Scriptural Mothering continued:
“When she had weaned Not pitied, she conceived and bore a son” (Hosea 1:8).
Natural child spacing is mentioned in the Bible! The mother weans and then she is able to conceive a child. Weaning means the child has stopped nursing, that breast milk is no longer a part of the child’s diet. While fertility usually returns during the time of nursing, this mother apparently was one of those who are able to conceive only after the cessation of nursing.
“I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you” (2 Macabees 7:27).
Here mothering is seen as a continuous process of caring for the child. The mother’s care begins in the womb, continues after childbirth with breastfeeding, but it doesn’t stop there. The mother continues to provide care after the child weans and continues to grow into adulthood.
This is the only place in the Bible that tells us specifically how long a mother nursed. I cannot prove it, but, judging from contemporary experience in less developed areas as well as experiences with some modern American mothers, I suspect that nursing for three years was a normal practice during biblical times.
“Going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him” (Matthew 2:11)
The three kings arrived to find Mary with Jesus. Remaining with one’s child is customary for mothers who follow traditional mothering. We can safely assume that Mary kept the infant Jesus close to her on a continual basis. When Mary and Joseph traveled with the baby to Egypt, one can picture the baby wrapped closely to Mary’s body during the journey.
“Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed” (Luke 11:7).
Christ tells a story in which a man speaks the above words. This story hints of the practice of the family bed. In most cultures throughout the world, the family bed is a common practice whereby one or both parents sleep with their baby or young children. It is well known among the promoters of breastfeeding that if you are promoting breastfeeding, you are automatically promoting the family bed. It is for this reason that I included this verse of Scripture.
Did Mary and Joseph do the “family bed”? One mother wrote years ago saying that Mary did not do the family bed because she laid the baby Jesus in a manger. There is much left out of Scripture concerning the birth of Jesus. If you had shepherds and kings coming to adore the infant, then wouldn’t it make sense to place the infant, Jesus, in an elevated place where he could be seen? In a stable the only place where the infant might be elevated in order to be seen may have been the manger. The manger might be the only protective place for baby Jesus considering sheep and possibly other animals present in or near the stable.
We weren’t there and Scripture does not tell us, but one might speculate that there was some clean soft hay in the stable. Mary and Joseph probably used this or something similar for bedding with Jesus tucked in close to Mary during the night.
“Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” (Luke 11:27)
Here a woman called out to Jesus the above blessing. Catholic mothers often look to the Blessed Mother as their role model and follow her example. There is no doubt that Mary nursed Jesus. This reference in Scripture referred to the fact that Mary carried Jesus in her womb and nursed him as an infant and probably as a two and three year old.2 Jesus depended upon Mary for nurturing and care during the early years of his life. What a joy for Mary to nurse the Child Jesus!
The Bible gives us several descriptions of breastfeeding and the care we can tenderly give our babies, even if we are unable to breastfeed. All mothers can carry their babies in their arms or hold them on their laps, knees or hip. We see in Scripture that breastfeeding is also associated with a particular kind of care at the breast that offers comfort and safety. Breastfeeding in Scripture is also associated with extended breastfeeding and natural child spacing. Mothers who nurse their babies and little ones can definitely find support for their mothering in Scripture.
2.Fr. Rob Jack, a professor at Mr. St. Mary’s Seminary in Cincinnati, during a day-long series of talks on the Immaculate Conception said that in the non-canonical Proto-Gospel of James, Mary presented Jesus at the temple when he was four years old. Fr. Jack opined that Jesus was probably weaned at that age. The talk was given at Presentation Ministries’ Bible Institute at Xavier University, July 28, 2004.
Copyright 2006 by Sheila Kippley
The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding: The Frequency Factor, 2008
Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing, 2008, classic edition
Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood, 2005