Because this is a sensitive topic, I composed most if it before the Blessed Sacrament during Eucharistic adoration. This post is my response to a letter I received a few days ago.
Breastfeeding is part of God's design for His children. During pregnancy, a woman begins to produce colostrum and some are even able to express a bit of it. Then after birth, a woman's body produces colostrum and then gradually mature milk (in most cases). If this were not the case, the human race would have died out long ago. The manufacturing of suitable breast milk substitutes is a modern phenomenon. Formula is a godsend for women who are unable to produce a full milk supply or even a partial supply and for those rare situations when breastfeeding is contraindicated or unavailable.
Several popes, including Saint Pope John Paul II publicly supported breastfeeding during their papacies. Pope Francis I continues to support breastfeeding during this current papacy. Also, several bishops and parish priests have publicly supported breastfeeding over the years including Fr. Sauppe with his Theotokos chaplet that he so beautifully composed and the Madonna chapel that he designed.
But is breastfeeding a moral duty? Fr. Virtue makes this case in his dissertation, Mother and Infant. He states that "...maternal breastfeeding is the norm of nature to ensure good mothering and optimum development of the child, and hence a serious moral obligation of mothers." What is meant by "serious moral obligation?" What Fr. Virtue means is that breastfeeding should not be trivially avoided, not that it is sinful to not breastfeed. I believe that is the key here - breastfeeding is so important that the decision to breastfeed or not breastfeed should be researched, discussed and prayed about. Most pregnant couples attend a series of at least four childbirth class sessions, read birth and parenting books, and spend time researching which car seat is best. Shouldn't they seriously discern whether or not to breastfeed?
That being said, there are so many variables involved in whether or not a mother successfully breastfeeds her baby. Support is a big factor. Without support, many women give up. That is one reason, the Catholic Nursing Mothers League was founded - to support and encourage Catholic women who breastfeed and to help parishes realize the importance of it. Pam Pilch talks about these breastfeeding subgroups in her article at http://www.catholicmom.com/pilch.01.htm. Various breastfeeding challenges that come up can also affect the success of the breastfeeding relationship especially when healthcare providers give out outdated info or readily suggest substituting formula. I, personally, had a doctor suggest that I stop breastfeeding my three month old baby, so I could take his first choice antibiotic (it turned out I really didn't need it). When I objected, he gave me his second choice which was compatible with breastfeeding. What if I was an inexperienced mother and had followed his initial advice? In addition, some parenting practices can often help or hinder the duration of breastfeeding. Also, those moms who need to work outside the house to provide for their families might face resistance from employers when wanting to pump during their legally mandated break times even though many states have laws protecting the right to pump. Then there is the situation of a woman who was previously abused and breastfeeding is just mentally and emotionally excruciating for her. We can never really know what is in someone else's heart or really understand what they have experienced in one's life.
Breastfeeding is best for mom and baby. It is what God intended for nourishing babies. Science and the Church both agree. Not only is it ideal but it is something you do not want want to miss out on! I will treasure all those years I breastfed my children for the rest of my life! If you, my dear reader, were unable to breastfeed your baby due to circumstances outside your control, know that you did your best and take some time right now to snuggle and love that little baby of yours! Also know that even if you were unable to breastfeed one baby, does not automatically mean you will definitely be unable to breastfeed another baby (depending on the situation).
I, personally, do not believe one has to breastfeed to be thoroughly Catholic, because this issue is not
totally black and white like mentioned above. However, I do think all Catholic mothers should research, discuss, and pray about the decision to breastfeed and not choose artificial breast milk substitutes for trivial reasons. Your baby deserves the best!