In an annual ceremony commemorating the baptism of Jesus at the Sistine Chapel on Sunday, Pope Francis encouraged women to breastfeed "without fear" during the service just like the Virgin Mary.
"The ceremony is a little long, someone's crying because he's hungry. That's the way it is," the pontiff said, according to AFP News.
"You mothers, go ahead and breastfeed, without fear. Just like the Virgin Mary nursed Jesus," he told the women at the service where he baptized 28 children — 15 boys and 13 girls.
Francis has previously voiced his support for public breastfeeding, urging mothers at the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord in 2015 to breastfeed their children if they are hungry during the service.
"You mothers give your children milk and even now, if they cry because they are hungry, breastfeed them, don't worry," Pope Francis declared.
In a December 2013 interview with La Stampa, the pontiff also said mothers should not feel ashamed to nurse their babies outside the home.
"At the Wednesday General Audience the other day there was a young mother behind one of the barriers with a baby that was just a few months old. The child was crying its eyes out as I came past. The mother was caressing it. I said to her: madam, I think the child's hungry. 'Yes, it's probably time ...' she replied. 'Please give it something to eat!' I said. She was shy and didn't want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing. I wish to say the same to humanity: give people something to eat!" he said.
At least one mother took the pontiff's advice and nursed her infant during Sunday's service, according to The Associated Press.
The pope's encouragement to breastfeeding mothers comes at a time when there is still a stigma attached to breastfeeding in the church.
"I am a huge breastfeeding and baby wearing fan — and no place have I felt more discriminated in than the church itself," wrote Christian mom of four and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Krista Gray on the issue on her blog.
"Let me say this outright — I am a passionate follower of Jesus Christ. But gently nurturing and parenting your child through breastfeeding in public — at church even — is not contradictory to the Bible. It drives me crazy that many churches put up more (nursing in public) breastfeeding barriers than anywhere else. It may be filled with breastfeeding moms, but they are encouraged to be 'modest' and go to a special room — (we're told because they will be more comfortable) rather than continue to worship in the service with everyone else," she added.
Mary Fischer, a popular online blogger on parenting known as "The Mommyologist," wrote in an earlier post that she believes church is one of "5 Places Moms Need to Breastfeed Discreetly."
"It's wonderful when moms want to bring the kids to church and nurture their faith early on," she wrote. "But a cover-up is a necessity with a baby in tow. Do I really have to elaborate here?"
Her position sparked a barrage of reactions including one where she was accused of not breastfeeding her child. She explained that she did in fact breastfeed, just not in church.
"There are certain places where it really does make people uncomfortable," she said. "The last thing I want to do is be listening to a sermon and look over and see boobs. If you need to do it, fine. Just make sure you have a cover-up."