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Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood - Review by Fr. William D. Virtue

Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood
Homiletic & Pastoral Review, December 2005
Reviewed by Fr. William D. Virtue

In a time when we wish to affirm the dignity of woman, Sheila Kippley provides a Catholic view of the importance of maternal breastfeeding and a practical, up-to-date summary of useful data for parents who desire to give the best care to their infant. In eight short chapters of her second book on this topic, she touches on key benefits of breastfeeding as the healthiest nutrition for infants; as fostering the emotional bond of mother and infant; and as a moral duty of mothers who image God's provident love of us: its spiritual beauty as depicted in the Psalms.

Sheila has intuited a connection among several profound insights for the theology of the body-Christ's embodied self-giving love in us. Drawing from her husband John Kippley's theology of marriage as "Holy Communion: Eucharistic and Marital," she correlates the unitive character of the conjugal act and breastfeeding. She fleshes out this analogy by applying to breastfeeding John Paul II's insight that in the conjugal act the order of nature and the personal order meet. Nature and person also meet in the act of maternal-infant nursing. John Paul II spoke of the moral good of maternal breastfeeding in his 1995 address to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences; now Kippley elaborates on this duty in light of Wojtyla's teaching on the biological realities God has written in our nature as a foundation for moral life. In an authentic presentation of the natural law, Sheila integrates truths of biology and morality, of nature and person. Truly, Sheila and John Kippley's writings on marriage and family are a lay couple's gift to the Church.

This book helps couples follow Humanae Vitae by explaining Wojtyla's teachings on family responsibility and his recommendation of breastfeeding as a method of child-spacing. Explaining a mothering style she terms "ecological breastfeeding," Sheila helps mothers to be in tune with their infant's needs as well as parental child-spacing goals. As a loving mother herself, and as an experienced teacher of family planning can do best, Sheila gives accurate advice on breastfeeding according to the "norm of mother-baby togetherness" and a method of family planning in accord with Catholic moral teaching.

If used in marriage preparation, this book's positive tone and factual information may help evangelize engaged couples by inspiring a conversion of heart away from the contraceptive mentality. Even women open to having children may be unaware of the physical, emotional and moral good of breastfeeding. And once they experience the child-spacing aspect of nursing which gives time for attachment to each child, couples may become more receptive to the blessing of children and to the wisdom of mother Church's guidance on natural family planning.

With easy-to-read simplicity and an eye for the basics, Kippley gives us a balance of religious truth, scientific facts, and practical advice. Present this book as a gift to a pregnant woman if you wish to affirm in love a mother and her child.