Today I found this post in my drafts–from 12/17/2013! I’m not sure why I never published it, but here it is.
After church this past Sunday, while sitting in our church library waiting for my two younger children as they participated in the rehearsal for children’s choir, I picked up the book “The Shaping of a Christian Family” by Elisabeth Elliot. I had read some of it in a previous week, and I felt saddened to see some of her comments about babies. So I picked it up again to re-read her words and decided to write about them. I don’t have the book in front of me, but I jotted down a couple quotes. In the chapter on “Courtesy,” page 166, she says:
To parents is given the holy task of teaching their children not to yield to selfishness but to learn the mystery of charity, which means self-giving sacrificial love. This is a profound concept, the groundwork for which is the elementary lesson that the world does not revolve around me. It is not too soon to begin this lesson on the baby’s first day at home.
On the next page she shares that she fed her baby on-demand, as did her daughter with her first, as I recall, five children, until she learned, what she felt, was a better way. Elisabeth wrote that, “When my daughter’s babies came she had been well indoctrinated with La Leche League’s humanistic philosophy of on-demand feeding.”
I don’t understand the belief that feeding a baby when they are hungry, and nursing for comfort, is a humanistic philosophy. Different people will define humanism differently, but keep in mind, she believes that it being a humanistic philosophy is a really bad thing. I remember growing up being taught that being humanistic is something you absolutely want to avoid, that it’s against the Bible and what God teaches. The first definition of “humanism” listed in The Free Dictionary is “A system of thought that rejects religious beliefs and centers on humans and their values, capacities, and worth.” A quick Google of the phrase “secular humanism” brought up this definition: “humanism, with regard in particular to the belief that humanity is capable of morality and self-fulfillment without belief in God.”
It honestly doesn’t make sense to me that she would correlate on-demand feeding, or what I now hear more commonly called “on-cue” feeding, as something that would be against God and what He teaches. To feed a hungry baby, to comfort a distressed baby, these are things I believe with my whole being that God wants us to do. These are things that point to our gracious God and Savior, not things that elevate humans to a level they do not belong. On the contrary, I believe that nursing on-cue is part of His design and desire for babies and mothers, that it helps ensure that a baby will have enough breastmilk, and that it helps nurture the bond, through building closeness and mutual trust, between a mother and her baby.
I see nothing in the Bible that would lead me to believe that nursing a baby when they want to nurse is a “humanistic philosophy.” In I Peter 2:2 we read that we are to, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word” (KJV). Think of how much a newborn baby loves and needs to nurse and then think of how much God wants us to desire His word. In comparing the two things in this way, can the conclusion be drawn that desiring milk that fervently must be something a baby needs to learn is not appropriate? No way.
On one hand there is the belief that you need to make your baby wait, that you need to put them on a schedule, so that they know you are in charge and so they learn that they aren’t the center of their world. Some believe that the sooner they realize this the better.
On the other hand is the belief that modeling for a little one sacrificial giving, listening to them and meeting their needs responsively, will help them learn, not that “the world revolves around me,” but that they are important, loved, listened to, that when we love someone we listen to them and don’t ignore them, we respond to their needs and meet them the best that we can. Our example to them models empathy, sensitivity, caring, and concern for others, and in turn helps nurture those beautiful traits in our children.
They won’t always be so needy. It’s a season of life they are passing through, and as such there are special needs at that age, and we can and should nurture them in a special way when they are babies. As babies they are new to this world and helpless, and by responding to them and meeting their needs the best we can as they share those needs with us, we help them learn to communicate better and build trust and understanding in our relationship with them.
Comforting our babies at our breast, feeding them when they are hungry is good and points them to God, not away from Him. In Isaiah 66:11, God, comparing Jerusalem to a nursing mother, says, “For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance“ (NIV). And in Isaiah 66:13, our Lord, our perfect example of a loving parent, goes on to say, “. . . As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (NIV).
I encourage each mother to answer your baby’s cries, to feel free to nurse as much as your little one desires, to go ahead and comfort your little one at your breast. Psalm 22:9b says, “. . . you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast” (NIV), and we can feel confident that it points our children to, not away, from our loving and compassionate Savior, and that it’s part of His design.