We know that Pope Francis has supported breastfeeding women (even in church) and Our Lady offers a beautiful example of motherly love when she’s depicted nursing in the tradition of Christian art. There is wonderful encouragement for nursing mothers in our faith, but some of us still face difficult challenges when we try to breastfeed.
As a mama who has struggled with breastfeeding, I was thrilled when my dear friend Mandi Richards offered to share a post with my readers about saints for nursing mamas. I had never associated nursing with some of the saints she introduces and what wonderful intercessors for mamas to befriend! So here are some saints for nursing mothers to get to know brought to you by Mandi:
The Blessed Mother
The woman who nursed Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary surely has a soft spot for the cries of nursing mothers in distress! Under the title of Our Lady of La Leche, which is associated with the image of Mary breastfeeding the Christ Child, many Catholics ask of Mary the blessing of motherhood and help with childbirth and breastfeeding. An image of Our Lady of La Leche would be a lovely addition to the little oratory of a family with a nursing mother and a testament to the beauty of the nursing relationship. (And you can read about Haley’s trip to the shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine, FL if you’d like to find out more.)
An early Christian martyr and noblewoman, St. Perpetua kept her infant son with her in prison so she could continue to nurse him while waiting for execution. As a mother who was torn from her son’s life at such a young age, I imagine she cherished their nursing relationship and the ability it gave her to continue to nourish her child in her last days. Her companion, St. Felicity, was a slave who was pregnant while imprisoned and gave birth to her daughter shortly before being sent to the arena. Both these women would make excellent patrons for new mothers. After being deprived of the ability to mother their children on earth, I am sure they delight in watching out for little ones from above.
Bl. Zelie Martin
Unable to breastfeed her children (including her youngest, St. Therese of Lisieux), the only option available to Bl. Zelie Martin in the last half of the 19th century was to send them away to live with wet nurses during their infancy. Imagine how she must have felt, having to live far from her infant children (many who died during their time away) because she was unable to breastfeed! A jewel of a Saint (well, soon to be Saint – she’ll be canonized in October!), after reading The Mother of the Little Flower, I think she’s the perfect patroness for the modern mother, especially for working moms (she ran her own lace business), mothers of strong-willed children, and, obviously, those with breastfeeding issues.
Perhaps an odd anecdote for modern ears, St. Bernard is associated with a miracle of lactation. Various paintings depict this legend, in which the Virgin Mary sprays breast milk at St. Bernard while nursing Baby Jesus during a vision. This is done in response to his request, “Show me that you are a human mother.” Apparently, at the time the divine nature of Jesus was well accepted but his human nature was much more contested. By showing that she did in fact produce breast milk (and therefore Christ required the nourishment of breast milk, just like any other child) she assured St. Bernard of His human nature. This action was also representative of Mary’s spiritual motherhood of St. Bernard and all mankind. Surely St. Bernard understands the miracle of breastfeeding and would gladly intercede for all nursing mothers.
That the official patron Saint of breastfeeding is a man is a bit puzzling but the fact that there is such a patron at all is a testament to the fact that the Catholic Church supports nursing mothers. St. Giles was a hermit in Southern France in the late 7th/early 8th century. Legend says that he survived many years living solely on the milk from a hind (a female deer), thus the (somewhat odd) connection with nursing. Though I’m not sure this male hermit had all that much experience with breastfeeding in his lifetime, I’m sure he has much experience praying for nursing mothers since he was named their patron.
Mandi is coming up on five years of marriage, mothers a high-energy preschooler, and is about to embark on her fifth out-of-state move in five years. She loves fancy cheeses, cheap red wine, Jeopardy, and war history. After four consecutive miscarriages, she’s expecting another baby in November. Read her thoughts on miscarriage and pregnancy after loss at A Blog About Miscarriage.