The Gospel of Life and Breastfeeding
by Sheila Kippley
In his recent encyclical, The Gospel
of Life, the Pope stressed seven times that the family should be the “sanctuary of life.” This sanctuary
for the newly born begins with breastfeeding. Experts stress the importance
that the presence of the mother plays in the optimal development of her child
during those early years. God ensures this optimal development by keeping
the mother with her child through prolonged lactation. It’s His plan,
Even in the more recent document, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality,
the Pontifical Council for the Family stressed the importance of those early
years for establishing the child’s emotional patterns. This important
and continued loving care is easily provided through breastfeeding.
In The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II also stressed respect for God’s
laws. In his own words: “There is a plan of God for life which must be
respected.” And again he asks us to “respect the biological laws
inscribed in our person.” Breastfeeding is a biological law, a plan
of God for life.
The theme of self-giving, especially by serving life at its weakest,
permeates this 11th encyclical of the Pope. The weakest is at either end
of the scale: new life or old life. Our babies are the weakest in our
society and certainly within our own families.
We live in a society where parents are continually placing their babies
and children in the care of others or are using gadgets and equipment
to do their parenting for them. Parents today too frequently “sacrifice” their
children instead of making sacrifices for them.
In The Gospel of Life, we are told that we “see Christ in every human
face,” that “every human being is a sign of the living God, and
icon of Jesus Christ.” If we see Christ in our babies, how can we delegate
this service of love or care for them to others? Why would we want to place
them for long periods of time in car seats, playpens, swing seats and so forth
when they need to be physically close to mother, on her person or in her arms?
Of course, breastfeeding keeps bringing the baby back to the mother’s
body. This close physical relationship strengthens the bonding between
the two of them. It is not only the best start for the baby, but
it is the best start for the mother as well.
With breastfeeding the mother learns in an easy way to give of herself
unselfishly to her baby, especially when she becomes involved in
a very natural way of mothering. This happens not only emotionally,
but also physically as she becomes food and pacifier for her baby. She
and her husband become a unit of love as they rely less and less
on other persons and gadgets to do the parenting for them. And they
learn to do things together as a family unit early in the baby’s
In our society we are taught that mother is easily replaceable.
Not true if you take nature or God’s plan for your guide. A nursing mother, you might
say, is still “pregnant” or one with her baby following childbirth.
As one psychologist told a student: “The breastfeeding moments are a
continuation of the child-birthing moment.” By her self-giving, by her
body providing life and continual sustenance, and by her constant connecting
and bonding with the child, the nursing mother feels total fulfillment in a
spiritual sense. And the nursing mother who truly follows God’s
plan soon learns how irreplaceable she is to her baby.
On May 12, 1995, in a talk to scientists, Pope John Paul II encouraged
mothers to nurse at least two years because of all the benefits
to baby and mother alike. Then he added, “No one can substitute
for the mother in this natural activity.”
To conclude, breastfeeding is an excellent way to provide a
start for new life. The little ones will get off to the best
physical and emotional start that will influence them for a
lifetime, and families will be strengthened. By following God’s plan for baby care,
parents perform a very important pro-life activity. Breastfeeding
is a very life-giving act on the part of the mother, and it also
helps the couple to serve life. Their family starts its mission
in becoming the “sanctuary of life” called for
in The Gospel of Life.
Published in Denver Catholic Register, May 29, 1996.