood in a room full of Black Panthers and yelled “nigger”…they seriously overreact THAT bad (now, that’s just my experience with the people I have directly interacted with, I can’t say for all)

  • I’m kind of horrfied at the negative responses aimed at this woman, or woman who choose, for any personal reason, not to breastfeed. Yes, with no other factors considered, breast is best, but there are so many complicated factors involved in that choice, and assuming women are capable or should completely run their entire lives around making decisions that are best for their children in the short term with no regard to themselves makes for very unhappy women in very unhappy families. There is enough pressure on being a great mother, in ways that there simply are not on men, without condemning women for making choices for their own emotional health.

    Scientific reason? That’s an incredibly heartless way to respond to a woman doing the best she can after suffering years of abuse. I should think that not being miserable and therefore a shitty mother is scientific enough, not to mention that emotional hang ups like that can make it physically impossible to breastfeed, something not everyone can do anyway. Is it sad? Yes. Is she a bad person for choosing her mental health over breastfeeding? No. She’s not withholding breastmilk, like she’s got a massive supply she’s refusing to hand over, she’s incapable of breastfeeding because of trauma. I appreciate that you are ok with women making their own choices around their bodies, but acting like mental health is less legitimate than physical health isn’t particularly scientifically sound.

  • Eventually many posts lead to Nazis… and I will be the guilty party today. Can I coin the term “lactation-nazi” to describe the people who think breast feeding is sooooo sooooo important? Literally millions of people have been bottle fed and are healthy today. Get a life you lactation Nazis and give women a break!

    It is funny, but I am usually the mean one here. Not today though. I can’t believe how many people are attacking this women because she is trying to do her best to deal with the trauma in her life. Shame on you all!

  • Liz

    I am breast-feeding as I read/type this! This story is nothing but sad to me. I am in no way saying she should make herself breast-feed, but if she wants to there are plenty of support groups that could probably help her through her problems, or at least try to help.

    The problem is definitely with people that are putting these thoughts into people’s heads. There is nothing wrong with human sexuality and definitely nothing wrong with breast-feeding! I mean, your child is INSIDE your body for months and right when they come out they want to be attached to you. You should first feel comfortable holding your baby against your bare chest and the next step is breast feeding.


    that’s not actually true. While breastfeeding is better, formula feeding can have negative effects. It sometimes takes multiple tries to find the correct formula for a sensitive baby. And changing their diet isn’t good for them. Formula fed babies are more likely to get ear/throat/stomach infections. And it also takes longer for these to clear up. Also, if a breastfeeding mother gets sick, the baby most likely won’t.

  • Grimalkin

    @Liz – These are short-term issues. If we take a five-year look, for example, almost every difference between breastfed and bottle fed babies goes to zero.

    That’s not to minimize the short-term factors, of course. Dealing with a baby who has an ear infection (or being that baby!) is a huge pain. But that pain has to be balanced with other factors – such as the complications of breastfeeding. For many women, breastfeeding hurts a lot – even with a proper latch. For others, breastfeeding is stressful. For some, breastfeeding may be impossible given their work situation. For some, breastfeeding simply is not a physical option. And then for some, breastfeeding simply isn’t desired.

    The important point here is that it’s her body. I’m all for spreading information about the benefits of breastfeeding and providing support for anyone who chooses it. I’m also very much against things like hospitals selling the names of soon-to-be mothers to formula companies.

    But at the same time, once a woman has made her choice (or her body as made it for her), our responsibility is to back off. If you’re going to hound this woman for the choices she makes with her own body, you are no better than the Mormons who put her in this situation in the first place.

  • Liz

    I completely agree that it is the choice of the mother, but saying that formula-feeding is perfectly safe isn’t the best route to go. People should be informed about infections and stomach virus’s and the likelihood that their formula-fed baby will get them. Just like saying not vaccinating a baby won’t HURT them, but it isn’t good for them.

    On side note, I would NEVER insult someone who physically can’t feed their baby, especially since i know all the emotional baggage that comes along with just trying to breast-feed. My first few months of breast-feeding was not enjoyable to say that least and I would never suggest someone be forced to go through it. I can’t even imagine having additional problems, such as a poor body image or un-supporting family on top of the physical problems.

    I just hate when people don’t breast-feed because other people convince them not to.

  • One more little post script from me. This is especially targeted at those who are not parents. A woman will not be able to breast feed if she is stressed. Her body goes through physiological change to allow the milk to let down and breast feeding to work.

    Bottom line here. A woman can’t make herself breast feed. If she is psychologically stressed it will not work. Monica here will be stressed out if she even tries to breast feed. I know many women who have fewer issues to deal with than Monica who still get stressed by breast feeding.

    Of course, in a perfect world there would be no stress regarding breast feeding and I support breast feeding (and my wife breast fed both of our kids). There should be legal protections and we need to eliminate the social stigma of this.

  • Max F. Exter

    This story isn’t about whether or not breast milk is best; it’s about PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder). The consensus on breast milk vs. formula is fairly clear and doesn’t need to be retread yet again.

    My wife and I had a baby boy sixteen months ago, and she was determined to breast feed him for, at minimum, six weeks. There were some complications and he had to be delivered by c-section, which may or may not have delayed her milk production by some days, but either way it took a while to come in and we had to supplement. In the mean time, feeding hurt, a LOT. She described the feeling as having her breasts full of broken glass. It later turned out that she had something that could be cured by antibiotics and she ended up nursing him for around 14 months.

    The point, however. Religion is not a requirement for being uncomfortable with your body. It’s just a practiced enabler. And even without that there are many other things that might stop someone from breastfeeding, including pain, lack of early results (which makes one think they’re a failure, which is a wonderful feeling just after 26 hours of back labour and a c-section), the “ick factor”, inability to latch on, biting, etc. Breastfeeding is natural, yes. But it’s not easy for everyone, and it’s not possible for many.

    Put another way. If you see someone giving formula to a healthy looking baby, consider that it’s a healthy looking baby. At the end of the day, that’s what’s important.

  • CanadianNihilist

    I have noting worth adding to this. But god would probably love breasts.

  • I think one of many reasons women have such strong pro nursing opinions is because of how society treats a nursing mom. Last year a local restaurant once asked a mom to go the restroom to nurse. It happens all the time. Even the most discrete nurser gets comments and looks.

    I don’t think a mom should be pressured to nurse or feel badly if it doesn’t work out. Sometimes it doesn’t. And it doesn’t mean your kid will end up on a couch in therapy over it.

    Parents should focus on the bigger picture–raising healthy, happy, contributing members of society instead of when they first crawled or had formula or when the child first uttered a word. It seems we are all competitive and too quick to judge others.

  • Claudia

    OK, having read through the thread I see a lot of overreaction in defense of the woman.

    I don’t understand this insistence on the fact that she should have the right to choose how to feed her baby. Uh, yeah, of course she does. Can anyone point to a single comment so far or any point in Hemant’s post where someone calls into question her right to choose?

    I think the reaction in her defense is out of proportion to what has actually been said. It’s been mentioned that breastfeeding is better for babies than being bottle-fed, which is objectively true. It’s also been said that not breastfeeding because of body-shame issues is irrational, which is not only true but was actually said by the woman herself:

    Intellectually, I understand they aren’t connected. I understand how beneficial breastfeeding is for a baby, and the fact that we can keep our babies alive and thriving with our own bodies is amazing and awesome. Still the concept makes me feel supremely awkward

    Even several people who said this (myself included) added that it might still be better for the baby to be bottle fed if breastfeeding was going to cause severe mental distress.

    She made a post about her decision to not breastfeed. When you write something on the internet you are going to get opinions about it. If she had decided to adopt instead of having biological children, or to have biological children instead of adopting, she would have gotten opinions about it too. Some of those opinions would be in conflict with hers. It is in fact possible to have a different opinion without having the slightest intention of limiting the liberty of another person.

    I understand that some of this defensiveness may come from the comments on the thread of the original post on babble, or could stem from previous experience especially by mothers of having their choices more aggresively questioned or condemned, however I think its a mistake to read ill-intentions into every comment that isn’t a “you go girl!” kind of affirmation.

  • Icaarus

    As a guy, and ex-friend of a mormon (long story) Monica, you need to see a licensed psychologist. Not because there is something wrong with you, but because you feel that there is something wrong with you and they can help with that. For comments on religon and ptsd see

    Not to brag, just to set up a counter example, I may be an outlier, but due to allergies I was not able to be breastfed. I have an IQ of 131 and am currently getting a masters degree in the sciences. So while there are ‘benefits’ to one method, there is no shame in the other except that which you allow to be imparted.

    You are beautiful. You are powerful. You are a mother. You have control of your own body.

    As for the two sides of this debate. Sarah, I could not have said it better.

    One last comment on the social stigma of breastfeeding in public. I wonder, if like homosexuality, or irreligiousity, will the stigma fade if it becomes more common?

  • anonymous

    I get so tired of people defending mothers who choose to bottlefeed by trying to discredit the obvious, scientifically proven benefits of breastfeeding! Yes, women have the right to choose, but OWN your decision! Don’t lie and say you couldn’t, or that there isn’t really that much benefit! I am sorry for this woman’s experience, and yes her baby can still be healthy and well loved while being bottlefed, but I think she was ultimately selfish. I developed very early, and grew up in a strict Pentecostal household that made me feel dirty all the time because my body was “too sexual.” When I was molested, I thought it was my fault for being too sexual (age 7-11!!) I still had a lot of that baggage when I got pregnant the first time. But you know what? I sucked it up and breastfed my son. I was uncomfortable at first but I still did it, even in public. Because if you are going to be a mother (or parent) you need to realize that everything isn’t about you anymore. And it got better. Now I nurse my daughter with pride.

  • Icaarus

    @Claudia, I can point to a number of places, starting with helmat’s post where people did not stand up and say what she was doing was okay. Yet there have been many discussions on the benefits.

  • Sarah TX.

    Has Mehta edited the article since it was posted this morning? Seems like his statements have become much more wishy-washy – a couple parentheticals don’t really change the fact that he feels the need to be ‘comfortable’ with whether or not a complete stranger is making a ‘poor decision’ when it comes to her own breasts.

    (Hemant adds: I haven’t changed the post at all since it went up originally. However, I have now added an update to clarify a few points.)

  • 5ive

    Monica gets to make her own decisions about breastfeeding. Yes, it is better for the kid/environment to breastfeed, but really, if it freaks her out, it will be better for both her and her kid to skip it. Future resentment is not worth it. Breastfeeding doesn’t always work out. Not breastfeeding your kids is no big deal. They will live and grow up just fine. Heck, before real formula, babies were given karo syrup as infant food, and they still remain healthy adults today.
    As for my personal experiences, I breastfed my kids in public, on the bus, wherever they were hungry and if anything is going to de-sexualise something, that is it. In fact, if anything, breastfeeding for a total of 4 years between 2 kids decreased the sexuality of my breasts to a point where even now, 7 years after I stopped, they still remain sort of, meh. But then, I wasn’t raised to think of my body as only a vessel for sex, rather, I was raised to view my body as a practical thing, good for running, climbing and playing. A much healthier view, if you ask me.

  • Mormon culture has a strong frugality and do-it-yourself streak, so I would suspect that Mormons have a higher than average rate of breastfeeding. Still, I can understand how her particular experience in Mormonism would provoke that reaction.

    Personally, I found it embarrassing to breastfeed in public when my babies were small, and used to try to find a private spot whenever possible. Sometimes (especially on planes and trains) I had no other option but to breastfeed openly and just deal with it. It didn’t really become less embarrassing with experience. And yet, I still found breastfeeding more convenient than sterilizing bottles, etc. (That depends on your situation, of course — I was lucky that for both my babies I had the opportunity to work from home for their first half-year.)

  • walkamungus

    My sister and I were both bottle-fed (this was 40-some years ago, and it was probably cow’s milk). Both of us are now productive, healthy, taxpaying members of society.

    Isn’t it *amazing* that our species has managed to survive as long as it has, considering that no one before the current generation knew how to do things “right”?

  • Karl Stevens

    redhairedagent Says:
    The benefits of breastfeeding are overwhelmingly for the child. Breastfed children have better immune systems, and are less likely to be obese. They also have statistically higher I.Q.’s than formula babies. Not to mention breastmilk is chemically perfect for human infants and its composition changes over time to.adjust to the growing and developing child.

    How dare you present a link to scientific facts to try to refute some random blogger’s criticism of a press release?!??!?! Don’t you know that the blogger hasn’t even *read* the paper the press release was about and uses phrases such as “they probably didn’t even factor in X” to attempt to debunk the study.

    It’s simply not fair for you to produce *actual science* to back up your claims, as WhatPaleBlueDot and Grimalkin have no scientific studies of their own to refute you.

  • beckster

    I don’t have anything to add that hasn’t been said, but would like everyone to know that I am also breastfeeding while reading this! I bet you had no idea that so many women read your blog topless!

  • Karl – don’t act like a jerk.

    You should be smart enough to know the difference between a significant health risk and a small health risk. Millions of properly bottle fed babies grow up to be normal and healthy. There are some benefits to breast feeding, but it is not an insurmountable problem. No one here has said there is no benefit to breast feeding.

    There are no quality studies that have shown significant long term problems with properly bottle fed babies (even if the LLL implies as much… remember … they are an advocacy organization)

    By railing about this topic you look like you are trying to guilt Monica (remember Monica… this blog is about Monica) into trying to breast feed. She is obviously anxious and stressed about this. I suspect she would not be able to breast feed even if she tried. She would be too anxious for it to work out. You can’t breast feed under stress. I suspect you do not understand this (probably due to your age or experience deficits).

    It is important to keep this in perspective and you should not try to make woman who do not breast feed feel guilty.

    Shame on you.

  • JSug

    Quoting Kayla from above:

    The positive effects of breastfeeding on children are small but statistically significant. However, they do not outweigh the benefits of a happy, healthy, mother. I do think breast should be Plan A, but it’s absolutely wonderful that we now have a viable Plan B, aka formula, due to science.

    I can’t stress this enough. The benefits of breastfeeding, although real, are often exaggerated by some of the interested parties. Some women have reasons for not breastfeeding. Sometimes it’s a matter of choice, sometimes it isn’t. In no case is it anyone else’s business what her reasons are. The only public concern is that both mother and baby are healthy, and breastfeeding is not the only way to accomplish that goal.

  • Grimalkin

    @Karl Stevens – Take a 5-year-old who was breastfed and a 5-year-old wasn’t and subject them to any test you please. You will NOT be able to tell which is which.

    But the point you seem to have missed in your hysteria is that NO ONE is challenging that breastfeeding is best. What we’re challenging is the idea that was so eloquently expressed by an anonymous poster above – that women who don’t breastfeed are selfish, that they should just suck it up and do it, that failure to do so makes one a bad mother and a bad person.

    Women who have challenges breastfeeding, or who choose not to, are subjected to enough guilt as it is. Telling them that they will ruin their babies doesn’t help. If anything, it makes the problem worse – try being a responsive and loving parent while carrying around a huge burden of guilt that every B grade instead of an A is your fault because you didn’t breastfeed!

    Breastfeeding should be a first choice, but the differences are not large enough for us to start a witch hunt over. The fact is that life happens – sometimes we feed our children less-than-optimal foods, sometimes we forget to read our children a bedtime story, sometimes we use painkillers during childbirth, sometimes we have to miss a soccer game… None of these will break our children, none of these should be cause to shame parents, none of these are a big deal. As long as we provide our children with a safe and loving household, as long as we are responsive to their needs, and as long as we do our best overall, our kids will grow up absolutely fine.

    Get some perspective.

    @walkamungus – rAmen!

  • MelissaF

    As a mother who is 5 months pregnant with her second baby, and still breastfeeding the first (he’s 2 & 1/2 & loves his ‘titty’), I can’t imagine not breastfeeding. I had some christian repression & sexual abuse issues still lingering when I had my son, but those issues became unimportant when compared to my his needs. In fact in feeding him I gained a whole new healthier perspective on my body. I quickly became one of those mothers who will whip them out whenever & wherever my son wanted to feed, & if anyone was ‘offended’ by that, too bad. Personally I think feeling uncomfortable or awkward about your breasts isnt really a very rational reason to not give your child the benefit of breastmilk. Maimed nipples & mastitis (oh the pain!), & a lack of milk so your child is going hungry etc, I can understand as valid reasons to switch to formula, but a taboo you were taught as a child that you know is untrue? It doesnt seem like a sound reason to me. I guess its just another example of how badly damaging religion can be to a person :s

  • No woman should be made to feel ashamed of her body.

  • Grimalkin

    @MelissaF – Some women are raped and just seem to “get over it.” They go on to live perfectly happy and satisfying sexual lives. Other women are raped and break down completely and have to deal with all sorts of trauma when it comes to sex.

    Saying that YOU were able to overcome something and therefore everyone else should be able to overcome it too is, frankly, heartless. Firstly, you don’t know how your situation compares to Monica’s other than in superficialities. Secondly, you are a different person.

    What Monica needs is support, not more condemnation.

  • MelissaF

    @Grimalkin, don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning her. Like others have said on the thread, she may even be physically unable to breastfeed due to the trauma she associates with her breasts. I was just responding to Hemant’s query as to how women in similar situations dealt with it. For me, body issues weren’t enough to stop me from breastfeeding. For her, obviously her issues have stopped her, & I have every sympathy for her. I was just saying it wouldn’t be a good enough reason for me, personally, & sharing how breastfeeding actually helped me with my body image issues & became a very positive thing. I can have a different opinion to her without it being condemnation of her.

  • Ems

    “We shouldn’t shame women who don’t breast feed”-agreed
    I was raised messianic Jewish switching to significantly more conservative views in my early teens.

    There is a teaching of tzniut (modesty) that mandates not touching members of the opposite sex for fear of immodest thoughts (not sinful, technically, according to the rabbis, but it leads to sin), along with covering of the female body because it is more sensual than the male, etc. (I’m gay, so that idea is really quite laughable).

    I took this “no touching” to be applicable to all people because I felt far more for men than I did women. I never outright refused to shake a woman’s hand, or a man’s hand for that matter, but I still have get a pang of guilt from touching other people.

    It is never easy to get rid of internalized stigma much less when those stigmas are so tied to religious belief.

  • Grimalkin


    I highly suggest to read over your comment again, just so you can see what I was responding to. In particular, passages like:

    “Personally I think feeling uncomfortable or awkward about your breasts isnt really a very rational reason to not give your child the benefit of breastmilk.”


    “…I can understand as valid reasons to switch to formula, but a taboo you were taught as a child that you know is untrue? It doesnt seem like a sound reason to me.”

    I understand how you may have meant this as “this shouldn’t be a reason in a perfect world,” but it comes off as very judgmental. If Monica lives in an area similar to mine, she’s probably already hearing messages from all fronts that she’s just being “selfish” and that she’s going to do irreparable harm to her kids, etc.

    As parents and, in particular, as moms, we’re already often made to feel like we’re under a microscope. Everything we do is subject to judgment and criticism, and everyone seems to be an authority on the “right way” to be a parent. I think it’s important that we take a bit of extra care to make sure that our statements, however they are meant, are not contributing to this kind of guilt.

  • monkeymind

    I don’t know about Mormons, but among conservative/evangelical Christians breastfeeding is practically required. But you MUST go to great lengths to preseve modesty and never allow the briefest glimpse of boobage. Also a lot of Christians think you must feed on a schedule and think that a baby who cries to be fed between scheduled feeds is “sinning”. Yes, it is really that messed up. Google Gary Ezzo or go to for details on the most prominent promoter of this “Christian” approach to lactation. Bottle feeding is definitely preferable to an approach that can leave both moms and babies stressed out, and has a fairly high risk of failure-to-thrive.

  • MelissaF

    @Grimalkin, I can see how you would take those comments as judgemental, but I did attempt to make it clear that they were purely my personal feelings about the matter. I wasn’t trying to judge, just convey how I would act (how I did act) in a similar situation. However to say the viewpoint of a faceless, unimportant stranger on the net (me) is guilting mothers, is a bit over the top. People should be able to say what they personally feel & think on a topic without others taking it as a personal attack or letting it influence their decisions.

  • Breast is considered to be best but that doesn’t mean women who can’t/choose not to should be shamed. The reality is, women are shamed by people for breastfeeding in public all all the time. Other people talk about being grossed out and wanting women to hide in the bathroom to do such a “dirty act”. They equate it to urinating since they are both “natural”. It’s no surprise that women are screwed up about breastfeeding, even non-religious ones. There are constantly stories about women being asked by staff to be more discreet or go elsewhere to feed. It takes a strong women to pull out her boob and use it for it’s evolutionary purpose.

    Don’t like seeing a woman breastfeed? Put a blanket over YOUR head.

  • Sarah TX.

    There are constantly stories about women being asked by staff to be more discreet or go elsewhere to feed.

    Exactly. I can only imagine how traumatic it would be for someone like Monica to finally work up the courage to overcome her conditioning and breastfeed in public, only to be re-shamed by some stranger.

    To say that only religious cultures body-shame women would be incorrect. I suspect that there are lots of women who “choose” not to breastfeed, or not to breastfeed in public, because they have body anxiety of one sort or another.

  • Liz


    i am not topless! i just have one out. haha…breast-feeding gets boring sometimes, so it’s the perfect time to get some blog reading in!

  • Katie’s mom

    Longtime lurker, can’t resist posting on another topic I feel as passionately about as I do about religion. I think this woman’s problem goes well beyond breastfeeding and I wouldn’t dream of judging her for her decision not to. I just feel very sad for her that religion has screwed up something that could potentially be so rewarding for her and her baby.
    The benefits of breastfeeding are huge, although I see many here trying to downplay or dismiss them. In addition to the health benefits, it just plain makes it easier to be a mother. The hormones that are released help to calm and relax a new mom. The bonding that occcurs help to make you more attentive to your child’s needs. Yes, I agree that breasfeeding can be extremely difficult, especially the first few weeks but the payoff is huge. Unfortunately, North American society is just not supportive of mom’s who try to nurse. The US has such pitiful amount of maternity leave, it’s a miracle that anyone breastfeeds at all.
    I personally breastfed my child until she was over 5 years old and I can tell you that she never had an ear infection, cough, gastro illness, etc. Also, nothing stops a temper tantrum faster than a boob. She’s a happy, bright well-adjusted 9 year old now. If people looked at me oddly, when I publicly breastfed her, even as an older toddler, tough on them, that was their problem, not mine.

  • Lion IRC

    “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” (Luke 11:27)

    I strongly challenge the claim by any person that a woman should feel ashamed of her body or breastfeeding.

    The bible, (a reference manual for much of religion including Mormons,) states very clearly that we are “wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:14. It also states very clearly that God, on the sixth day, looked upon all He had created and announced that all of it was very good. Genesis 1:31

    There is also ample scripture which calls into question the basis for Monica Bielanko’s false thinking that she should be ashamed of her body especially in front of her husband – God states that husband and wife should be as close as if they were one flesh.

    Note the complete LACK of any specific references to scripture in Monica’s letter. Not her fault but perhaps a pointer to the lack of information she has been given by others.

    We have to take people at their word but instead of the misguided blaming of religion, I wonder if shame about her naked body might be a consequences of her “hanky panky”. Perhaps there is some transference of guilt about her abortion onto someone/something else?

    Consider the abortion and its possible psychological effect later in life when this mother attempts the very close, intimate contact with another infant in the form of breast feeding.

    No Mormon or Christian I know would think there was anything shameful about the way God intends and enables women to breastfeed.

    If Monica or anyone in a similar situation (reading this friendlyatheist article) gets the impression that religion disapproves of breastfeeding they will find heaps more biblical support quoted here..

  • Lion IRC begone… begone Lion. I cast you out of here Jezebel… get out… get out. I call you to go Jezebel… begone… I cast you out of here… out…out …out. I call on the power of the book of Dawkins… I call you OUT! I call you out on the power of the book of Darwin. Begone wicked spirit! OUT!

  • There is absolutely no reason to reveal yourself when you’re breastfeeding. I breastfed my 3 kids for a total of 7 years. I never did it in public. To me, pregnancy is ugly, pregnant females don’t “glow”, breasts aren’t beautiful, and most of the process of giving birth and having babies is disgusting. But breastfeeding is best for the baby, and so, like other decisions I made about my pregnancy and raising kids, I chose to do it. It’s also a heck of a lot easier than heating up bottles. But do what you want. You are who you are.

  • allison

    I hope that Monica gets some help, not so much because of the breastfeeding issue but because she seems uncomfortable overall with the issue of how to deal with her breasts and her sexuality and because she acknowledges this as a problem for her. I agree with others who are saying that if she’s truly that uncomfortable with her breasts, she’ll likely have issues with let-down anyway.

    I did breastfeed my two kids, and did so in public. I didn’t view it as any more sexual than giving them a bottle. That said, it’s also not particularly glamorous or beautiful. It’s just baby-feeding.

  • ff42

    As a former (raised in the church) mormon I can attest to the fact that “sex is bad, evil, dirty” is drilled into the young men and young womens minds over and over again, until they marry and then the brainwashing switches to “pop out the babies, much more important than education”.

  • Kristi

    I guess she wont be one of the women in Europe volunteering to express milk for the new ice cream!

    No really, it really is a terrible thing what religions lead people to believe. I feel bad for her scarring, but I feel worse for her children who will miss out on the benefits of breastmilk all because of her involuntary indoctrination. It seems to me that more and more harm is coming from religious teachings… now it’s getting to the point of leaving behind healthier breastmilk for manufactured formula? Man I wish childhood indoctrination were illegal.

  • Kristi

    To everyone saying she is being selfish and needs to “get over it and do what’s best for her baby” .. well… chances are, she wont be able to nurse her babies anyway. Stress, being uncomfortable (in any sense of the word) and being unhappy with the process are only going to make her produce less milk and have a very hard time with latching on and let down. This is not good for the baby. Feeling the stress of mom is not good for the baby either. This will prolong their bonding, not help it along.

    Even though it is irrational to think the way she does (as even she admits) she IS doing what’s best for the baby by feeding it formula at the present time. If she can come to terms later on, then hopefully she can nurse her next child if she has one.

    Sure breastfeeding is best, but it’s not going to harm the baby if she doesn’t.

  • That is terrible, I feel for that woman. However, I don’t think it is just religious women who are hesitant to breastfeed because they are uncomfortable with their bodies. I have talked to some very non-religious women who think that their boobs are solely sexual so they feel very strange about breastfeeding their children, to the point of refusing to even try or just pumping breast milk to feed the baby with a bottle. It seems kind of bizarro to me, and maybe it is some sort of religious holdover or shame, but I think it can be partially attributed to our culture where breasts are only treated as sexual objects. Even though we are surrounding by advertisements with nearly naked women and tons of cleavage, the moment a mother whips out a boob in public to breastfeed people freak out – even when they are totally covered people will give them dirty looks and act like something incredibly normal is highly inappropriate.

  • CatBallou

    I’m disappointed to see this thread end up as a debate about breast/bottle. But I would like to add to what others have said about “body shame”: there’s another, perhaps more disturbing side to that. My nieces didn’t nurse their babies because they view their breasts as entirely sexual in a “positive” way, and didn’t want to lose that association. Basically, breasts are for sex, not for feeding babies!

  • Hardly.

    I nursed both of my children for a combined total of 2.5 years. I would not have sacrificed my body in such a way for that long solely for my benefit. Weight loss aside, I lost just about all nipple sensitivity, and my tits looked terrible. I kept it up for my kids. The benefits of breastfeeding are overwhelmingly for the child. Breastfed children have better immune systems, and are less likely to be obese. They also have statistically higher I.Q.’s than formula babies. Not to mention breastmilk is chemically perfect for human infants and its composition changes over time to.adjust to the growing and developing child.

    You may certainly believe that, and you’ll be quite popular for it. However, the benefits for you aren’t in the shape of your tits, but your reduced risk of breast cancer. (You as a lactivist should know that it is pregnancy and not breastfeeding that makes breasts saggy.) The correlated increase in IQ, decrease in obesity, and decrease in infections and allergies are all confounded by the fact that breastfeeding (and exclusive breastfeeding at that) tend to occur in better educated, wealthier, advantaged families. All of these are known to also, funny enough, increase IQ, decrease obesity, and decrease illness in children. Plus, the shifts we’re discussing here, while statistically significant, are very slight. Further, it hasn’t been established in any way whether the impact may come from the milk itself or from the skin-to-skin contact, and it may well be the latter, which could be achievable in a bottle feeding environment (regardless of what’s in the bottle). There has been no causal relationship established, and the confounding factors have not been addressed because it’s simply been better to reinforce the desired outcome that breastmilk is magically endowed and vastly superior to formula. As such, the studies you desire to see are the same ones you so blindly cling to as evidence of the ambrosia you want to see.

    Moreover, there is no reason to presume that breastmilk, a substance developed via evolution, is anything but adequate. That’s how evolution works. Evolution does not produce the “perfect” or “optimal,” but the “good enough.” Still better than formula? Certainly. But how much and whether that will be maintained into the future is definitely still up for debate.

    I think it’s far more important to focus on guaranteeing the rights and desires of women and reinforcing their choices–especially in the face of what can be a hostile world regardless of the feeding choice made, and indeed very often for breastfeeders. It is important to fight for workplace and public protections, and to indeed fight for better parental leave. It is important to give women the best opportunity to bond with and nurture their children, and breastfeed if they so choose. But, touting the magical powers of breastmilk when confronted with a woman who is clearly traumatized merely retraumatizes her when she has demonstrably not healed–evidenced by her letter punishing herself for again being a failure because of her flesh. It is victim blaming, and I won’t listen to it without calling it out.

    That said, I wholly intend to breastfeed, should I ever have the opportunity. But because I want to, not because it’s magic. And I’m very fortunate to have had a mother who protected me from the idea that my body was a sinful object which should be covered with shame lest it bring hellfire upon others, because I have known several people who would have rather I’d held that belief, especially when my breast burden is a bit heavier than others’.

  • Lion IRC

    ??? @ John D

    Lion IRC begone…wicked spirit! OUT!..

    Whats wrong with my post?

    I am agreeing with Hemant Mehta.

    A woman who won’t breast feed because she feels ashamed of her body (ostensibly because of what someone in her religion told her) is what bothers me.

  • I read her post with sadness because Monica seems to realise she was manipulated to regard her attractiveness as shameful. She sounds apologetic. She was raised Mormon, they’re not big on the “scientific”. She’s telling a very hard story and I applaud her for it. I’d wonder if it wasn’t the norm in her society to bottle feed. I’m with Alice (Sprinklings), I want to give her a big hug.

    It’s hard breastfeeding! They don’t call it “feeding on demand” for nothing. Babies will demand in the shops, the grocery store, restaurants, and on the bus. They don’t care. No woman should be housebound to the demands of a hungry baby just to protect society’s gentle eyes from a possible nipple shot. It’s always other people who have to check themselves when presented with a breastfeeding mother. It’s embarrassing to be on a bus, with a screaming wee baby and having to feed then and there. Not just that, but babies aren’t quiet when they feed – they slurp, and suck and suddenly let go and milk can spray all over. A small blanket over the shoulder is usually enough cover. The one time someone tutted at me for breastfeeding in public I asked him if he’d prefer to listen to my daughter cry for the next 10 miles. Would he feel better knowing she was being deprived? Was that better for him?

    I think if (wo)man is made in God’s image, then God should love Her breasts.

  • Aj

    At first I was sympathetic, more than many others, because she was probably understating her problem, using words like “uncomfortable” and “awkward”. I was far more understanding of her decision until I read the whole post, and then it seemed much more like “I don’t give a shit” rather than “I have a problem”. She basically prefaces her experience with a statement that it’s nobody else’s concern, that it’s fine even if the reason is false. Then she tells other mothers to stop if they hate it, slightly hypocritical if you ask me. It’s obviously not right to treat her the way she has been on her blog, but I don’t see a problem with the way people have reacted on here.


    It’s a bad idea to look at individual five year olds, it’s not going to be statistically relevant. If the benefits to the immune system and decreased infections are true, then you’d expect differences beyond five years. Perhaps the benefits are false, or perhaps the studies aren’t good enough.


    You’re saying none of the studies, on any of the benefits, are controlled for wealth and education? If that’s true, it’s very depressing.

  • I am not a mother, I am a father. I am not able to produce milk, but my wife is. Just because I am not an expert on the subject doesn’t mean I can’t educate myself about the benefits of breastfeeding. Experts agree that it is the best thing you can do for your baby. Forget everything else, just immunity and getting rid of jaundice faster are enough reasons to do it. My 2 year old was breastfed and is enjoying the benefits of having being breastfed. If you don’t feel comfortable breastfeeding in public, use a pump. It is that simple.

  • delzoup

    American values make breastfeeding tough. On one hand, breasts are completely sexualized. People often react to naked boobs in public with disgust and/or sexual interest-neither of which is really comfortable when you’re just trying to feed your baby.

    On the other hand, breastfeeding is known to be best for your baby. A mother is disgraceful if she does not put her child’s welfare before her own.
    I breastfeed my son for 9 months. The first two weeks where really hard. I had no idea what I was doing. I was sleeping at half-hour snatches of time because my son was falling asleep before he was full, and waking up constantly because he was still hungry. I didn’t have a group of mothers to lean on for advice, but thank goodness the hospital had a lactation advice nurse who helped me.

    Once that hurdle was cleared, breastfeeding was a calming time where I felt close and connected to my child. It was also simpler than formula, and while on breast milk my son did not get sick.

    When I went back to work and chose to express milk I ended up being very isolated–every break and lunch I was in a conference room expressing milk in little baggies. Most of the time I had a room with a lock, but occasionally I made due kneeling on the conference room floor (to get to the powerplug), hoping that if someone tried to use the room they would read the note on the door first.

    At nine months I had to stop because I was put on medication. My sales numbers were not meeting the new quotas and the pressure I was feeling from work and home was making me suicidally depressed. It was crushing to give up breastfeeding because I could not handle the pressure of what was going on in my life. And while formula was expensive and a pain, my son survived just fine those last 3 months till he was old enough to wean entirely.

    Rereading what I read, it seems really negative, but breastfeeding was overall a good experience. I feel like there’s a lot of mothers who get stuck in what I had in the first two weeks of frustration without social support and embarrassment of our bodies, who give up because they know they can fall back on formulas, and they miss out on the good they could have navigated that initial stage. But I also know how shameful it feels to fail at breastfeeding, and how do I as a third party know that they have not given it every possible shot? Who am I to judge this rather intimate and personal struggle?

  • altar ego

    What Julie said. It is not acceptable to judge her this harshly for making a choice not to breastfeed.

    Women get yelled at all the time for trying to breastfeed in public, but if they don’t breastfeed, their reason isn’t “good enough.” Why is it that people can’t handle a woman taking care of her child in public? And why can’t you mind your own goddamn business about her choice to breastfeed or not? It’s a personal decision and other people simply should not have a say in it.

    And don’t even get me started on what I think about how religion influences views on gender roles. I think someone upthread said that religion is a huge part of misogyny.

  • Rebecca

    There are no words for how much I hate this subject.

    I get so tired of people defending mothers who choose to bottlefeed by trying to discredit the obvious, scientifically proven benefits of breastfeeding! Yes, women have the right to choose, but OWN your decision! Don’t lie and say you couldn’t, or that there isn’t really that much benefit! I am sorry for this woman’s experience, and yes her baby can still be healthy and well loved while being bottlefed, but I think she was ultimately selfish. I developed very early, and grew up in a strict Pentecostal household that made me feel dirty all the time because my body was “too sexual.” When I was molested, I thought it was my fault for being too sexual (age 7-11!!) I still had a lot of that baggage when I got pregnant the first time. But you know what? I sucked it up and breastfed my son. I was uncomfortable at first but I still did it, even in public. Because if you are going to be a mother (or parent) you need to realize that everything isn’t about you anymore. And it got better. Now I nurse my daughter with pride.

    This is the essence of the problem with modern motherhood. The assumption that putting your own needs ahead of your child in any one area makes you selfish and a lesser person. It’s bullshit.

    Is breastfeeding better for babies and mothers? Sure, in an ideal world. In the real world, though, it can mean horrifying pain for the mother (and despite the LLL propaganda, when you see the top breastfeeding experts in person, they’ll tell you that actually, it does hurt for some women for unknown reasons).

    It can mean months of fixating your time and energy on your breasts, a pump, and your milk supply rather than your new baby.

    It can mean dealing with panic attacks or be something that pushes you into severe PPD.

    And FFS, what do you want women to do, when you say “OWN your decision”? Apparently it’s something to the effect of, “I am a selfish person unfit to be a mother and I chose to put my child’s health at risk so that I could be a healthy, functioning mother.”

    You know what? You do the same thing when you get into a car and risk killing your infant in a car accident on your way to a LLL meeting instead of staying home and out of harm’s way.

    How do you know that women who say they can’t breastfeed are lying? Most are not. And far more than you think have truly unresolvable problems. It’s the nasty little secret you’ll never learn from LLL.

    Back to Hemant: Honestly? Really? Truly? A woman doesn’t need a rational “enough” reason to weigh her needs in one area as outweighing her baby’s. You’re just contributing to this mommy-martyrdom problem, and I know you don’t mean to.

  • Jeri

    I have just promised myself that if I ever witness anyone attempting to banish a breastfeeding session to the bathroom, I will run to the defense with arguments about eating dinner in a stinky bathroom. I will also throw in a lecture about how gross chewing, hiccuping, or that nasty nasal noise people make when they don’t want to blow their nose and suck their mucus down the throat, and even simply breathing heavy in public can be offensive and discusting to others.

    I think it is sick and disturbing for society to expect women to have as many babies as possible and then give them even more guilt and shame over how to keep them alive and healthy no matter what their individual circumstances may be.

    I decided long ago that even though i do love kids, I never want to have children of my own and I am now considered by many to be a worthless human. Even close friends and family have given me grief over this. I was also raised as a Mormon. I don’t remember any preaching about breast feeding but I do remember being told by church officials that it would be better to die fighting off your rapist than to loose your virginity to him. I completely believe that you can develop PTSD from bullshit like that.

  • WhatPaleBlueDot,

    You’re saying none of the studies, on any of the benefits, are controlled for wealth and education? If that’s true, it’s very depressing.


    I’m not familiar with any that do, but we can certainly look together. But one thing that we do know is that wealthy, more highly educated women are more likely to breastfeed. But, again, the biggest point is that these benefits are slight when they do appear, and they do not present a significant reason to compromise a woman’s mental health, which has a serious negative impact on parenting and child development.

    Women who are depressed or have other mental health concerns are more likely to be distant from their children or employ harsh parenting techniques and more likely to neglect or abuse their children. They are more likely to have relationship disruptions, and more likely to harm themselves as well. These things are far more harmful to children than formula, and a woman who is expressing shame while breastfeeding–we have no idea how that might affect her child.

    We’re slowly realizing that babies aren’t crying automatons until they magically awaken after a year. They’re very aware and very affected by what we say and do to them and what we say and do around them. They detect and learn our emotions and respond to them. Milk isn’t worth teaching a child that the interaction that is so important to him disgusts you.

  • yes, it’s about ptsd, but the mention, in the update that hemant doesn’t know if breastfeeding is better than formula or not, and the subsequent comments that are saying it is(and the ones saying that children will grow on karo(i dunno what it is)).  it’s been a while now, long enough to do the half hours work to find the relevant information.
    even fox news knows breastfeeding is best, can’t let them one up you, can you?

    there’s a relatively recent post somewhere(probably drmomma) about the math of cancer reduction due to breastfeeding, 25%, but i, like many, hadn’t thought of it from the perspective of which baseline is being used.  this figure is based on formula feeding being the normal thing, if breastfeeding is the baseline, then there’s not a 25% drop in risk, but an ~33% -rise- in risk to not breastfeeding.  i’m terrible at math, so i’m not sure if that’s accurate, if only i knew someone good at math to pester about it… hmm…

  • Email

    I am an Atheist mother who breastfed and will breastfeed any subsequent children. I equate it with giving your child an orange (breastmilk) or giving them an orange-flavored piece of candy (formula). One may taste just as good (maybe even better), but the nutritional value is very slim.

    I firmly believe that formula should only be used in emergencies (i.e. Mother in a coma, double mastectomy, etc.) and not just because it’s “too hard” or “uncomfortable” or “the babysitter doesn’t want to handle breastmilk.” Parenting can be “too hard” or “uncomfortable”, but we reproduce anyway.

    The drawbacks to formula are as follows: Obesity as an adult, problems concentrating in school, higher incidences of allergies, increased risk of asthma, behavioral problems, lower IQ, etc. You’d be better off smoking a cigarette around your kids than formula feeding! (Gasp!)

    In any case, when talking with an Xian, sometimes you have to stoop to their level to impart common sense. Say to them: “Your god invented breasts for the purpose of feeding your child, not pleasing your husband. Your god does not make mistakes. Jesus was breastfed.” It makes me nauseous to write it, but that may be the only way to keep generations of children physically fit, even if their parents will raise them to be mentally unfit.

  • Heat

    I’m new here. The above comment was written by me. My email is:

  • Heat

    I’m new here. The above comment was written by me. My email is:

  • Anonymous

    I have called myself a Christian since I was 16 (more than 40 years) and as  young man and sometime Christian leader I used to advise women and girls to “dress modestly.” I now greatly regret giving that advice. Women are not the problem. We men are. There’s no doubt our hormones are flying around our bodies as teenagers. Regardless we should be able to learn to look away if we are too powerfully influenced by the sight of a particular women. Or perhaps even better to learn to look beyond simple physical appearance and remind ourselves that body belongs to a real living breathing person. Yes she may be very attractive but as rational beings we can control (or learn to control) our impulses.
    I now believe it is us who are shameful the way we make women feel about their bodies. Women should regard their bodies as beautiful, and if you believe in God, a gift from God – because you are beautiful.

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