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Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood - Review by Shana Buck

Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood
Laywitness, January/February 2006
Reviewed by Shana M. Buck, S.F.O.

When I was pregnant with my first baby, my mother-in-law told me stories about her struggles learning to breastfeed. There was little practical information available 42 years ago, due to the preferred use of bottles. What advice she was given by her doctor actually undermined her efforts. She was convinced, however, that this was the best way to nourish her baby and she persevered. Her encouragement went a long way in helping me persevere, too.

It is surprising that more than 40 years later, doctors, nurses, and magazines are still giving a wealth of often conflicting and bad advice to mothers who consider breastfeeding. New mothers are sent home from the hospital with tubs of powdered formula, the labels of which claim it is "more like" breastmilk. They are given pamphlets that extol the convenience of bottles while giving mere lip service to the known health benefits that only breastmilk can provide. While our society will tolerate various fashions that would be better called "undress," it is still highly intolerant of women modestly covering themselves to breastfeed their babies in public places. It's no wonder that so few women choose to breastfeed or feel they are able to continue nursing their babies for more than a few weeks postpartum.

Kippley's book can be for Catholic women what my motherin- law's encouragement was to me. While it is not meant as an instructional book in the mechanics of breastfeeding, it ties together many of the "loose ends" of this neglected area of motherhood. Every chapter highlights important medical, psychological, scientific, and spiritual information that will affirm a woman in her role as mother and in her decision to nurture her baby at the breast, and give a boost to one who may be flagging in her determination to successfully breastfeed.

I must admit, however, that while the medical and scientific information contained in this book is fascinating and encouraging, I was most intrigued by the title. I had received this book within a few weeks of giving birth to my eighth child and I wondered what, exactly, the Church had to say about breastfeeding. In 16 years of mothering, I had never heard anything distinctly Catholic about the decision to feed my babies this way and had not even pondered it. Yet as I read through the various chapters, I could easily discern the "Catholic approach." Beginning with a brief introduction to biological and natural moral law, Kippley begins to gently unfold God's distinctive plan and the many and varied reasons that, if possible, it is best to follow that plan. She offers many quotes from priests, bishops, and cardinals -and even popes-supporting and encouraging mothers to breastfeed their babies.

I was amazed to discover that Popes Gregory the Great, Benedict XIV, Pius XII, and John Paul II have all supported breastfeeding. In fact, in 1995, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences held a conference entitled "Breastfeeding: Science and Society," and Pope John Paul II addressed the study session:

[The known benefit of breastfeeding] is obviously a matter of concern to countless women and children, and something that clearly has general importance for every society, rich or poor. One hopes that your studies will serve to heighten public awareness of how much this natural activity benefits the child and helps to create the closeness and maternal bonding so necessary for healthy child development. So human and natural is this bond that the Psalms use the image of the infant at its mother's breast as a picture of God's care for man (cf. Ps. 22:9). So vital is this interaction between mother and child that my predecessor, Pope Pius XII, urged all Catholic mothers, if at all possible, to nourish their children themselves.

The book details many ways that clergy and religious have supported mothers with babies. Chapels have been created with images of the Blessed Mother Mary nourishing the infant Jesus at the breast. A "Mother of God" chaplet has been created by Father Timothy Sauppe, with five meditations on the mysteries of the maternity of Mary: the quickening of Jesus in His mother's womb, His first nursing at the breast, His first steps, His first words, and Jesus being weaned. Mothers can be encouraged to draw nearer to Jesus by uniting their daily experiences to those of the Blessed Mother caring for Him.

This book is not just for mothers or mothers-to-be. It will also be a great encouragement for new fathers, grandparents, and clergy, helping them to understand and support this most beautiful relationship between mother and baby. Thoughtful advice is even offered for women who cannot breastfeed or who must return to work. Truly, anyone interested in learning more about the numerous advantages of breastfeeding-for both mother and baby-will find solid information and resources throughout the text and ample endnotes.