The Nonchalantdad: Holy Mary - breastfeeding in public!

Joovs van Cleve

Having been an art student, I long ago passed any stage where the depiction (or actuality) of a naked body proves upsetting - unless it is mine....hmm. Anyway, because of this certain familiarity and because my mother was the kind of English nurse who thought nothing of bodily functions, I rarely give it any thought. So, I find it rather amusing when others generally freak out over such things as breastfeeding - especially when I also happen to think it is one of the highest forms of humanity that one human can share with another.

I happened to be in a cafe recently when a mother nearby happened to discreetly begin breastfeeding her little boy. Now, I'm not an advocate for public 'displays' necessarily - there is no point really in thrusting your own habit in front of others. But, that's why I point out that this woman happened to be discreet about it. After all, I was in London, and this is often the capital of discreet. Now, I wouldn't have probably even noticed myself if it wasn't for the young couple next to me scoffing at it. I looked over at their point of concern and then back at the couple. I had to laugh.

We live in a culture of female breasts - and to use a quote from fisheaters.com (don't ask):
It is amazing how female breasts can be surgically enlarged, reduced, lifted, and pierced, stuffed into "Wonder Bras," packaged, marketed and sold (or used to market and sell other things), but are rarely conceptualized in the Western world as being what they truly are: the means to feed babies.

Robert Campin

I'm not much for organized religion and I'm not one to suggest that you breastfeed in public if you are not comfortable with it. But, by god, this is not anywhere near the same thing as public indecency. I happen to think that the problem stems from two things:

1. We are long accustomed to sexual-izing the female breast and, as such, it makes us uncomfortable to see it being used in it's fundamental role.
2. We are generally prudes and the sight of it makes us feel... well, human .... strangely so.

Gerard David

Well, it got me thinking. And, since I was heading across the street to the National Gallery of Art in Trafalgar Square I figured I'd have some extra amusement and see how many paintings I could locate that presented the Madonna breastfeeding the baby Jesus. It's not a hard game to play, especially if you're an art history nerd like I am. In fact, looking over the many paintings in the collection I was reminded of a story last year that suggested the Vatican was also having a bit of any eye-opening return to common sense. It appears that the Vatican was advocating that its previous censorship of such imagery was a bit wrongheaded and that instead the very act of Mary feeding Jesus was indeed an affirmation of the glory of God. And, in my opinion, what's good enough for God is certainly OK with me!

The Miraculous Lactation of St Bernard (the lesson in this painting is that
if you complain you just might get a zinger of milk in the eye!)

I'm sharing a few images I've found with you, but there's a longer history than you might imagine of the unabashed depiction of Mary breastfeeding (a few thousand years) Jesus - so to see more I suggest you head over to Fisheaters.com again and scroll down to see some of the many they have put on their list for your convenience. Some great names in art have depicted the scenario, such as da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Campin, Van Eyck, Rembrandt, etc etc..... So, it is my suggestion that next time you encounter a discreet mother only doing what comes natural with her baby, you should perhaps put the concept into perspective and just relax. After all, if it really is not your kind of thing, then just turn your head away.... and whatever you do, stay out of the National Gallery! But, be warned, if you do, you'll surely be missing some of the most beautiful pictures on earth.