Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood - Review by Marilyn Shannon
Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood
Reviewed by Marilyn Shannon (2005)
The cover photograph of Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood, Sheila Kippley's latest book, is simply breathtaking. We see in profile a new mother, her eyes closed, tenderly kissing the face of her very recent newborn. The babe's head is still molded, its pale eyelids closed, its mouth relaxed in peaceful sleep. Two hearts revealed, all in one photograph.
Like the stunning cover, the book itself is a beautiful, sensitive, and loving work. To intertwine the topic of breastfeeding with its physical health benefits, its psychological advantages, and its support by the Catholic Church--well, only Sheila Kippley could weave these topics together so deftly. Sheila, along with her husband, John Kippley, is the co-founder of the Couple to Couple League for Natural Family Planning. It has been almost exclusively through Sheila's research and writing that the role of "ecological breastfeeding"- a term coined by Sheila-in the natural spacing of births has been brought to light.
Sheila's first book, Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing, is the only book of its kind. It has enabled an entire generation of women to appreciate that when a baby is naturally nourished at the breast, his nursing affects his mother's hormones in such a way as to delay the next conception. Beyond explaining the physical impact of breastfeeding, though, Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing, with its gentle and child-centered philosophy, has guided its many readers to the joys of true motherliness.
The new book, Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood, further illuminates the value of a mother's responsiveness to her baby through the act of breastfeeding. In this book, Sheila Kippley reviews new research on the myriad of physical and psychological benefits of breastfeeding. In fact, looking at the endnotes-the book is referenced thoroughly-I am amazed at just how new much of the research is. For example, it even includes the 2005 "Breastfeeding Position Paper" published by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Yet the book is eminently practical. While not a "how-to" manual, it builds a strong case for making the changes necessary to breastfeed babies for at least their first year. For example, in the chapter entitled "Early Parenting Goals," it exhorts young couples to avoid debt so that the wife will be able to stay at home once the babies come. The chapter "Heroic Motherhood" is titled with reference to modern mothers who do stay at home with their children-unfortunately no longer the norm in today's world. And what about fathers? "Behind most successful breastfeeding mothers is a good husband and father who offers spiritual and emotional support for his wife, and provides for her and their children so that she can be there to raise their children."
Above all, though, Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood is a gift specifically for Catholic mothers. In "Church Teaching on Breastfeeding," Mrs. Kippley impresses us with the Catholic Church's promotion of breastfeeding. She highlights the words of Pope Pius XII, who in the 1940s urged all mothers to breastfeed if at all possible. She especially quotes Pope John Paul II, who throughout his long and only recently ended reign repeatedly endorsed breastfeeding for its benefits to babies, mothers, and society in general. Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo himself wrote the foreword to the book, and is quoted within in support of the many benefits, including child spacing, that are the fruits of breastfeeding. The late Bishop James McHugh's writings and the words of several priests provide powerful tributes to the nursing mother. My favorite is from Father Al Lauer:
Only a woman can conceive a human being, give birth to her child, and
nurture her child at the breast. Because the spiritual is based on the natural
(1 Cor.15:46), this indicates the heart of femininity as life-bearer and nurturer....
In an abortifacient, contraceptive culture, how courageous women are to
conceive, birth, and nurture human life! Take courage and be yourself.
Sheila offers her own unique outlook on the act of breastfeeding, comparing it to the marriage act: both are self-giving in nature, both unite two persons, both involve love and intimacy and emotional bonding, both are biological acts that have impacts on family and society. Both are part of God's plan for the continuation of life. "It is through her body that a mother gives milk, love, and comfort to her baby and forms a deep communion with and commitment to him."
There are many reasons that I am grateful to be Catholic-- and this book gives me yet another reason. Until I read Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood, I was unaware of how specifically the leaders of the Catholic Church have promoted this privilege of motherhood. That Catholicism has produced a woman-a gentle mother-- with the vision, the practicality, and the spirituality of Sheila Kippley is yet another reason for my gratitude for my faith. Thank you, Sheila, for this book. I know that my grandchildren will be healthier, happier, and better bonded to their parents because of the work you have done and continue to do. May this be true of many, many more children as your book is passed along, mother to mother, mother to daughter.
For non-Catholics also:
What about non-Catholic Christians? Or non-Christians? Is this book likely to be "too Catholic"-- too didactic-- for them? Though I am a convinced cradle Catholic and my world view is Catholic to the core, I believe that many non-Catholics will find the book a wonderful, refreshing breath of fresh air and a gold mine of sensible, motherly advice that resonates harmoniously with any mother's best instincts. Here's why I think so: For the last several years there have been several popular books published that claim to offer "Bible-based" or "Christian" advice for child rearing. Their rigid recommendations are no doubt a response to the permissiveness of modern times, but among their suggestions are to let babies "cry it out," and even, unbelievably, to strike babies whose behavior is unacceptable to the parents. Such books have unfortunately been promoted in some Christian churches. It is sad that even Catholic mothers have accepted the teachings of these misguided Christians. Many young parents who are exposed to such an ugly philosophy are confused and troubled by it, but do not have the information to firmly refute what their hearts know is wrong. For such women of any faith, Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood will be a welcome arsenal of reason against such noxious advice. Catholic or not, I believe any loving mother trying to do her best for her baby will be delighted to embrace the philosophy of baby care expressed and defended in Sheila Kippley's timely book.