Tag Archives: breastfeeding

Biblical Breastfeeding: Genesis 49:25

breastfeeding, bible, verses

 

Genesis 49:25 reads “Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb” (King James Version)

Jacob is on his deathbed blessing Joseph and his other sons.  Interestingly, he uses the name for God that is sometimes translated by Jewish scholars as “the many breasted one“.  Now, the name “El Shaddai”, is not typically translated that way.  Typically Christians translate El Shaddai as “God Almighty”.  In Genesis 17, God identifies himself as El Shaddai and promises to make Abraham the father of many nations. In his blessing of Joseph, Abraham calls on that name of God.  Conventionally, these blessings are made using the covenant name for God and referencing God’s unbounded powers of provision.

Which, when you think about the potential metaphor of ‘the many breasted one’, kinda makes sense doesn’t it?  Breasts are the sole provision for all babies in Jacob’s time.  No one survives that is not fed from a breast, and breast milk flows to feed baby after baby both when mothers are feeding sequential children and in tandem.  Frequently, God refers to himself caring for us the way a mother cares for her children.  And although contemporary Christians get a little touchy with any suggestion of God with a feminine tone, women were created in the image of God just as men were.  God shares similarities with women too.  And when El Shaddai cares for us faltering earthlings, He nourishes and sustains, quiets and comforts us.  He builds us up, strengthens us, and gets us through the day.  That is what milk does for a baby.  I need to sit down with someone who knows Hebrew better than I do to more fully understand the meaning of the name El Shaddai, but several authors suggest that the name is derived straight from the word for breast.  (Here, here, here.)

So Jacob is calling down a blessing for Joshua, and references the blessings of womb and breast from El Shaddai.  The blessings of womb and breast are life.  Nourishment.  Comfort.  Protection.  Love.  The reference to breastfeeding is tender, and powerful, and a beautiful phrase to speak as one’s last words to his son.  What a powerful way to call attention to the full circle of life, by issuing a last blessing that calls back on the blessings of giving life.

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Let’s Flesh This Out – Breastfeeding and the Bible

Aliza nursing in her early days 

There is a line of thought common to Christians that breastfeeding is sexual.  Or, breastfeeding might not be sexual per se, but it’s still something that should be done out of sight and possibly/preferably out of the room.

I disagree.

In my effort to double check my theories against the bible and God’s theories, I did some research.  The bible has a LOT of references to breasts.  A lot.  They’re all over the place.  Most often, the word breast is an anatomical reference.  The right breast for a sacrifice or the growth of breasts to symbolize puberty.  Then, there are the sexual references.  All seven of them.  Four in Song of Solomon, one in Proverbs, two in Ezekiel.  How many times does the bible reference breasts in the context of breastfeeding?  14.  Plus 10 other references to nursing and drinking mother’s milk.  Twenty-four times the bible references breastfeeding without shame.   Without hesitation.  Without hiding it under a blanket or in another room.

Breasts are used for feeding and comforting babies twice as often as they are used for the ‘comforting’ of a man.  And the authors of the bible (talking about the penholders here) referenced breastfeeding in a way that is so tender.  There’s almost a longing or reminiscing about the days of being comforted at their mothers’ breasts.  Because breastfeeding is so much more than food.  So much more than simple calories.

God designed women (and men!) to have a biochemical response to babies, particularly to breastfeeding babies.  Not only do women let down their milk as a result of an oxytocin release (a hormone that provides feelings of bonding and love) by men are physiologically impacted by the continued presence of a lactating woman.  A man’s estrogen level increases as his primary female partner (aka wife) nears the end of her pregnancy and this hormone level remains high for a period of time after the baby is born, suppressing his libido.  This isn’t an accident.  God didn’t let this slide as a side-effect of our design.  Breastfeeding stimulates feelings of love and attachment, and those feelings are recalled throughout life by members of both sexes.

But love does not have to include sex.  A man is perfectly capable of loving a lactating woman without being either turned on or turned off by her milk.  Just because a man sees a woman breastfeeding a baby/child does not mean he is enticed to lust.

Breastfeeding is not enticement.  Even though breasts may or may not be visible during breastfeeding (even without a nursing cover, there usually isn’t much to see), the simple presence of a breast is not enough to encourage a man to lust.  Each person’s lust is wholly within themselves; as Christ put it: “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed lust with her in his heart.”  The man doesn’t need the woman at all.  He can lust without her knowledge or consent. And his lust is fully within himself.

Hiding breastfeeding does not help a man to avoid lust, either.  Hiding breastfeeding (in another room or under a nursing cover) only furthers the separation of that man’s experience with breasts and the true function and purpose of breasts.  Further entrenching him on an inescapable island of helplessness.  If/when men only see breasts in a sexualized way, the sexuality is reinforced with each exposure.  When you start to temper that extreme view, you desensitize him to his incorrect notion that breasts are only for him.  Only for his own selfish pleasure.  Breasts are first and foremost for the nourishment and care of small children.  Only as an addition can we consider the sexual qualities of breasts.  And if men were seeing breastfeeding twice as often as breasts as sexual toys, we wouldn’t have to have this discussion at all.  Breastfeeding, uncovered, in the presence of men is the only way that I can help a man gain control of his lust.  Not because I expose him to something sexual and give him the opportunity to control himself, but because I expose him to something decidedly asexual and give him the opportunity to understand that.

 

I wonder if that’s why breastfeeding is a more common biblical context for breasts than sex.

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