Pope Francis encouraged mothers to breastfeed their babies in the Sistine Chapel if they became hungry during his annual baptism ceremony of 2018.
Francis, head of the Roman Catholic church, encouraged parents to teach children through the “language of love,” and that breastfeeding babies when they became hungry was part of that language of love and therefore welcomed in the Sistine Chapel, according to NPR. Francis made similar encouragements in 2017 and has repeatedly advocated for breastfeeding in Catholicism’s houses of worship. However, museums, airlines, and even some churches forbid the practice.
“If they start performing a concert (by crying), or if they are uncomfortable or too warm or don’t feel at ease or are hungry … breastfeed them, don’t be afraid, feed them, because this too is the language of love,” Francis said during his homily, according to the New York Post.
Francis baptized 34 babies, all of them children of Vatican or diocese of Rome employees, during the over two-hour long service. Francis harkened back to the infancy of Christ as justification for mothers to publicly breastfeed their children at holy sites, and told mothers in 2017 they should “go ahead and feed them, just as Mary breastfed Jesus.”
Some Catholic sites, like St. Peter’s Basilica, have forbidden the practice of breastfeeding in the recent past, but religious studies professor Neomi DeAnda of Dayton University told NPR the anti-breastfeeding stance among Catholic churches is a relatively new development in the church’s history.
“The Catholic Church has traditionally had images of breast milk, which have actually been silenced over the last couple hundred years,” DeAnda said.
One such Catholic reference to breast milk is the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem, traditionally believed to be the site where Mary first breastfed Jesus and is visited by women trying to conceive, as well as new mothers.
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