Breastfeeding in public just got another major endorsement from Pope Francis, who informed mothers they could breastfeed in the Sistine Chapel.
While presiding over the baptism of 33 babies, the Catholic leader told mothers of the infants, “You mothers give your children milk and even now, if they cry because they are hungry, breastfeed them, don’t worry.” During the mass, Pope Francis also discussed the harsh reality that impoverished mothers around the world are unable to feed their children.
Last year, the Pope took a similar stance. During the baptism of 32 infants in the Sistine Chapel, Francis said, “If they are hungry, mothers, feed them, without thinking twice. Because they are the most important people here.”
Indeed, the Pope’s second affirmation that breastfeeding in public is permissible harkens back to art depictions of the Madonna breastfeeding that were, historically, viewed as symbols of beauty. But public breastfeeding is still frowned upon in public spaces, and Francis’ vocal support of it, in one of the world’s historic religious sites, is the type of endorsement women can capitalize on.
While 46 U.S. states permit breastfeeding in public, women in those states are often forced to cover up or step inside a bathroom to feed their children. A woman shopping in a California Anthropologie was asked to breastfeed in the restroom. In Hawaii, a shelter threatened to eject a homeless mother with a 9-month-old baby if she did not cover up. A woman who was breastfeeding in church was likened to a stripper. And women are often shamed on social media, as was the case when an African American college student posted a photo of herself feeding her baby during her graduation ceremony.
To change the narrative that public breastfeeding is a source of shame, women across the country have staged nurse-ins, or public breastfeeding sessions, in stores, parks, and restaurants. The fight has also reached the internet. Last year, college students in Texas created an ad campaign featuring mothers breastfeeding their infants on the toilet. Although it was dubbed “obscene” by some, the students behind the campaign pointed to the degradation of women who are told to feed their babies in seclusion. And a #FreeTheNipple campaign criticized social media sites that permitted graphic photos of rape and violence, but prohibited photos pertaining to women’s health. Due in large part to activists’ pressure, Facebook and Instagram changed their nudity policies to allow pictures of women breastfeeding.