Saturday, August 21, 2010

Breastfeeding history moment: LDS Sacrament Meeting, 1871

My sister-in-law (remember her from her birth story Failure to Progress or Failure to be Patient?) took this picture for me at the LDS Church History Museum. It's an illustration from Harper's Weekly of an 1871 Sacrament Meeting in the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Harper's Weekly text reads:
The double-page illustration which we give this week shows the administration of the "Sacrament," large pewter vessels, of which several may be seen in front of the pulpit, being used for the purpose. All present, men, women, children, and babies in arms, partake.
On the left side, you can see two women breastfeeding. (Click on images for a high-res version.)

From this illustration I learned several things about the culture and practice of breastfeeding at this time (late 1800s), place (Utah), and culture (Mormon):

1) Public breastfeeding was accepted as normal in mixed company and during worship services.
2) LDS women breastfed in public without a cover or blanket.
3) The norms of dress at the time meant women unbuttoned their dresses at the chest area to nurse. In the closeups below, you'll see dress opened, exposing the nursing breast.

The illustrator seems familiar with the techniques of breastfeeding (or was just good at reproducing what he/she saw). Notice the woman supporting her breast while her baby nurses, something I often do myself.
The engraving originally appeared in Harper's Weekly.Text describing the illustration is on the upper left column.
Other posts about nursing & LDS culture:
Breastfeeding History Moment: Mormon Handcart Pioneers
Breastfeeding in Church

Other people's posts on this topic:
Breastfeeding at church: now and then at Life Inspired
Breastfeeding and LDS Church at Improves With Age
Several posts from TopHat: Modesty and Breastfeeding, Sacrament Meeting 1871,  & Inquisition Monday

46 comments:

  1. How striking... my how things can change.

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  2. Cool. You should hit Heather up for that... or Rebecca lives right there.

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  3. Thank you so much for sharing that! After having my 5th baby I found that leaving the chapel to nurse my baby in the mother's room created a much bigger commotion because my other children would inevitably follow me and want to sit with me while I was feeding the baby. I found that if I discreetly breastfed in the meeting (covering with a blanket) I could feed my baby with minimal disruption to anyone in the meeting. I don't know if anyone noticed what I was doing, and I admit I was a little self-conscious about it. I wish women were unafraid to nurse in public and that society were more supportive of it.

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  4. Is that cleavage I see with the second one? :) McKay says they also might be wearing capelets and that is what is buttoned at the top.

    But thanks for sharing!

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  5. I'm lds and nurse my (3rd) baby during Sacrament if he needs to and anywhere else, including while walking into priesthood to get the car key from my husband. My Bishop is very supportive of breastfeeding, but I didn't know that he was happy for sisters to stay and breastfeed rather than go out to the mother's lounge which has audio piped through until I'd been doing it for some months. I've had 3 different bishops each time I had a baby and I just took the same attitude each time - I'm nurturing my child as a Mother in Zion, just the way God intended. No one (bishops or otherwise) has ever bothered me about breastfeeding at church and if they did, I'd take it as high as I needed to get support.
    I only really used the mother's lounge with my 2nd baby who was for the longest period of time, very easily distracted and would yank her head around to see stuff, usually with my nipple firmly gripped between her gums (ow!) and that was simply because she fed better where there were no distractions - she would actually feed until she was full, not just until she was distracted. Once she calmed down and fed properly while there were things to distract her, I was back to my lessons. I have never used a cover.

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  6. I have threatened to do this many times. Maybe by the time I have another baby I will have the nerve. It bothers me that I need nerve to feed my baby in public. Well, I bf in public all the time, just not in church.

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  7. Somehow I think that if they managed to do this in the Victorian era, when it was scandalous for women to let their ankles or certainly their legs show, surely we can handle a little breast visibility, when short-shorts and miniskirts and halter tops (not to mention bikinis at the beach) are everywhere!

    -Kathy

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  8. My father grew up in Utah during the 40s and 50s. He has told me many times that even then women nursed in Sacrament Meeting, along with every place else: on the buses, trolleys, at stores, in parks.

    NOT nursing is a recent invention, probably happened in the late 50s and early 60s in Utah with the rise of formula culture. I remember my mom nursing in Sacrament in the late 70s/early 80s. We're just one generation removed from the practice; it's not irretrievable in the least.

    I don't have a nursling right now, but I nursed my last baby in Sacrament and will do the same with any future babies. If the rest of you do the same, we'll bring it back.

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  9. I only nursed once in Sacrament meeting with Monkey. I usually went to the lounge. But it's not kept up very well in our building. I'm not planning to go there this time unless the BABY needs it. Last Sunday I nursed in the chapel a couple of times. It was sooo much easier to pay attention in there! I'll be doing that more, though I'll probably use a cover at least some of the time.

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  10. I agree with Azucar's comment that NOT breastfeeding in public is probably a modern invention--one that came with the push to switch to formula and bottle feeding for infants. Certainly it was not uncommon in the middle ages to depict the Madonna and Child in breastfeeding poses...

    Thank you for posting this picture, I hope to see the original some time. I've often wondered about how breastfeeding was handled with women's dress fashions in different eras. I'm pretty comfortable nursing my baby in most situations, I try to be discrete in the interest of not making other people uncomfortable, but don't feel a need to use a blanket most of the time--the baby pretty much covers up the breast/my belly anyway!

    My dad served a mission in France in the late 60's--he tells of being shocked as a missionary to see the bishop's wife with her blouse unbuttoned to breastfeed...I don't think the "don't show the breast" taboo has ever been a big deal in France.

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  11. Thinking about the social switch from breast to formula feeding for infants reminded me of a story I have always found funny: a relative of mine chose to breastfeed her baby in the 60's, which was probably about the apex of the formula fad. She says her concerned next-door neighbor came running over one day, holding a newspaper: "M, you've got to stop nursing that baby! They've just tested breast milk and there's NOTHING IN IT!!!!"

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  12. I breastfed in the temple. Not in the lobby/waiting are - IN the temple. In my temple dress. With my boob out the top. And I was encouraged to do so by the temple workers. If I can do it there - I can do it anywhere.

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  13. I never cared what anyone thought. I was doing what God meant for women to do no matter where they happen to be. I got looks but it was my right to feed mt babies and I wish the other women at church would start to feel the same way. I think self consciousness is part of the problem because in reality, most people probably wouldn't even notice unless attention were drawn to it (no offence but blankets and covers tend to do that). I don't think I've ever seen an indiscreet breastfeeder after getting the hang of it.

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  14. I breastfed both during Sacrament and sunday school/RS, even after seeing other moms leaving to nurse in the 'nursing area', which is just a small area attached to the restroom, separated by a door (to me it's almost the same thing as going into the restroom, you can still hear and smell everything).

    We are in SLC. We went to the Church History Museum not long ago, but didn't notice the illustration, now I'm itching to go there again just so I can look closely at it and take some photos.

    I was always too self-conscious to NIP with the top part of my breast exposed, mostly do it by lifting my shirt, rather than pulling it down (never with a blanket though). Now after looking at that illustration, I might stop worrying about only wearing tops that can be easily lifted up :)

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  15. Thank you so much for posting this. Even though I know in my heart that God doesn't expect us to cover our babies while we feed them or go hide somewhere, I still struggle with this. I know it's not immodest to feel a baby without covering it, but so many people are offended by it. Pictures like the one you share and the wonderful comments written here really help to strengthen me. I'm still too scared to nurse my toddler in the chapel but with my next baby I really want to be brave and do what I believe is right: Stay in the chapel during the meeting, and not cover up my baby.

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  16. Wow That is great. Next time I'm in SLC I'll try to stop by and get another picture for you if you still want it. My ward just asked me for suggestions about how to improve our mother's lounge-- it is really bad-- and maybe I should tell them to hang this picture in there :)

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  17. Wow that is fantastic! I have fed in Sacrament and seen others do so. I think it should be so.

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  18. That is awesome! Thanks for sharing that picture! I have nursed my baby a few times in sacrament meeting or relief society. Now he is at a distracted phase, so it he typically focuses better if we go to the mother's lounge. I am most comfortable wearing nursing tank tops under my shirts and pulling up the shirt. I can't believe sometimes how uncomfortable people are, even women who HAVE breastfed, with public nursing--I just don't get it.

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  19. That is very cool and very interesting! It says a lot that society that considered showing your ankles "scandalous" would be so ok with NIP.

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  20. I don't know think that breastfeeding in sacrament would be totally accepted in my area. Maybe relief society...it's a shame really...I actually think that I would feel more comfortable BF at work or at the mall

    I went to a small Christian college for my bachelor's degree, and one of my teachers who is a minister talked for about 20 minutes about how he felt that breastfeeding should not be allowed during church services. I so mad!

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  21. I wish more LDS women supported each other breastfeeding their babies openly and uncovered during sacrament meeting.

    There is a great deal of pressure in our ward to cover with a blanket or nursing cover. :(

    I've typically gone to the mother's room, but this picture really gives me reason to stay in sacrament meeting when nursing the next baby!

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  22. Thank you so much for posting this. Since my son was born I decided that I was going to nurse where ever I was no matter what. I do choose to use a cover, not because I am nurvous or shy but because I do feel my breasts are also sexual and I wan't to preserve that part of them. For me using a cover is a perfect balance of being able to cover my body but still feed my baby.
    It is funny though that the first time I went to church I felt uncomfortable nursing in the chapel (Our chapel is shapped weird and we sit in the front with the bishopric staring right at us especially my husband who is the YM President). I was very surprised with myself, so I walked out to the foyer. But I refused to use the mother's room but I wasn't quite comfortable with the chapel. (There are 2 other nursing women in my ward currently and when they saw me in the foyer they stopped going in the mother's room all the time!-But they still use it sometimes)
    Just last week (my son is now 6 months) I decided that if I can nurse him in a restaurant or anywhere else why couldn't I nurse him in the chapel where we worship.
    I am so glad I made this realization and last week I nursed in the chapel during Stake Conference. It is our job to help other women feel more comfortable.
    But don't judge those of us that choose to cover, it's not that I am uncomfortable :)

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  23. I've had 3 babies and always nursed wherever I felt most comfortable - whether that be in the chapel, the couch in the foyer, teaching Relief Society, the mother's lounge. Honestly - by the time number 3 came along, I yearned to go to the mother's lounge so I could listen the service in peace without trying to keep the other 2 reverent!

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  24. I would love to get my hands on a high resolution photo of the nursing mother detail so I can add it to my collection of historic breastfeeding photos & art (currently on facebook & soon to be its own website).

    Finally with baby #3 I am comfortable enough to nurse in the chapel during sacrament meeting (even nursed on the stand last weekend as I was assigned a talk) but I do cover (pretty easy with my wrap) while nursing at church because I prefer to nurse up & over & I'm not so sure that a fully exposed breast during sacrament meeting would go over very well (baby steps... maybe one day I will be comfortable enough to forgo covering).

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  25. I would like to proudly say I am in good company with the other women who nurse in sacrament meeting--those of today and in years past.

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  26. My wife breastfed all 4 of our kids during sacrament meeting, and until reading this post it never crossed my mind that anyone would take issue with it. I just asked my wife, and she said she never felt awkward about it in the least - she's easily embarrassed and wouldn't have done it if she thought people would be uncomfortable with it. She never left the chapel to feed our babies, ever, because it didn't cross her mind to do so. I know other mothers in the ward have breastfed during sacrament meeting too. Our youngest is 5 now, so it's not like this was decades ago. I'm honestly surprised to hear so many of you have reservations or feel that others at church are uncomfortable with it. I always thought of the LDS community in particular to be more supportive of this kind of thing than the general public.

    I'm probably overstepping my bounds here considering I'm a man who has never breastfed and never will, but my opinion is that mothers not only have a right to breastfeed in public, but an obligation so that our friends and family see it as the normal thing it is.

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  27. can we get the artist and illustration title? I'd love to have it in my home.

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  28. I was just talking about this topic today with my friends in the Mother's Lounge. My Mom breastfed my baby sister in the Chapel during sacrament in the early 90's. Thanks for sharing the picture!

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  29. I. Love. This.

    I also love the Darryl's comment, as a man. I appreciate, so much, when men find it to be the norm. I never breastfed my first in the chapel...I was just unsure and NEVER felt support by anyone but my husband. I would sit in the foyer, as our "nursing lounge" was actually the changing room from the baptismal font. TIle floors, showers stalls. Stinky smell. It was awful and I refused it. With my second, I was more comfortable. I have always fed my babies in my classes, I just had a harder time doing so in the chapel, but since then I have seen several women do so in the chapel. ANyway, I really really love this illustration. THank you for sharing. I am off to share it via email and facebook:)

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  30. Thanks for sharing! I just had my first and am learning to be more confident with nursing and realizing it is natural. The hardest part is when people act totally uncomfortable around you and make it awkward. It doesn't have to be awkward unless you make it awkward! I especially hated when once I had a guy standing across from me in a shopping mall trying to discreetly watch to see if I showed anything. Pervert! Ugghhh those are the frustrating things about nursing in public. The saddest thing to me is that I have friends who have quit nursing early because they were so uncomfortable doing it around their in-laws or the general public. THAT is very sad to me.

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  31. I showed this to my mom, who nursed all four of her children to 18-24 months, and she LOVED it.

    Isn't it ironic that women can expose almost every part of her body, and yet if she puts a baby to the nipple, all hell breaks loose? But in a time when exposing your ankles was scandalous, you could nurse uncovered without so much of a second glance?!

    I think more women would choose to nurse their babies if nursing in public wasn't so taboo. I am planning on nursing my babies (when I have them) because I saw my mom, my aunts, cousins, and my sister-in-law nurse theirs.

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  32. Just found this post and had to add to the love-fest!

    I nursed my first in Sac Meeting/church w/ no problems. My second however drew a huge hissy fit from several other women (gasp) in the ward and a visit from the bishop. ugh I now nurse my 3rd (and sometimes my 2nd! lol) anywhere in church w/ no problems.

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  33. I had a horrible experience with breastfeeding in my ward with my first baby. My ward has ALOT of babies(15 born the year my girl was). Our nursing lounge is small. Two chairs and that is all there is room for. With 5-10 nursing mothers in the ward at the time(not to mention the two other wards meeting simultaneously in the building.) So it was one of my first Sundays back to church after having her, she was crying & wanted to nurse and I was stressing alittle being a new mom & all & just getting the hang of things. The mothers lounge was full, standing room only. My baby is screaming by now, I am in tears as I desperately search for an empty room but all are full. So I end up sitting on the floor, crying, in the hallway with people stepping over me as I nurse my baby. It was a horrible experience & I didn't go back to church for a couple weeks because of fear that it would happen again. I am a more confident breastfeeder now(still nursing her at 2 years) and with my next baby I will nurse in the meetingroom. I wish it was more accepted. But no one nurses in public at my ward. you either bottle feed or you better hope the mothers lounge isn't full :(

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  34. This is great! Sometimes I would nurse in the mother's lounge, sometimes in sacrament, it all depended on what I was wearing and if I wanted quiet or not. Of course now that I am nursing a toddler I have to leave because he is not very discreet about it :)

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  35. Love it! Thanks for a quick history lesson on BF.

    http://granolagrizzlymama.squarespace.com/

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  36. I can check it out since I'm about 30 minutes from Salt Lake City. But it may take me a few days to find time to jet down there. I could ask about the painting and take more pictures.

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  37. I'm thrilled to read that so many LDS moms nurse in Sacrament. I did so in the '80's...I did however sit in the back corner to reduce gawking. Not that anyone would gawk...most would be too busy with taming their own kids to notice what I was doing.
    I quit nursing in washrooms when I went into one at the Stampede (fair/exhibition etc) and just about gagged. Instead I sat in front of the quilt exhibits. Only two old ladies made a comment. About how wonderful it was to see that. I did cover up or pulled up the shirt. The only time I went to the mother's lounge was when I forgot and wore a dress that didn't undo in the front! (I had to hike it up from the hem...a little TOO much exposure!)
    I'll have to print or find a print of this picture and post it in our ward library (I like to editorialize without saying anything outright).
    I'm glad to see this...always wondered how it was done. Thanks.

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  38. I've breastfed all 3 of my babies in sacrament meetings. I don't understand why some women feel they can't. It's not difficult to be discrete so you are comfortable AND modest. I don't use a cover, I just pull my shirt up from the bottom so the baby is covering the area that's exposed.

    But I also don't understand why some commenters here feel that being brave enough to expose breast while feeding their children would be an improvement. Unbottoning your dress from the top would be distracting to many people and is not necessary to nurish your baby.

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  39. I decided long ago (with my first baby who is almost 21), that "I refuse to be banished from society, for BF'ing my baby!" so with that being said, I nursed right there in Sacrament mtg, (I used a small blanket, or just a burp rag, most of the time) I think you can be modest without a big huge cover, which often draws more attention, I never left RS, and was only mildly uncomfortable on occasion in SS, since it is men and women and not families, and hardly any kids… I have nursed 6 children, for a total of over 8+ yrs and unless my child was extremely fussy, never left a meeting to BF. It personally drives me crazy that young mom's feel like they have to leave to BF their children, especially during RS, or even during just a RS enrichment mtg!!! We should be encouraging our young mothers to BF and that it is normal and accepted, rather than making them feel uncomfortable and rejected.

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  40. one reason i quit going to church is because i felt restricted to care/feed for my baby. this was a great article to read. thank you very much. i hope that it will change.

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  41. Thank you for this - I blogged about this today because a friend of mine was called into the bishop's office for breastfeeding in class. Ugh.

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  42. When I was first married in 1999, we lived in Logan, UT. The entire back row of our Relief Society room was reserved for mothers who wished to nurse their babies. I don't know how it got started, but I thought it was so appropriate and thoughtful, I never heard a single person criticize the public nursing at church there. The mothers all covered up so there was no nudity in church. I think someone just had to pave the way and everyone else realized it was a good thing. I don't know if women nursed in Sacrament meeting or not, I wouldn't have noticed back then.

    My husband always tells me about speaking in sacrament meeting in Spain on his mission and seeing several women on the front row nursing without covers. It was quite distracting to him as a young man, but apparently normal there.

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  43. There's an old painting by C.C.A. Christenesen called "Handcart Company" that some of you may have seen before of handcart pioneers stopping to camp. If you look closely in the background, there is a woman sitting in front of the wheel of a handcart breastfeeding what looks (to me) like an older baby, maybe 12-18 months. Saw this once when I was walking laps with my son around a building during sacrament meeting. Take a look at this link: http://ldsbreastfeedingart.blogspot.com. It has C.C.A. Christensen's painting, as well as several other works of Mormon art depicting breastfeeding mothers and babies.

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  44. Thank you for this post! I linked it on my blog:
    http://whoopscoop.blogspot.com/2013/09/breastfeeding-and-lds-culture.html

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