Breastfeeding and Scriptural Mothering

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

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

One Response to “Breastfeeding and Scriptural Mothering”

  1. Patricia says:

    Sheila, thank you for writing about scriptural mothering and breastfeeding. They are all beautiful verses put together to show us God’s way of scriptural mothering. I’d like to add some of my own comments to what you’ve written.

    Yes, natural child spacing was mentioned in the Bible. It’s so clear that the mother mentioned in Hosea 1:8 conceived AFTER her child was weaned from her breast.

    “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).

    I think this verse shows the beautiful flow of this mother carrying her child in utero, nursing him for three years, taking care of her own child (not leaving her little one with “hired help”), and bringing him up to the point of young manhood. This mother had seven sons! No doubt, there would have been widowed aunts and cousins in the large extended families of those days that she and other Biblical mothers could have left their babies with, but these mothers took care of their own children.
    2 Macabees 7:27 is the only one that specifically notes that a mother breastfed for three years. In reading I Samuel 1:19: – I Samuel 2:11, I think the child, Samuel would have to have been at LEAST three years of age before he was weaned, as he wore special garments and ran errands for Eli the priest. This verse is mentioned in your previous blog, of December 7, 2008, which I didn’t have the chance to respond to, and comments are turned off, but I would like to comment here that this verse is a lovely example of natural mothering in Scripture: a mother who makes the decision and does not wish to go with her husband, Elkanah, and says, “Not before the child has been weaned.” (I Sam. 1:22). Her husband says, “Do what you think fit: wait until you have weaned him.” (I Sam. 1:23). How special the husbands who understand and support their wives’ wishes and decisions to stay home with their nursing child, even for that “once-in-a-lifetime trip”, and no one else understands, except her husband, who backs her up.

    All the verses you have quoted on scriptural mothering (Psalms 22:9; Psalms 131:2; Isaiah 49:15; Isaiah 66:11; Isaiah 66:12) are God speaking to us through the Holy Spirit in Sacred Scripture. These verses speak of “safety”, “being quieted” “never forgetting us”, “being satisfied at a mother’s breasts”, “being carried,” and “dandled” upon mother’s knees. THIS is scriptural mothering and breastfeeding, not rigid schedules; adult “theories” of teaching an infant and baby that he can’t have everything he wants, by letting an infant cry, and imposed early weaning, when an infant isn’t capable of any concrete thought whatsoever; leaving babies and children with a multitude of caregivers to “learn independence”, and other harsh, rigid theories being offered and taught today, by some fundamentalists of other religious persuasions. Our God speaks of consolation, comfort, and nurture as a mother cares for her child, as written of in these verses.

    Mary probably did lay Jesus in a manger with animals around, to elevate Him when shepherds and kings came to adore Him, and perhaps to tidy things up in the stable as best as she could, and I’m sure, with Joseph’s help. But, it is very clear to me and always has been from Luke 11:7 “……my children are WITH ME in bed.” (This is in two different translations of my Catholic Bibles.)

    Regarding your comment about Father Rob Jack, who opined that Jesus was probably weaned at four years of age when Mary presented him at the temple – I’ve never read of this before – thank you! – what a beautiful image of our Blessed Mother nursing Jesus at four years: the closeness, the comfort, and reassurance she gave Jesus at this age as she nursed him as a toddler.

    Sheila, thank you for these verses and blogging about Scriptural mothering, especially at this Christmas time. Yes, this is scriptural mothering and offers much to meditate on. These verses are helpful and supportive, and as always, you offer much encouragement to mothers. Thank you!