Breastfeeding is sacred. 

–This post is part of our 10-year anniversary series “Breastfeeding is…”

Breastfeeding is sacred.

Photo by Anna B

Breastfeeding shows up in a myriad of religious texts, and across most religions, breastfeeding is encouraged and revered as a sacred act.

In Rabbinic texts “…nursing is more than food—it plays a key role in transmitting religion, values and culture,” BJ Woodstein BFC, IBCLC writes in her piece on breastfeeding and Judaism.

Photo by Kampus Production

Breastfeeding and the Baha ́ ’ı ́ Faith documents that “Baha ́’ı ́ Writings clearly endorse breast-feeding…the frequent use of the language of human lactation in positive symbolic terms identifies breastfeeding as a practice that is both dignified and worthy of juxtaposition with the sacred.”

In Chinese religious and philosophical culture, which includes the syncretism of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and the theory of Yin and Yang, this is also true. In Taoism for example, it has been written that “the conditions of oceanic ecstasy correspond to the experience of symbiotic unity of a baby and its mother during the period of foetal development and of breast feeding.” [Tortchinov, 1996, p. 20]

Art by: Khou Vue
Courtesy of the Hmong Breastfeeding Coalition

Across most Native American groups, breastfeeding is revered as the first sacred food; their traditions have been largely passed down orally instead of documented in sacred texts.

Religious dietary rules and their potential nutritional and health consequences further details how most major religions encourage prolonged breastfeeding and other feeding indications.

In Islam, “a woman who breastfeeds more than five times a day a child who is not hers before the age of 2 years becomes a ‘milk mother’ for this child, who is then acknowledged as a full sibling to the foster-mother’s other children. This prohibits any possibility of subsequent marriage between them (sura 4: ayat 23).” The authors note that these rules have implications for human milk banking in Islamic countries.

Photo by Fatima Yusuf

Sucharita Sarkar’s article Pregnancy, Birthing, Breastfeeding and Mothering: Hindu Perspectives from Scriptures and Practices looks at the regulations of pregnancy, birthing, and breastfeeding in Ayurvedic treatises, and at representations of mothering in Vedic and Puranic texts.

Sarkar begins “Vedic and Ayurvedic texts glorify breastfeeding and project it as a natural attribute and sacred duty of good mothers. The Atharva Veda compares lactating breasts to pitchers full of divine nectar. Ayurvedic treatises like the Sushruta Samhita eulogise the nourishing powers of breastmilk and, by extension, of the lactating vessels, that is, the mother:

May the four oceans of the earth contribute to the secretion of milk in thy breasts for the purpose of improving the bodily strength of the child. O, thou with a beautiful face, may the child, reared on your milk, attain a long life, like the gods made immortal with drinks of ambrosia.”

Photo by Smadar Bergman

Where fasting is relevant, there are special considerations for individuals who are pregnant and/or lactating. Ramadan Mubarak: Breastfeeding in Islam and Religious Fasting and Breastfeeding cover many of those distinctions.

Author Beatriz shares about her initiation into Santeria– an amalgamation of Yoruba beliefs and Catholicism– as a nursing mother in this Brown Girls Out Loud piece.

Photo by Luiza Braun

With more than half of the world’s population practicing some kind of religion, religious interventions can be an effective way to support breastfeeding.

One study found that Catholic women are more at risk to intend and practice exclusive formula feeding than women of other religious affiliations.

In partnership, the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control Bureau of Community Health and Chronic Disease Prevention, Eat Smart Move More South Carolina, Palmetto Health Richland Hospital, and the South Carolina Breastfeeding Coalition created a toolkit entitled Creating a Mother-Friendly Environment for your Faith-Based Organization.

Buddhist nuns on the move: an innovative approach to improving breastfeeding practices in Cambodia assessed the impact of Buddhist nuns and wat grannies on breastfeeding behavior in rural Cambodia and found an 11 percent increase in breastfeeding initiation in the first hour after birth when mothers interacted with the nuns.


Photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz

As part of our celebration, we are giving away an online learning module with contact hours each week. Here’s how to enter into the drawings:

Email with your name and “OMW is 10” in the subject line.

This week, in the body of the email, please share any experiences that you have had with infant feeding in a religious context.

Subsequent weeks will have a different prompt in the blog post.

We will conduct a new drawing each week over the 10-week period.  Please email separately each week to be entered in the drawing. You may only win once. If your name is drawn, we will email a link with access to the learning module. The winner of the final week will score a grand finale swag bag.

Musings on unity beyond National Breastfeeding Month

This year’s National Breastfeeding Month (NBM) celebration has come to an end, but our momentum as maternal child health advocates– striving for equitable care for all– powers on. 

The 2020 NBM theme, Many Voices United, called on us to come together to identify and implement the policy and system changes that are needed to ensure that all families have the support and resources they need in order to feed their babies healthily. 

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
Colorful Hands 1 of 3 / George Fox students Annabelle Wombacher, Jared Mar, Sierra Ratcliff and Benjamin Cahoon collaborated on the mural. / Article:

Achieving this shared goal requires daily self-work and individual introspection so that our collective can be as effective as ever. No matter how socially-conscious, open-minded, anti-racist, (insert adjective), we think we may be, we still have learned biases and prejudices that require near constant attention. Much like I remind my children to brush their teeth every morning and every night, as a white, binary woman, I must remind myself to examine my biases and my privilege daily.  

With NBM’s theme of unity in mind, this Upworthy video features an art installation that demonstrates our society’s interconnectedness. With a piece of string, the installation shows an intricate, densely-woven web created by individuals wrapping thread around 32 poles with identifiers arranged in a circle. 

“You can see that even though we all have different experiences and we all identify in different ways…We are really one,” the project’s creator says in the video. 

The sentiment and the product are truly beautiful and fascinating. While appreciating the beauty of unity, it’s important to keep our critical thinking and progressive attitude sharp, refraining from slipping into too comfortable a space where change cannot happen.  

Recently, I’ve seen a few statements on unity circulating social media that I’d like to embrace with a “Yes!” Instead, I find myself reacting, “Yes! But…” 

My worry is that these well-intentioned mantras we live by– much like some might argue certain microaggressions are well-intentioned– are also dismissive. 

  1. We all bleed the same blood. 
  1. Children are not born racist.
  1. I will teach my child to love your child. Period. 

Let’s break those down starting with “We all bleed the same blood.”  Some things to consider:

First, Ashley May for The Thirbly writes,

“Black breasts do not exist separate from Black bodies and the situated existence we navigate in this world nor the racialized experience of motherhood. Racism and classism intertwine to act as a containment, working to make some of us feel as if we are walking in quicksand. Add to this the complexities of new motherhood and the needs of the postpartum body and now we have a cocktail for failure. Literal milk plugs. So, although her precious body may be able to produce milk, her situation prevents her and her baby from receiving it. Even the intention to breastfeed cannot save the milk of the mother who cannot find time for pump breaks as she works the night shift as a security guard. Or, perhaps she cannot figure out why pumping is not working, but she doesn’t have the time to seek the educational or financial resources to help her problem solve.” (underline added by OMW) 

Racism affects People of Color (POC) at a cellular level. Studies show that the experience of racial discrimination accelerates the shortening of telomeres (the repetitive sequences of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that protect the cell) and ultimately contributes to an increase in people’s risks of developing diseases. 

It’s epigenetics; the environments POC of are growing in affect their biology.  

Children are not born racist, but white children are born into a racist society that they will benefit from. 

From the very beginning, white children have a better chance of survival than Children of Color; African Americans have 2.3 times the infant mortality rate as non-Hispanic whites

What’s more, Black children are three times more likely to die when cared for by white doctors, while the mortality rate for white babies is largely unaffected by the doctor’s race, a recent study found. 

White children are born into being part of the problem and just the same, can be part of equitable solutions. 

I will teach my child to love your child. Period. 

Love is action, and even if it’s easier said than done, there are so many ways to teach our children about race, inequities and injustice. Afterall, “If Black children are ‘old enough’ to experience racism then white children are ‘old enough’ to learn about it.” – Blair Amadeus Imani

  • Be careful what you say. As a young girl on my way to ballet class one day, my mom, while locking the car doors,  pointed out the barred doors and boarded windows in the neighborhood we rolled through. 

“That’s how you know this is not a safe neighborhood,” my mom warned me. 

No questions asked, I noted the building facades, and then I noted the Black people. Because there wasn’t any further conversation, I made the connection that Black people must be “not safe” and ultimately, that there must be something wrong with Black people if they’re confined to neighborhoods “like this.” 

Imagine the impact we could make if we showed our children that there is nothing inherently wrong with Black people that ending racism can’t solve.

As a nation we are apathetic, made apparent by a recent poll. The survey shows that only 30 percent of white people have taken concrete action to better understand racial issues after George Floyd’s killing. 

The poll also shows that White Americans are also the least likely to support the Black Lives Matter movement, with 47 percent expressing support.

Is it because we don’t claim it as our problem? Is it because we misunderstand the problem? Is it because it’s easier to point fingers at others than ourselves? 

I’d like to leave you with this video of writer Kimberly Jones where she provides a brief history of the American economy told through an analogy using the board game Monopoly. I urge you to watch it, and then watch it again, and again, and again. 

There is no time for complacency within these truly abhorrent systems. When we start to lose sight of that, envision the tangle of yarn from the aforementioned unity art installation and remember that vastly different experiences are networked together.