Sunday, May 10, 2015

Bringing my Breastfed Baby to Church

Last Sunday as we were preparing to go to church, Daddy A asked me: "So, are we bringing Z with us?" Because I was PMS-ing, I immediately and emphatically explained why we had to leave her to the care of the nanny this time. 

Z with her grandma

You see, since giving birth, I have slipped and became a "Catholic of convenience", if there ever is such a term. I was quick to justify my situation - a super tired, sleep-deprived, breastfeeding mom who gave birth thru c-section to a then-super-fussy baby. Hence for a few months I really wasn't able to go to church. I was lucky if I caught the Sunday Mass on TV. My prayer life was so low that time and I just felt so far from God. This is something that I deeply regret. [Eeeep! Sorry Mom!]

When I "returned" ehrm I mean started to attend regularly, we did not always bring Z. Again, the decision always depended on external factors - is it too warm, does it look like it's gonna rain, is she ill (she might catch a bug), am I PMS-ing, are we bringing a car or just walking, etc. This, despite the fact that she was baptized already.

But I guess God does have His ways. For some strange reason, I was debating within myself if it was indeed the right thing to do. Should I bring my 16-month toddler to hear mass when she doesn't even understand any of it yet? At best she would just point to all the statues and say "Shsus" for Jesus or "Amen". During more challenging times she would want to go up in her carrier or ask for a breastfeeding session or even wriggle her way from our grasp as she tries to show off her walking skills. This is something that we always weigh - going to mass in peace or having to also bear with judgment on parenting style; i.e., "ay, she's big na but is still breastfeeding" or "poor baby in the carrier, kawawa ka naman". Especially on the breastfeeding part because Filipino culture in general would tsk-tsk on mothers breastfeeding in public. What more if done inside the church? Even if you are well-covered and doing it discreetly, you might be charged of 'causing others to sin.'

Or of course I can make it easier for all of us if we leave her at home with grandma or with the help. That way, we'd be able to really listen, understand and participate in the Eucharistic celebration. Z would get her play time at home or catch up on sleep as she needs it. She'll be dry, safe and comfy; and us, adults, can focus more on the mass rather than fussing over the baby. And of course, our fellow parishioners wouldn't be distracted too by a playing or breastfeeding little one. I know, believe me I used to be one who would cringe when children go ballistic in church and mumble to myself, "why do they keep bringing noisy kids here?" Haaay...sabi nga nila, umiikot ang gulong ng palad..hahaha :)

I was further intrigued by the priest's homily in which he shared a story that ran very much parallel to what we were going through. So I proceeded  to see what others thought about this dilemma. Let me just say that most of the things I've read were positive and reassuring. Allow me to share them with you and I hope this convinces you too that our children have a place in Church...and not just in the nursery :)

1. On Breastfeeding Babies in Church

Pope Francis himself encourages us, mothers, to feel free to feed our crying babies:


"Today the choir will sing but the most beautiful choir of all is the choir of the infants who will make a noise. Some will cry because they are not comfortable or because they are hungry," he said in a familiar, relaxed tone to the parents. 
Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel are some of the world's most celebrated works of art. The ceiling depicts the creation of man and the altar wall shows a severe God at the Last Judgment. But the pope told the mothers not to feel intimidated by the surroundings. 
"If they are hungry, mothers, feed them, without thinking twice. Because they are the most important people here," he said... [SOURCE: http://www.cbc.ca]
Image Courtesy of: www.cbc.ca
The Pope also used breastfeeding as an analogy to feed humanity:

Pope Francis has expressed his support of breast feeding in public. 

In an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa, the first Jesuit Pope linked topics including recycling food and wastefulness to breastfeeding: saying mothers should not be ashamed to feed their hungry babies. 

He expressed his view via the story of a young mother who attended his weekly Papal General Audience. 
He described how as he approached the mother, her child was “crying its eyes out” with hunger and so he asked her to “please give it something to eat!” 
He continued: “She was shy and didn't want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing. I wish to say the same to humanity: give people something to eat!” [SOURCE: http://www.independent.co.uk]

2. On Parents' Important Role in Bringing up Children in Faith

In Baptism the child is welcomed to the Catholic faith. Let us remember that it doesn't stop there. As parents, we too have responsibilities to help ensure they grow in faith. The operative word here is to grow. I guess it's fair to reason out that we must start to nurture and guide them in their faith starting from early childhood; I mean, we cannot just expect them to just start living their faith starting on an appointed date or age if they haven't been really living it out.

From St. Alphonsus Mary de Liguori Parish' Baptism Guide

3. On Why we SHOULD Bring Baby to Church

Okay, this post by Dr. Greg on patheos.com is probably the most enlightening blog I've read on the matter. It also offers some tips on how to plan, prepare and manage having our children with us in church. The most notable ones that were mentioned on Dr. Greg's blog are the following (edited for brevity):
1.  "As far as Catholics are concerned, babies are not merely tolerated.  They have a right to be in Church.  IF YOU ARE BAPTIZED, YOU BELONG.  PERIOD.  END OF STORY." (SOURCE: patheos.com)
2.  "As a matter of Catholic social teaching, it is the duty of every Catholic to support the mission of the family to raise godly children.  Failure to do so is a serious offense against both charity and the dignity of the family..." (SOURCE: patheos.com)
3.  "While I respect the intention behind it, a parent who leaves a child at home “until they are old enough” is being unjust regarding the child’s religious education.  Education begins unconsciously before it begins consciously.  Your baby or toddler needs to be given the opportunity to learn the rhythm, sights, sounds, and smells of the Mass before he is conscious enough to understand the Mass.  Robbing a child of the sensory education makes catechesis that much harder later on.  Spirituality is primarily a sensory call (from God) that leads to a transformative response.  Robbing a child of that early sensual experience of God and His Church is a very serious impediment to future catechesis and spiritual development." 
(SOURCE: patheos.com) ---> This is the point that struck me the most. I highlighted everything for emphasis.
4.  "...there is a difference between a fussing baby and a screaming baby.  As a matter of courtesy to the other worshippers, parents should always remove a child who is being loud and cannot be consoled after about a minute or so..."
(SOURCE: patheos.com---> Yes, we must still be sensitive to the rights of other parishioners.

4. Because Jesus Himself said so :)

13Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them.14But Jesus said, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." 15After laying His hands on them, He departed from there.

Luke 18:16 | Jesus Blesses the Children
15And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. 16But Jesus called for them, saying, "Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.17"Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all."


Mommy Meowmeow's Tips to Minimize & Manage Fussy Time in Church

1. Make sure that they've had a feeding (breast, bottle, or solids) and that you have some snacks and drinks on hand just in case they get hungry again.

2. Dress them appropriately for church. If it's too warm, opt for cotton materials and if it's cold, bring a sweater, bonnet, etc. If the weather is really terrible, use your own judgment if you should still proceed or wait for the next best schedule.

3. Bring church-appropriate toys. For my baby we bring small board books and a little stuffed toy. We try to avoid bringing noisy toys, as much as possible.

4. Breastfeeding? If you want to do it discreetly, it's better to prepare by wearing a breastfeeding top and breastfeeding bra. I guess this will also help deter wandering eyes or unwanted attention (when we're just feeding baby, i know!). If it's too warm and baby hates nursing covers, just bring an extra towelette to cover the extra bit of skin that could possibly show.

5. Try baby wearing! It has been our life-saver when Z is fussy. Also when I want to nurse ever so discreetly. And especially if she's really knocked-down asleep!

6. Do advanced reading. I'm so thankful for Fr. Francis Salcedo who generously shares his homily on Facebook. If I'm able to read in advance, I'm also able to understand and reflect better. And not feel too guilty that I didn't 'get anything' out of the mass because of the fussy times. Thank you so much Fr. Francis!

Let us remember that as parents, it is one of our responsibilities to catechize our children, teach them our prayers, lead them to the frequent reception of the sacraments (especially the Eucharist) and know and live our Christian faith so we can set a good example for our children.

I know that putting this out on the blog is just one step. Being prepared means it is more manageable but it doesn't automatically make it easier. That's why I hope we can pray for all families especially for those with very young children that they'll be able to 'return' to church and to attend Mass as a family.

To my Baby Z, I'm sorry for the times we left you at home just so we can all be comfy. They are right. Once babies have been baptized (I actually believe that it also applies even before the baptism), they should not be merely tolerated in church. Dear Z, you belong, you will always be included.

Image courtesy of www.jesuspictures.co


Jesus Blesses the Children (Luke 18:16)
15And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. 16But Jesus called for them, saying, "Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.17"Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all." (Online source: biblehub.com)


So, what age did you finally bring your baby to church? Drop us a note in the comment box if you have more ideas on minimizing and managing fussy time. :)


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