Please, Breastfeed in Sacrament Meeting (or wherever you want)

World Breastfeeding Week is August 1-7. Let’s get ready to celebrate!

You probably saw in the news last month that the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its breastfeeding guidelines – suggesting that women should be encouraged to breastfeed till their babies are two years old. But, the AAP says that there are some things society needs to do to make that happen:

“Policies that protect breastfeeding, including universal paid maternity leave; the right of a woman to breastfeed in public; insurance coverage for lactation support and breast pumps; on-site child care; universal workplace break time with a clean, private location for expressing milk; the right to feed expressed milk; and the right to breastfeed in child care centers and lactation rooms in schools are all essential to supporting families in sustaining breastfeeding.”

This is an equity issue. As the AAP put it:

“White, Hispanic or Latino and Asian families initiate breastfeeding at higher rates than the Black population in the United States, according to the 2018 National Immunization Survey (NIS) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Similar disparities are also seen among mothers with low income (participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children [WIC]); younger women ( younger than 20 years); and those with a high school education or less. The policy statement calls for addressing implicit bias, structural bias, and structural racism to eliminate disparities in breastfeeding and improve the health and well-being of all children and families.”

I’ve had three babies with very different breastfeeding experiences based on my work, my environment, and my church:

Baby #1

  • Born in 2011 in Provo, UT
  • Every nursing mom I knew nursed their babies under covers and in hiding
  • I was working on my Master’s degree at BYU and had no maternity leave (but felt grateful baby was born in the summer). The days when I had to be at school I trekked across campus to one of the few designated breastfeeding rooms to pump – often struggling to carry/balance my school work and all my pump parts and ice and cooler and everything
  • I remember a family party with my husband’s extended family where upon entering I was shown a quiet secluded room to breastfeed. This felt nice and thoughtful to me. I never considered how odd it was that I was expected to leave everyone at the party to nurse
  • Baby was fully weaned by 4 months

Baby #2

  • Born in 2014 in Eugene, OR
  • Every nursing mom I knew nursed their babies wherever and whenever they wanted – except the Mormon moms. Just the Mormon moms made sure their boobs were well hidden
  • I worked at an exceptionally baby-friendly work environment where my nursing baby was welcome to come to work with me and all my coworkers loved her
  • I had untreated postpartum depression
  • When the baby was a couple months old I was nursing her in the church mother’s room along with far too many women for the tiny closet of a room to accommodate (women were on the floor). I came home and sent my bishop a super friendly email explaining the situation and asking if there was another room that could be made into the nursing room. He said he’d talk to the stake president and figure it out. The next week I walked in and someone had pushed the 2 rocking chairs against the wall so they couldn’t rock and put out folding chairs lined up right next to each other. The chairs were so close to each other that babies would kick each others heads if anyone tried actually nursing in those chairs. My first thought was, “I was so stupid for thinking that a simple email would solve this problem.” The bishop saw me in the hallway and told me he’d been told the issue had been taken care of. I explained how awful the solution was. The guy who had put the chairs in walked by feeling proud of himself and saying he’d fixed the problem. I told him the problem wasn’t fixed. He suggested women nurse in the bathroom or their cars. I cried. And I told the bishop, “Kate Kelly was just excommunicated for saying there is inequality in the church. This is that inequality. Women aren’t allowed to make decisions about the building so we’re stuck here.”
  • I decided it was ridiculous the only place I wasn’t nursing a baby in public was at our so-called “family-centered” church. I started nursing anywhere I felt like at church (which, unsurprisingly, never happened to be the bathroom or the church parking lot) and I never entered the nursing room again.
  • Baby was fully weaned at 11 months 

Baby #3

  • Born in 2021 in Eugene, OR
  • Every nursing mom I knew nursed wherever they felt like. Except probably some Mormon moms, but I wasn’t going to church because of the pandemic so I really didn’t care.
  • When I did go back to church, I still didn’t care and nursed wherever the heck I wanted. There’s something that’s been liberating for me about having a baby in my 30s (compared to my 20s). I really just don’t care what other people think of my parenting practices
  • I worked with my doctor and mental health therapist to really get my PPD under control so that it was quite unnoticeable after a couple months postpartum
  • I was in a PhD program at the University of Oregon and my graduate employee job allowed me 6 full weeks of paid maternity leave plus another month of unpaid leave. Then, because of the pandemic, I was 100% working from home for the first 6 months, then still spent a lot of time at home after those six months (only going to campus for a few hours a couple days a week). I had a nanny who brought the baby to me whenever she needed to nurse. The facilities manager on campus made sure I had a private office with a mini fridge inside for the days I did need to pump
  • The baby is now 17 months old and still nursing

Just as the AAP suggested, paid maternity leave and flexible work environments definitely helped me breastfeed longer. The AAP also mentioned the “right of a woman to breastfeed in public” as an important aspect of all this. I’ve always had that right, but I think additionally having that norm has helped immensely. I found Oregon to be much more friendly to breastfeeding moms than Utah was 11 years ago – except at church. At church, I realized that to make breastfeeding a norm, I couldn’t comply when that old white guy told me to nurse in a bathroom. 

As the AAP suggested in their report: This is a feminist issue. This is a socioeconomic issue. This is a race equity issue. We need to be willing to make this the norm.

So, for me, I’m nursing in Sacrament Meeting – week after week after week. No matter what any old white guys say.

Her shirt says “Not fragile like a flower, fragile like a bomb”


Miriam is a professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Memphis where she studies children impacted by incarceration and children at risk of future incarceration. She lives with her husband and three daughters.

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27 Responses

  1. Matthew Whitney says:

    Most important thing I can say: Your baby us SUPER CUTE!!

    • Miriam says:

      Thank you! I should have posted an updated picture of her this week since she’s now 17 months. She broke her leg this week though and has a giant cast. Poor baby!

  2. Fairy says:

    Thirty years ago I nursed my babies in sacrament meeting every week. The only time I was especially careful was when the deacons were passing the sacrament. I never had anyone complain or even notice. I did put a very thin blanket over my shoulder. No one ever said a thing.

    • Miriam says:

      You know, despite that I was told to nurse in the bathroom or my car, I’ve never had anyone complain that I’m nursing in the middle of Sacrament. So that’s lucky!

  3. Beth Young says:

    Great essay and needs to be addressed in every building and every council. Of course, “boobs are porn,” so there’s that. SMH Back in the early 90s, I nursed in Ward Council. “Either that or release me, but Sam needs to eat and this meeting is at mealtime.” No one gawked, no one said a word. I had a dress that accomodating not flashing the rest of the council, but bringing Sam was part of the routine. Nursed him for three years. It felt like a respite from having to sit through boring talks. I’d claim, “gotta go nurse,” and I was outta there. lol

  4. Lizzie says:

    My first baby started out like your baby #2. We were in a crowded ward in a crowded chapel and the mothers room was so full every week. The meeting was piped in there but everyone chatted so much that you couldn’t hear. And it smelled like poop because the changing table/ room was right next to it. Then our ward split and I, in my postpartum depressed antisocial state, found solace in spending not only sacrament meeting but most of church by myself in the much bigger mothers room in our new chapel. Then we moved to Mexico. On our first Sunday in the new ward, I went out during the meeting in search of the mothers room. I asked a woman about it and she gave me a confused look and directed me to the bathroom. I looked around and eventually found a bench in the back of the bathroom, which I later learned was just the font changing area. I nursed there exactly once, because I later observed that all the women just nursed where they were. They participated in the meetings while nursing. It wasn’t a big deal. Clearly, the mothers room was an American thing. When we moved back to the US and I had my third baby, I didn’t bother even trying to find the mothers room. Thankfully, no one ever said anything to me about it, but I’m pretty sure by that point, with two other young children underfoot and a husband who was often out of town, nothing would have made me go back to the mothers room.

  5. tklein9 says:

    Here is another side of baby-caring: where do the fathers go when they want to quiet a fussy child?? When you need a quiet and darkish room to calm the baby? And every room is being used it seems. With my second child luckily there were two of us at church and a large “mother’s” room so we two sets of parents just agreed that ANY parent could use it and we moms breastfed wherever because breastfeeding babies are quiet and calm and do not disrupt meetings.

  6. JC says:

    I’m disgusted that the mothers in your second experience had to sit on the floor to nurse their babies because the mother’s room was too small. It’s inexcusable that these rooms are so small and unfriendly to nursing mothers in the first place. Is it really such a surprise that these rooms and church buildings as a whole are designed by men with no input from women? Of course the men thought the problem was solved by shoving the rockers up against the wall and adding more hard, cold fold-up chairs into the room. I couldn’t have rolled my eyes harder if I tried when I saw that the stake president, bishop, and the man who put the folding chairs in and made the problem worse were patting themselves on the back for a job well done.

    My sister, aunts, cousins who have children, and friends who have children have all taken to nursing their babies in the chapel during Sacrament Meeting and anywhere else in the building but the mother’s room and bathroom. Honestly, who would want to feed their baby in a dark, small, smelly room with poor ventilation? The thought of nursing mothers being expected to feed their babies in cramped, dark rooms filled with and smelling of human waste is gross to me. It’s the equivalent of everyone else expecting nursing mothers to nurse their babies in public bathrooms to avoid discomfort. Well, what about the mother’s discomfort over being expected to feed her baby in the narrow stall of a seldom-cleaned public bathroom also smelling of and filled with human waste? What about the discomfort of her baby?

    The lack of proper breast feeding accommodations in 2022 really is proof of how much society devalues, belittles, and looks down on mothers.

    Also: ever notice how people are so quick to throw a tantrum over mothers feeding their children without nursing covers because of what it might do to teenage boys and men, but have no issue with them viewing billboards, commercials, and print advertising with scantily clad women who are only wearing their underwear and are practically naked?

    • Miriam says:

      Last spring my nephew had a high school choir concert in a protestant church building. My baby started getting fussy so I left the concert and stumbled into their nursing room. It was amazing! It was huge, for starters. It had a TV so I could watch the whole concert. It had a crib, several comfortable rocking chairs, a shelf with some baby-oriented books and toys, extra diapers/wipes, extra onesies, a sink and mirror. I’m sure women helped design this amazing room for moms to take their babies!

  7. Lisa K Shumway says:

    I nursed my first to 14 months then weaned. I pumped and was working at the time. I know I would have nursed to 2 years if I had been given the permission the ADA is now given.

    My 2nd is autistic. I had no choice but to nurse him to 4 and half, right on through my 3rd pregnancy. My other choice was to never sleep. My third and 4th got the same privilege.

    My 5th has a heart condition and never had the strength to nurse. I pumped for him for 14 months.

    I never could nurse “modestly”. If I could I did, but I put priority on the babies not the missionaries’ reactions.Still, my active babies pushed the blankets back immediately. I tried to nurse anyway.

    Nursing isn’t sex. It’s eating, and is necessary. Moms shouldn’t have to supplement or hide to be at church. Still, a quiet place to focus on baby is awesome.

    I loved it and would do it all again ❤️

    • Miriam says:

      I love this line you said, “I put priority on the babies not the missionaries’ reactions”
      Should be so obvious!

    • Miriam says:

      “Nursing isn’t sex”
      i can’t decide whether that line makes me laugh or cry. Laugh because it’s so proposterous to think that, but cry because for some reason people do think that!

    • gameking77 says:

      I’m autistic, but my mom never breastfed me.

      • Lisa K Shumway says:

        Each little one is different and so are autistic little ones and their parents. My son’s autism is accompanied by Sensory Defensiveness. He was super sensitive to motion and touch, so I could never just lay him down to sleep. I never tried bottle feeding him, so maybe it would have been different if that had been my approach.

  8. Katie Ludlow Rich says:

    I didn’t expect this to bring up so many feelings for me, but it did. I also had a baby in Provo in 2011 and likewise struggled to breastfeed in a place that actively shamed women for breastfeeding in public. Not even in Relief Society was it welcome, in part because at least two different Provo wards I attended had a counselor in the bishopric who liked to just “sit in” on Relief Society. And I remember many returned missionaries from cultures where breastfeeding was public and on demand, even in church or in missionary discussions, and they’d come back with an attitude not of how normal and natural that is, but how hopefully that will change to be more like the American model of private and separate.

    • Miriam says:

      I hope Provo has changed in the past 11 years, but I have no idea since I’ve been away. Interesting to me that while I was immersed in that culture, I just went along with it without questioning it

  9. Mina says:

    I grew up (in the 70s and 80s) in a Western Massachusetts ward that did NOT have a mothers lounge. Babies were nursed in whatever room the mom needed to be in at the moment. I never thought anything of it. No one did, from what I could tell. Babies need to eat, moms need to participate in sacrament meeting and other classes. So it was a culture shock when I had my first baby at age 20 in Southern California. You nursed only in the lounge (even during RS!) My MIL would come sit with me when I nursed at family dinners so I wouldn’t feel alone. Because the option of nursing at the table or with the family was not even thought of. I just did what I was told, though I thought I’d was absolute insanity. I got bolder at fighting this as I had children at older ages, but even growing up with healthy breastfeeding norms did not prepare me to advocate for myself and my child right off.

    • Miriam says:

      It’s hard when you’re in the postpartum stage to suddenly feel like you have to advocate for yourself! It’s not a time that I’ve felt much like advocating. It really should just be the norm!

    • tklein9 says:

      Ooh, I think there were only three buildings at the time! Then a rented one, too, for a while; I think it was normally a YWCA? One had a mother’s room above and behind the chapel until they turned it into an office. It had windows that allowed you to see the chapel and speakers to listen. As a child I wanted to hang out in that room with my fussy young siblings because you could walk around and still see and listen. Another was a standard building, Meh. I do not remember the third because I think I was only there once. I remember great sadness when the need for office space trumped a room for babies.

  10. Em says:

    I missed the sacrament for 7 months with baby #2 because he needed to nap then for us to make it through three hours of church. I recently brought up this problem to my bishop who endorsed asking a yw to stand outside the room to ensure women got the sacrament. But the stake president shot it down. That’s a whole story.

    My experience at the U of O was very different. I was an adjunct so I had a big teaching load with no benefits. There is a nice breastfeeding room in my department but I was teaching a10 minute walk away in a building that ised to be the basketball court. The space under the bleachers was my classroom. The ceiling was 5’7” at the lower end. Let’s call it cozy. I taught 80 minute courses back to back with a 40 minute break between. But if you take out the time to pack up my stuff, deal with student questions, walk a total of 20 minutes and set up again, I couldn’t possibly pump. The only “private “ place would have been a gym bathroom that was 50 years old. And i don’t think it has outlets. Not coincidentally we were fully on formula about a month into the term.

    At least Eugene is super breast friendly. I nursed any ol place with no cover and it was never weird or awkward.

    • Miriam says:

      Yikes, that is a much different uo experience. So sorry to hear!

      But you are right, eugene is super breast friendly

  11. Abby Hansen says:

    I made a Facebook post back in 2012, asking if anyone really cared if I just nursed in Sacrament Meeting. I had a baby coming, two little kids I’d have to drag out with me, and a husband gone work military service. The responses were somewhat divided, but the verdict was “That’s inappropriate, even if you are so discreet no one notices, so yes – you are expected as a young mom to drag yourself, a baby, all of your stuff, and two small children to the opposite side of the church building to feed your baby.”

    I said, “Okay, just checking in case I was making it up in my head that anyone cared. I’ll for sure leave the meeting with all of my kids to nurse.”

    And now, ten years later, I can’t believe I just rolled over and took that insane request as reasonable because I do not believe it was anymore!

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