Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Breastfeeding Baby Jesus

By Danelle Frisbie © 2009

The video [bottom of page] is a glimpse into my current collection of breastfeeding baby Jesus images - paintings, statues, carvings, etc. We have about a hundred of them here in our Birth and Babies library that I've collected from around the world, but you can view 3 minutes worth in this clip. Somehow in my addiction to education I ended up with degrees in Human Health and Development (emphasis on birth and breastfeeding), Human Sexuality, and Religion. Mix those degrees, and you simply must study the subject of a breastfeeding baby Jesus at some point [as well as the fact that a Jewish-born Jesus was regularly depicted with what we would today call intact genitalia... but I'll save that for a later post].

Images of Mary breastfeeding Jesus were once ubiquitous in churches around the world. But eventually in North America, as the artificial feeding of babies became more popular, and the plastic bottle replaced the breast, our nipplephobia got the best of us and these sacred images all but disappeared from churches and art galleries in North America.

The first image in the collection is a mosaic made up of breastfeeding Jesus images. I'll highlight a few others here as well. I'd love to take you on an online 'tour' of all the images and stories behind them...but I still have my own mothering duties to perform for the day, so that will have to wait.

If you have an additional breastfeeding Mary image to share, I would love to add it to our collection.

This is just one of my favorites. Maybe because Mary is riding a donkey while breastfeeding Jesus. No hands! That takes some mighty fine balance. I'm not sure if I could accomplish the same. ;)

If you note during the song (video below), this image comes up with the words "heaven's perfect lamb." The image is one that is carved into the bottom of wooden pews at a church in South America. It is Mary nursing the perfect lamb coming down from Heaven.

Here, Mary nurses Jesus on one breast and a Saint on the other

This breastfeeding image is an Egyptian pantheon carving of the goddess, Isis and her son, Horan, that had the face of Mary carved into it by Christians who moved into the area, and then scratched out again centuries later.

This is the oldest known depiction of Mary and Jesus. It was found on the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome. Jesus is nursing at Mary's breast.

In this painting Mary is about to nurse Jesus, and Saint Bernard prays asking her to “Show that you are a human mother" ~ Monstra te esse matrem. It was readily accepted that Jesus was divine at this point in history, what needed to be 'proven' was that he was also human. This comes up in a lot of the art surrounding Jesus and Mary -- that he was not only divine, but also needed her milk for substance and that she was a 'regular' mother as any other. In this image, Mary responds to St. Bernard's prayer by squirting milk into his mouth. This painting is often called, "The Miracle of Lactation" and several images of this story exist.

The following is another example:

Breastmilk was seen as healing (which it is!) and miraculous in nature (which it also is!). In this painting (La Virgen dando su leche a las almas del purgatorio) by Pedro Machua, Jesus is at one breast while Mary feeds the souls in purgatory with her other breast. Those who drank her milk are redeemed and ascend into heaven.

I would love to have this nativity.
Anyone good with wood?

This statue is located above the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem ~ one of the many stops I plan to make on my lactivist pilgrimage around the world.

Jesus must have been at that easily-distracted age here ;)

Jesus as a red head?! And super pale skin...
I've always found it interesting how he is portrayed according to the norms within the culture that he is depicted within. I guess that is one beauty of art -- it can take form for the purposes that it needs to serve.

Imagine if we posted photos like this on Facebook! Not only breastfeeding our babes, but showing nipple AND momma's milk. And here we thought we were living in an 'emancipated' time...

Another favorite of mine

The following video is set to one of my favorite Christmas songs, "Mary, Did You Know?"



  1. Great blog, Danelle! I love it!

  2. LOVE! I didn't realize there were so many. lol at the one where the baby has pulled off and she's just holding her breast waiting for him to come back on. I feel ya, Mary :)

  3. I seem to remember reading at some point that medieval artists/theologians talked about images of the nursing Christ as representative not only of Christ and Mary, but of God's grace as well, because divine grace is given freely and abundantly, as a mother gives milk to her babe. That imagery -- along with that fundamental assumption about mothers and babies -- has, sadly, indeed been lost in modern North America!

  4. Very nice! But there is one painting where 'Baby Jesus' is twiddling the other nipple--NOOO! Not baby Jesus. Lol. Also one, where the 'baby Jesus' is pulling the nipple 4 inches out...Nooooo! (jk)

  5. hahaha!!! well all babies have 'The Need to Knead', I'm sure he did it a many times. I have to hide my other one from Robertico, drives me a little insane sometimes!!! lol

  6. I love these pictures!! There is a breastfeeding art website with a lot of the european art on it. It just shows how it is not obscene and I hear that he bit her nipples too :)

  7. Beautiful!! And I love that song :)

  8. Our Lady of La Leche, pray for us!!! :)

  9. Some of them where even toddler Jesus! Love it.

  10. These lovely images were once common, with the purpose being to remind people of the manifestation of God as fully and physically Man.

  11. I love your blog. Someone on Facebook had posted a link to it and now I find myself reading every post all the way through. Great Christmas post! Jesus was the most famous breastfed baby out there!

  12. Stunningly beautiful. What a perfect post to read on Christmas Eve!

    (I too especially love the wood carving.)

  13. Really beautiful. Thank you.

  14. Thank you so much for this beautiful video! Happy Holidays

  15. The art is beautiful, thank you. I have to say that the gradual disappearance of the 'maria lactans' art in our society in general is not, I dont think, due to 'nipplephobia' but to a sadder cause. I think the real reason is "Christ-phobia altogether and the replacing of religious symbols of the day with frosty the snowman and the like. For the record, most fine art museums are still proud to display such art.

  16. Very interesting, thank you for compiling! I need to at least make a sling for the playmobil Mary & Jesus we have - it really bothers me that Jesus is always left in the hay!

  17. Love the photos! Not a fan of the song because of the theological problems. "Father Suarez says, that the most holy Virgin had more faith than all men and angels. She saw her Son in the crib of Bethlehem , and believed him the creator of the world. She saw Him fly from Herod, and yet believed Him the King of kings. She saw Him born and believed Him eternal. She saw Him poor and in need of food, and believed Him the Lord of the universe. She saw Him lying on straw, and believed him omnipotent. She observed that He did not speak, and she believed him infinite wisdom. She heard Him weep, and believed Him the joy of Paradise . In fine, she saw him in death, despised and crucified, and, although, faith wavered in others, Mary remained firm in the belief that He was God."
    St. Alphonsus di Liguori, The Glories of Mary, (Tan Books),
    Beautiful page though!!! Fabulous Christmas gift to all of us.

  18. Amazing. Thank you so much for
    sharing these!!!!


  19. wait!! did you say the pictures show this sweet little Jewish boy looking INTACT?? (according to our understanding)Please direct me to this info!! as of now the only reason I can justify (other than the rare medical reasons, of course)is religious, and I would have to respect someone's sincerely held beliefs. But If there's another way to conform to the Jewish law without causing so much pain to the baby and to the man he will become, I would like to hear about it!

    btw - the nursing pics are wonderful,and the song is perfect with them!

  20. Mama K -
    What we now call 'circumcision' was not performed in the same manner in antiquity (or among many Jews the world over today). At that time it was a 'cutting of the blessing' - a very, very small slit made at the end of the penis to allow a few drops of blood to fall.

    "Cutting the Blessing" in antiquity was VERY different than today in modern U.S. culture where we amputate the entire prepuce organ. Hebrews and early Jews made a very tiny slit in the tip of the prepuce to allow for a few drops of blood to be shed as the blood sacrifice of the covenant. The Hebrew words used for the practice are "namal" and "muwl". In Hebrew, namal means 'to clip' - like one would clip the ends of our fingernails. Muwl means 'to curtail, to blunt'. Neither of these words mean "to cut" "to amputate" "to remove" "to cut off" etc. There were very different words in Hebrew to represent 'the cutting off' or 'the removal of'. The difference was obviously clear to people at the time.

    After all, you could not possibly amputate the prepuce organ in antiquity and expect the child to live! Even today we deal with a 1-in-3 rate of complications associated with prepuce amputation. At that time, babies would have hemorrhaged if this organ were removed, and if they lived through the blood loss, they would have died of disease.

    I will be writing an article on this subject that gets more in depth into the topic (and why Baby Jesus was always painted in what we would see as an intact fashion). He was, of course, born to Jewish parents and would have been subject to the 'namal' on his 8th day of life. Again, this means a tiny slit would have been made in the end of his prepuce to allow for the shedding drops of blood as a part of the covenant his parents had with YHVH [Yahweh]. If we (with our modern Western eyes) pour over these paintings of a naked baby Jesus, we would think that he was INTACT!! Why? Because the prepuce was NOT removed! It was not amputated. It was never 'cut off'.

    Ancient peoples never dreamed of doing away with an organ that was so useful, so important. The prepuce was regarded with such honor that it was thee organ seen as being most GOD-LIKE. Hence the reason it was the organ 'slit' for the blood letting as a sign that YHVH is the one "I" am trusting in...not my own 'god-like' member.

    When Jews in antiquity wanted to exorcise in the gymnasium (which was often done in the nude) they had to appear intact. Greeks only allowed intact men to participate in activities there. So, the prepuce was pulled down over the glans (head) of the penis, before going in. There were even little devices made to cover the scar from the slit in the prepuce end so that no one would be the wiser. None of this would have been possible if the entire prepuce were removed.

    'Circumcision' as we know it today began in the United States in an effort to curtail masturbation among boys and sexual exploits of our soldiers traveling overseas. Kellogg and Graham -- 2 of the big proponents of the 'new circumcision' methods knew that if you amputated the entire prepuce organ, it would remove a great deal of a man's sexuality and forever change his sexual experience (and greatly reduce pleasure). Somehow over the decades their technique continued, but parents who choose to do this to their sons are grossly unaware of where this prepuce amputation originated, or why.

    Prepuce amputation (circumcision) is NOT recommended by ANY medical or health organization in the entire world.

    Today many Jews (especially those in N. America) are opting for a Brit Shalom instead of harmfully amputating the prepuce of their newborn.



    Interestingly, a large percentage of the active intactivists (those who believe that all human beings deserve their basic right to bodily and genital integrity) are Jewish men and women. Including the Jewish physician who wrote the book, "What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Circumcision":

    You can read/learn more about this subject, and read/watch videos from other Jewish pediatricians, mothers, and fathers at the links under "Judaism & Circumcision":

    or for more information on religion and circumcision -- see also Christianity & Circumcision (circumcision was always banned/forbidden or discouraged among Christians):

    Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon is the Jewish filmmaker (with an orthodox rabbi father) of the highly informative documentary, "CUT: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision". (Watch/Buy Here: After spending years researching this topic and studying with some of the ‘experts’ in the fields of human sexuality, human health, religion, history, and genital cutting, he concluded, “Circumcision was a cure in search of a disease. When you look through history, you see that whatever the scary disease of the generation was, that was the one that circumcision would help prevent. So in the early 20th century it was syphilis, a scary disease that there was no cure for then. Later, it was cancer. Then UTIs, and now HIV.” As a Jewish man, strong in his faith, Ungar-Sargon chose NOT to cut his son.

    Male circumcision as we know it, and female circumcision in the United States actually share a VERY similar history. All the myths we now toss around concerning MGM, we once held about FGM.

    I wholeheartedly agree with what others (and Ungar-Sargon) have said — genital cutting and the amputation of a healthy, functioning body organ from a non-consenting human being is a severe violation of human rights. If we did such a thing to a dog, we would be charged with animal abuse. And what we do to babies due to our own ignorance is certainly more criminal than that.

    BTW - we have banned all forms of genital cutting of baby girls in the United States since the 1990s with our FGM Bill. This includes any genital cutting done for religious reasons on a non-consenting person. Don't baby boys deserve the same protection? This is what our MGM Bill would do ( There are many reasons that a large percentage of the developed world today has a ban on ALL forms of genital mutilation on non-consenting persons - no matter the reason. No human being is less valuable, or less deserving of basic human rights, simply because they were born with a larger prepuce organ.

  22. Beautiful! I would love to have some of these images in my home - they fit so well as I am a breastfeeding Catholic mother. Have you been to the shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in Florida? I went over the summer and it was so nice to sit and nurse my toddler there!! I have a small statue of Our lady of La Leche in my home as well. Any idea where one can order frame-worthy prints of Mary nursing baby Jesus?

  23. For other breastfeeding Mary images try on typing Madonna del latte, or Madonna latte (images is immagini in italian); there are many, unfortunately even with Mary is giving a CUP of milk to Jesus in the one on the gesuiti website. [There are books too, in italian, like Ecce Mother by Jacopo Cassigoli, or Madonna del Latte La sacralità umanizzata by Paolo Berruti. And even a place named Madonna del latte (near Lenola LT, Italy)]

  24. This is beautiful. Thank you so much, just found your blog and can't stop reading. Thank you again.

  25. Thanks for sharing this- I had no idea that Mary was depicted anywhere breastfeeding! One thing that has always bothered me about many lactation consultants, nurses and so forth is that they insist (sometimes on no uncertain terms) that a mom form a 'C' with her hand to hold the breast for the baby (thumb on top and fingers underneath the nipple). It was amusing to me to see that in several of these depictions she is holding her hand exactly the same way many untrained, successful nursing moms do- something that confirmed my suspicions that we have had to 'regulate' breastfeeding! I'll be glad to see a time when it is such the norm we don't feel the need to regulate mom's to do it the 'right' way but to just do what comes normally and naturally! Fun post! Thanks!

  26. These images of breastfeeding are wonderful. The fact that these images are religious art shows how accepted and 'normal' breastfeeding was at the time. I love your work. Your blog is excellent. I'm looking forward to your article on circumcision. Thank you for sharing this video.

  27. This is wonderful! I've seen a few of these (from your comments we seem to have similar taste), but I had no idea that there were so many... Sad that they're not more widely "out there" anymore.

    Thank you for this wonderful video, and all of your blog...

    And what was that lovely pencil drawing at the end of the video?

  28. Oh, wow!
    I found my way here by first finding the cool sling-video "BabyMamas", and ended up over here! Amazing pics! I make a little newsletter for our parish here in Sweden (Europe), and would love to use a few pics for it... How do I go about to do that?

  29. Gorel -

    feel free to use the pictures from this page. They are public works of art - no copyright - or photos that I took (which I grant you permission to use). If you are able to link to this page, that's great. And if you need additional photos, email me:

    My best, Danelle

  30. Thanks Danielle!
    I'll make sure to post plenty of links if I use them on our website too. One of our priest is a mother of four and member of the local LLL, she'll love the pics. As I did! :-)

  31. Love this! Thanks for sharing these images with us! The video was great, and one of my favorite holiday songs too. I love Kathy Mattea but that version was a nice contemporary version as well.

    I noticed (and probably because I just read an article on this recently) that he is almost always sitting upright while nursing. I wonder if that is why we have so many issues nursing in our country because we nurse in a cradle position almost always?

  32. Thanks so much for posting this! :) What an absolutely beautiful post.

  33. I really enjoyed looking through these photos this morning - i will be sharing with all my friends :)

    Thanks again they are beautiful!

  34. Thank you for creating the video montage, and to Youtube for hosting it. I uploaded some beautiful, not sensational, images of my wife breastfeeding our son to photobucket. They were soon deleted as they broke their TOS rules.

  35. Wonderful! My 10 yr old just sat down by me and watched this slide show with me, she loved all the different cultures and art depicting Mary breastfeeding baby Jesus and how Normal it is to breastfeed a baby! Love it!!!

  36. mary of agreda is a great book that talks about how Mary raised Jesus...thats my fav song too:)

  37. These are such beautiful photos - fun to see Jesus depicted several times as a red-head, especially the 2nd to last with Mary leaning over smiling and making eye contact. Actually red haired Galileans are not out of the ordinary. I researched that in 2003 to help design and make a quilt for our church's bicentennial ( St Andrew and St Paul, Presbyterian, Montreal). In the cleansing of the temple block I gave Jesus curly auburn hair and a dark auburn beard. The quilt was on the church website for a long while, too bad they took it down, people enjoyed it, some quilters actually came to the church to see it.

  38. Here are a few more links to breastfeeding Jesus images; someday I'm going to St Augustine Fla to see the little shrine La Leche League too it's name from:

    In Manila PI

  39. Beautiful, beautiful! Thanks for making this video and sharing it!

  40. I remember the first time I saw a statue of Mary nursing Jesus. I was a teenager and I believe the statue was at the Yale museum. It was small and carved of ivory. Somehow, the thought had never occurred to me. The other examples you show here are simply beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  41. What a beautiful collection. It's been many years since my children were breastfeeding, but all those images still look so wonderfully familiar. They depict a natural and intimate reality that we never get to see in our "liberated" society. Thanks so much for sharing.

  42. I love this. Thank you for collecting these images!

  43. Love this! I was wondering though if your Egyptian Bas relief is actually the Goddess Hathor feeding the King?

  44. Here are some more images of Maria

  45. Such a beautiful video. It made me teary eyed!

  46. Thank you for this uplifting, affirming, educational, gorgeous, tasteful blog post. You have my respect for what you do, what you know and how you share that knowledge. Namaste. I look forward to seeing much more of what you have to offer as well as spending time in your archives.



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