Breastfeeding as a spiritual practice: yes. I appreciated this article by American minister Courtney Belcher Ellis.
Like, dare I say, many of us here, before she had her son, Courtney was a high-achieving, overworking professional who found it hard to slow down. There’s nothing like breast-feeding a baby to enforce slowness.
Over time, the time spent nursing began to feel holy, not harried. As my son drank deeply, I did too. Breastfeeding became our version of “praying the hours.” Lincoln and I woke up in the middle of the night together. Matins. He nursed for breakfast. Prime. He nursed between meetings, I pumped before counseling appointments, he nursed after I locked the church for the night. Sext. Vespers. Compline.
Each time, I stopped. Each time, I prayed. For my son. For my husband. For my church. For myself.
Much has been written about how the time spent breastfeeding our babies can hurt working moms—reducing their earnings for years after and damaging their career trajectories—but for me, as a minister and as a Christian, it pushed me to healthier rhythms and better work-life balance. I believe these benefits are there for all who embrace their slowed-down lives as nursing moms. I certainly didn’t expect that I’d be more rested now that I was a new mother. But, then, I don’t worship the God of the expected.
I should confess here that in those early days of long feeds I spent more time watching seven seasons of The West Wing than praying. Nevertheless, I relate to the writer’s experience of enforced rest and stopping. The demanding rhythm of frequent breastfeeding can be a gift.
That isn’t everyone’s experience, of course, and I know I have been very lucky in how straightforward feeding has been for us. I am in no way saying breastfeeding is the only way, either to nourish your baby or to nourish your spirituality. This is just a series exploring the ways paying attention to the experience of breastfeeding can connect us with God, for those of us in the middle of it.
As always, your comments and stories are most welcome.