Communion: The Foundation of Morality
St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Catherine of Siena were both mystics. Catherine was a doctor of the Church and Bernard is generally considered the last of the Fathers of the Church. St Louis IX, king of France, has also been declared a saint. What all these holy people had in common was that their mothers, instead of farming them out to wet nurses, as was the custom among the nobility and later among the commercial classes, had their babies breastfed at home. In fact, Catherine was the only one among 15 siblings to be breastfed at home.
Why is this significant? Because, writes Fr. William Virtue, “Breastfeeding may . . . be a propaedeutic to the mystical life.” In his dissertation Mother and Infant: The Moral Theology of Embodied Self-Giving in Motherhood in Light of the Exemplar Couplet Mary and Jesus Christ (Rome 1995) Fr. Virtue claims that “the maternal-infant relation is propaedeutic to the moral and supernatural life in the love of God and neighbor.” Without a secure attachment to the mother it can be difficult to imagine, let alone, trust a loving God or other human beings. Although the mother’s loving presence to the child is more important than the actual act of breastfeeding, the latter provides a natural closeness.
In my book, The Holy Family, Model Not Exception, I note the importance of Mary nursing the child, Jesus, as all Jewish mothers were enjoined to do at that time. In the 20th century, with the prior pasteurization of milk, bottle feeding became the norm, which means not only is the mother deprived of the bonding and closeness of breastfeeding but she does not experience the physical pleasure attendant on the act. Let’s face it, being attentive to your infant twenty-four hours a day for one year or more is not easy; it becomes much more difficult if deprived of the joy and pleasure of breastfeeding as well as conjugal intercourse during the period of natural infertility it provides. To be truly present to your baby is a radical self-gift.
A mother who understand this, is Sheila Kippley, author of the book, Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood. Together with her husband, John, their web site, http://www.nfpandmore.org (also found on our Links page) provides invaluable information not just on the book but on “God’s plan for the family” through monitoring the fertility cycle and breastfeeding. In fact, that is the subtitle of Sheila Kippley’s book, God’s Plan for You and Your Baby.” Here is an endorsement from one of the founding mothers of La Leche League:
“For the new mother breastfeeding is a huge challenge, demanding of much giving, many sacrifices. Here in this book Sheila Kippley has given us the inspiration as well as the information and motivation for ‘the gift that keeps on giving!’ ” - Mary White
The author is realistic about both the benefits and challenges. She lists three kinds of breastfeeding schedules, what she calls cultural breastfeeding which is common in Western countries, exclusive breastfeeding and ecological breastfeeding. Cultural breastfeeding, which suits the mother’s schedule, does not provide a period of infertility after childbirth. Nevertheless, mother’s milk does provide some immune protection for the baby. Exclusive breastfeeding, endorsed by the World Health Organization for developing countries, can provide infertility for six months, if the baby is given only breastmilk, with no other liquids or solids, and there is no menstrual bleeding after the first eight weeks postpartum. But it is ecological breastfeeding, where the baby accompanies the mother everywhere, sleeps with her and nurses at the breast for comfort as well as food, that can provide extended periods of amenorrhea, even once supplementary food is given. This means no bottles or pacifiers. Rather, unrestricted nursing is encouraged.
The author is at pains not to make a mother feel guilty if she cannot breastfeed. Our society isolates the mother who chooses to stay home with baby. This was not the case before the industrial revolution, when the family, itself, was the production unit. One of the positive effects of the internet and technology, is the possibility that the mother may not be so isolated. John and Sheila Kippley, in fact, consider two natural methods of fertility control, ecological nursing, when the couple need not abstain, and natural family planning when a couple determine it is not the time to have another baby.