Milk of Kindness

Breastfeeding helps babies learn to love not just their mothers, but God.

If God Almighty came to you and said, “I myself have designed a special food that will strengthen your baby’s body and develop his brain, which will comfort him and cheer his heart, and lay the foundation for his lifetime health and well-being. I have given this food into your keeping; I have placed it in your body; it is my loving provision for your child”—who would reply, “No thanks, no divine gifts, I’d rather give him a can of Similac”?

Personally embodied nourishment is not only good for the body; it is good for the soul. It is (as some Christians would put it) proto-sacramental.

Mother’s milk promotes sanctity? From the infant’s point of view, yes. Look at it this way. What are we here for? What is the purpose of human life? It is “to know, love, and serve God in this world, and to be happy with him in the next.” It is to love and to be loved.

And how do young humans learn to love? One would think this would be one of the core concerns of theology: studying, with sustained attention, on our knees, the process by which a child learns to give and receive love.
How does the child learn love? Where are the foundations laid? At his mother’s breast. According to the research brought together in Fr. William Virtue’s philosophically rich and cheering book, Mother and Infant, breastfeeding teaches the tiniest infant some immensely important lessons: (1) that the universe is good; (2) that he has personal power: the power to elicit a response; and (3) that his deepest needs and appetites can be satisfied in a committed relationship with one loving person.

Did I say “the universe”? From the infant’s point of view, yes. The newborn’s sight, generally hazy and undefined, is designed to come to a focus at one specific distance: 8 to 12 inches, not much more and not less. Why 8 to 12 inches? Because that’s the distance from a nursling’s eyes to his mother’s face while he is being cradled at her breast. Increasingly, within weeks of birth, he’s not looking at her breast. He’s looking at her eyes.

She fills his whole range of vision; she satisfies his hunger and thirst, succors him with warmth and comfort; the timbre of her voice (the higher female tone) is precisely the range of frequencies his ears are fine-tuned to hear. She is his universe: To the nursling, she is the Immensity.


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