The tale of my saggy middle-aged breasts

The recent blog post about a woman being refused a temple recommend because of her breastfeeding practice really hit a nerve in the Mormon online community. Some people have really pushed back. “Why can’t she leave the room?” “Why can’t she just cover?” are among the questions; “She should do what her bishop or stake president says!” is one of the reactions. I am not going to address any of these directly. I am going to share a bit from my breastfeeding journey. Not everyone has experience with this practice, and there are a wide variety of experiences as well. Perhaps if we all talk about it more, we can build tolerance and understanding.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I had a vivid nightmare that I had forgotten about the baby and left it somewhere. When I remembered and went to find it, it had shriveled up because I forgot to feed it. Apparently deep in my psyche, I was worried about the kind of mother I would be and my ability to care for and nourish the young life that was to be dependent on me.

Soon after my daughter’s birth, I set about to learn the art of breastfeeding. It was not as simple as holding the baby to my breast. At first, my nipples were flat and had to be coaxed out. Within a few days of birth my breasts were painfully swollen and engorged with milk. Looking down, they were larger than my baby’s head. I learned I had to support the breast or hold a finger against the breast to give the baby a pocket for air circulation so she wouldn’t smother against me. First daughter was a fiery nurser who latched on with gusto. Then my letdown reflex was hyperactive. Baby would pull away screaming as she drowned in milk. The milk shot across the room if I didn’t stick a burp cloth or baby blanket up there for a minute to soak up the initial letdown. Also, the letdown always happened simultaneously with both breasts gushing forth, so I had to have a burp cloth stuck in the other side of my bra as well, or else it would spill forth through multiple layers of clothing and drip down my front (yes, even with a nursing pad in there).

Not wanting to soak an innocent bystander, I usually retreated to another room to nurse during this early stage of mothering. Also, I knew this was expected of me due to both subtle and explicit comments I heard from other women. In time, I was out in the world with my infant in tow. At church, I hid away in the ‘mother’s room’ for feeding time. My daughter often filled her diaper once or twice during a feeding. So it was convenient for me to be able to change her there quickly. Often she would need a wet-wipe bath as well, because was a prodigious pooper. I had to bring at least 2 extra sets of clothes everywhere we went. But the downside to this was that the mother’s room smelled of dirty diapers. It was a tiny stuffy room, with the door closed for privacy, so no fresh air circulated. There were never enough chairs for all the nursing mothers in this young ward (several of us were BYU student families), so we had to sit on the floor occasionally.

The first time we went out to a family dinner at a restaurant with my husband’s relatives, I didn’t know what to do when it came time to nurse my hungry baby. I knew his sisters didn’t feel it was appropriate to nurse in public, and there was no private place to nurse. I ended up sitting on a toilet in a stall. Smelly and unsanitary, and very uncomfortable to sit there so long, but I didn’t even consider it an option to nurse out in the restaurant. I had internalized shame of my own breast, and the necessity of ‘not offending’ others.

I tried over and over again to nurse discreetly, and even to cover with a blanket. My daughter was having none of it. She pulled it off repeatedly. I had to hold her with one hand/arm, and hold my breast with the other hand, and pin the blanket between my back and the chair, so it did escape on occasion, much to my consternation. I was trying to be ‘modest’.

After several months, baby and I were getting used to this. I had been back to school within 2 weeks after she was born, and finding nooks on campus to nurse her. Unfortunately most of these were seats technically inside bathrooms (I hate to think of all the aerosolized feces inhaled by infants nursing in BYU bathrooms). I was able to switch off caring for baby, so I didn’t bring her to class, but I was solely responsible for feeding her. Then came my semester finals. 2-3 hours are needed for many of these tests. This particular day I had 2 finals back to back. My husband would need to care for the baby for 6 hours+. I didn’t have a breast pump, so I painstakingly hand expressed milk to make a bottle for my baby at the crack of dawn. She had taken water from a bottle, so I thought she would do okay. During the many hours away from baby, my milk let down more than once and I had to apply pressure to my chest to stop it, and go change breast pads in the bathroom. When I finally finished my exams and went home, my baby had been crying for hours, her eyes red and puffy, and she had sucked a blister onto her fist trying to comfort herself. I was furious with my husband, he never even offered her the bottle. He figured she could wait until I got back. This was my first peek into a man’s head, where he thought it was inherently a woman’s job to feed a baby and that an infant could ‘wait’ to be fed.

Baby #2 spent her early months in a foreign country. I continued to nurse with a blanket, but there were no mother’s rooms at church and I often found myself needing to feed the baby in public, generally sitting on a park bench, and even on the public transportation we depended on. Fortunately, there were no qualms about breastfeeding in this country. There was another mother who I regularly saw nursing openly in all church meetings, and a began to do this as well. This baby was a far easier baby to nurse, and I experienced much less anxiety about nursing than I had with my first. Unfortunately, my milk began to dry up and she had to be weaned early because I was pregnant with my third baby.

Right after baby #3 was born, my husband was called to serve in the bishopric. I had a 3 year old, a 1 year old, and a newborn. I was sitting by myself in sacrament meeting. Nursing in the mothers’ room meant dragging all 3 children and the diaper bag with me. I only had 2 arms, and both would be needed to feed the baby, so the other 2 children had free range of the mother’s room. When the 1 year old occasionally escaped, I had to run out into the hall with baby attached. My 1 year old was still too young to attend nursery, so 2 hours of church, I had at least 2 little ones with me, and my husband’s bishopric duties kept him busy all day Sunday. Gradually, I realized I would be more comfortable nursing in the meetings than dragging around all the children and their stuff and trying to resettle them.

When you’ve cared for as many babies as I have, your experiences as a mother begin to run together. I can tell you that in nursing 8 babies, I have had a lot of different experiences. I have had painful breast infections that caused a fever and nausea. I have had painfully sore nipples and clogged milk ducts. I have switched to bottle feeding for 2 of my children before the age of 1 because I had milk supply issues. I have nursed while pregnant. I have nursed in hot Texas summers. Some babies refuse to eat under a blanket, and some don’t mind. Sometimes nursing under a cover is fine and comfortable, sometimes it is hot and stuffy, suffocating for the child. Some babies did yoga on my lap while eating. Some babies eat faster, some slower. Breastfeeding takes a LOT of time. It is not realistic to expect babies to eat on a prescribed schedule. Older babies do develop a routine, but once you figure that out they will hit a growth spurt and it will change. You can not convince a baby to eat when it is not ready. And some babies are more distracted than others. Some won’t be able to nurse with any noise or distractions around because they are so curious, others are such foodies that they completely zone out while nursing.

I once saw another young mother nursing her baby while walking her other children to a park. The baby was in a sling, the mother’s shirt was pulled down for baby to access while she pushed another child in a stroller. Her breast was open to view of all. It was completely beautiful and natural. She was fulfilling the measure of her creation, caring for her family. She was not walking pornography, out to titillate all the weak men of the community. In reflection, I have a bit of holy envy about her complete sense of who she was and what she was doing. I spent most of my nursing life hidden away and trying to juggle the expectations and sensitivities of others while sacrificing my own and my child’s comfort and opportunities to engage with the world.

I hope the church will consider the needs of women and babies at least as important as the preferences of men. Many wards and branches the world over have not only tolerated nursing in church meetings, but welcomed nursing women and babies in all meetings they are invited to attend. I am concerned that some men feel it within their stewardship to insinuate that a nursing mother is out to tempt young men in the congregation. Surely, if that were her aim, there are far more exciting ways to go about it. The ‘high’ and ‘holy’ calling of motherhood is a sterile pedestal that ignores the bloody milky reality of bringing a child into the world and nurturing it. For women who know, the holiness is in the mess.

The United States is getting better and upholding women’s right to nourish their baby by passing laws supporting the right to breastfeed wherever she has the right to be. Feeding one’s child should not be considered a sexual advertisement. Mothers with babies have a lot to juggle. I would love to see the community reach out and help, rather than judge and shame for the choices she may make in trying to meet her family’s needs. If a woman makes a choice different from yours, do you feel threatened? If you see a woman breastfeeding in public, why not champion her? Speak up for her if others are shaming? If the sight of a woman feeding her child with her breast disturbs you, why? And do you think the mother and baby should be uncomfortable instead of you?

Chiaroscuro is a play of light and shadow. Finding noisy messy lovely life in all the shades between.


  1. I love what you wrote here; I have also found wholeness in managing motherhood with open practicality. I’m trying to learn not to sacrifice too much in my concern for the comfort of others. Thank you, I’m also touched by your words <3

  2. “I hope the church will consider the needs of women and babies at least as important as the preferences of men.” That just about says it all.

    Thanks for writing, and sharing your experiences. The world has a lot to learn from you!

  3. I also love the idea that there is holiness in the mess. I love the context preceding it:

    “The ‘high’ and ‘holy’ calling of motherhood is a sterile pedestal that ignores the bloody milky reality of bringing a child into the world and nurturing it. For women who know, the holiness is in the mess.”

    I relate. I submitted to every inconvenience asked of me as I struggled through the flaming mess of bringing my children to church. I believed I should be modest so that no men or boys would catch a glimpse of me feeding my baby. I was young, overwhelmed, and sleep-deprived, and still could be considerate and nice, because I had been well-trained from a young age. I now see those men were more willing to disrupt my meeting attendance than to control their base desires, and were oblivious to that.

    I think it’s long past time that men, and women who enable them, should be trained from a young age to be ‘considerate and nice’ to mothers feeding their babies. The OP has wonderful grassroots suggestions for changing the culture of shame around breastfeeding. But it calls for leadership too. Men should remind/enforce this training on other men and boys. Men of high influence should instruct other men under their governance in ways to mitigate some of the struggles of the mothers among them. There would be holiness in that too. It’s so close they can *almost* see it.

  4. Thank you for explaining what breastfeeding is like. A big part of the problem I see with men regulating breastfeeding (and men have the privilege of regulating everything at an LDS church) is that no man has experience with breastfeeding, so they are making rules and orders based on ignorance.

    As you point out, every baby is different. Some are easy to nurse, others not. Some are easy to cover, some won’t tolerate it. Every mother is also different. For some, breastfeeding comes naturally, for others, it is very difficult. For this reason, I believe that even those of us who have experience as breastfeeding mothers should support other nursing mothers to breastfeed in any manner or place that works for them, instead of judging others for showing too much skin while feeding their children.

    • This is hypothetical. However, what if there was a Policy Released and it was stated that this policy had been written and set by the General Relief Society Presidency and it looked something like this.

      Breastfeeding in Church Meetings
      Breastfeeding mothers may freely feed their babies in church meetings providing that there is a covering to preserve modesty. If a baby can not be fed with a covering they should continue the feeding in another, more private, room.

      A policy, by sisters, for sisters. If I was the President Nelson I would have the GRSP write any such policy.

      • Thanks, Wondering, for showing that you have not read the post. From Chiaroscuro’s experience–just one woman–it’s clear that such a policy would be stupid and impractical, regardless of who issued it.

      • To me it would not matter who the message comes from if it shows no understanding of the difficulties new nursing mothers face. If the message is as you suggest, then I would have to assume that some man told the women what policy to write.

        My own experience as a nursing mother with my first child was such that I badly needed the social contact of being in church, my only contact with English speaking people. I was isolated in a foreign country and the military ward was the only place where there were other Americans. I had to travel by subway to and from church twice a day back before the block. I would feed her just before leaving home, but by the time we changed her and me, left for the subway, changed to a bus and finally arrived at church she was hungry again. On top of needing to be fed every two hours! my baby was a slow eater and would not nurse under a cloth, so I went to the only private place in the building, which was the lady’s restroom. So, I spent church, sitting on a toilet nursing my baby, when I desperately needed to be with people. There was no sound even piped in. I would have been much more comfortable at home. But, I needed people other than just my husband and baby.

      • Anna, thank you for sharing your experience. it sounds similar to mine. I don’t think men in leaderships realize how much a young mother needs to be around other people, especially when she is feeling particularly vulnerable and/or isolated; nor do they really understand how it feels to have to be so accommodating to everyone else all the time when you are already giving so much to nourish a young life.

        I would hope the RS or other women leaders would be more empathetic, but my feeling is that those women get into those positions not because they are representative of all women but because they play the patriarchy game really well (which would make me expect that their statement would echo the opinions of male church leaders rather than the needs of female church members)

  5. I gasped out loud in anger and anguish that your husband didn’t try feeding your (his!) baby for so many hours. I’m sure he’s learned a lot since that day so many years ago, but I could still feel the pain in your mother heart.

    I think for so many men, the breastfeeding issue is an intellectual exercise in problem solving. They have no experience with it and no idea what it’s like to be a young mother: exhausted, depressed, anxious. The answer here is compassion and assuming this mother is doing the best she can. That is always the answer.

  6. Hi, As a mom I would like to say Breastfeeding mothers may freely feed their babies in church meetings providing that there is a covering to preserve modesty. If a baby can not be fed with a covering they should continue the feeding in another, more private, room.Hope so you also agree with me.

    • Read through some f the experiences. They explain why being covered or going to another room do not always work. Grow some empathy and stop treating women as nothing but sex objects, and stop being such a prude that you would put your comfort as more important than the comfort of others. If you still do not understand, then next time you eat, put a blanket over your head and see how you like it. Oh, can’t enjoy the meal because you can’t breath or see and talk to the people around you? What makes you think babies are so different than you.

  7. Modesty is such a loaded word. There is nothing immodest about a woman breastfeeding, period. Stop using modesty defined as “covering things up.” Modesty is a state of mind, and isn’t about square inches of skin exposed.

  8. The abominable inappropriate escalation and dictatorial behavior by this stake president is the real issue.

    A disturbing new trend in the church are these stake presidents who act like dictators and if you don’t obey their every personal whim, they go straight to nuclear level harsh discipline and straight to very harsh AND LOADED accusations such as “you’re not sustaining your leaders” (and very hard to defend against, due to having to prove a negative, i.e. proving your innocence against an accuser who is assumed to be “inspired” of God all the time).

    My stake president has done exactly what I’m describing here, to a very close family member, and totally destroyed the credibility of church discipline because he literally used the effectively unaccountable church discipline powers to enforce his personal whims on someone, even worse, as a form of personal revenge. An appeal to the first presidency was totally ignored. The wider problem is these stake presidents are entirely unaccountable and members are utterly powerless. This is what Pharisees did.

    These stake presidents escalate hastily and inappropriately and demand unrealistic obedience to their personal whims and if you don’t cave immediately, they seem excited to go nuclear on you because they usually DON’T KNOW YOU. Some very insecure stake presidents, always looking for “apostasy” are looking for every opportunity to show people who is boss, and since most of the stake (a large group of potential victims) are unknown to him, this is a target rich environment, as I am seeing in multiple cases.

    I’ve now seen multiple examples of stake presidents literally looking for any opportunity to discipline people and this is extremely disturbing. This is more of a problem with stake presidents because stake presidents usually don’t know the people they’re disciplining, so they flat out don’t care about them like they would someone in their own ward or neighborhood. They lack empathy because the person they’re going nuclear on, is not in their ward and they feel superior, insulated, and feel justified in being very cold and calloused towards a virtual stranger who they are judging far harsher than someone in their own ward who they see regularly.

    To put it more bluntly, what do you THINK you’ll get, if you mix:

    1. unaccountability (the appeals process is totally fake from the member’s perspective), 2. powerless potential victims, 3. a very LARGE group of potential targets for over eager policing, 4. a culture where stake presidents are encouraged to “go after” so called “apostasy” either real or imagined, 5. a culture that allows a patchwork of policies and attitudes from stake to stake, and 6. a “disciplinary” system where the accused is essentially guilty until proven innocent and the priesthood accuser is always assumed and “sustained” to be always right, always inspired, and always doing God’s supposed will. This is a recipe for utter disaster, and salt lake is totally blind to it because it’s not hurting THEM.

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