The Importance of Breastfeeding to the Muslim Child

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole years, if the father desires to complete the term. But he shall bear the cost of their food and clothing on equitable terms…If they both decide on weaning, by mutual consent, and after due consultation, there is no blame on them. If ye decide on a foster-mother for your offspring there is no blame on you, provided ye pay (her) what ye offered, on equitable terms. But fear Allah and know that Allah sees well what ye do.” (Quran 2:233)

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Given the importance of breastfeeding in the Islamic religion, the relatively low rates of compliance among Muslim women in North America are puzzling. There are small pockets of “fundamentalist” Muslim women who are well educated and adamant about nursing their children under their chadors, and who often practice natural childbirth. However, those mothers who nurse their babies past the age of one year are the exception rather than the rule. There seems to be a lighthearted attitude among the general Muslim populace towards the bottle-feeding of infants. It is sometimes even thought of as more modest to bottle-feed! Perhaps it is a lack of education about the benefits of breastfeeding, combined with an absence of a support network to assist the new mother.

Transferring the child to animal and vegetable foods before he even had any teeth was not done by the early Muslims. The most likely option, if a mother declined to breastfeed her infant, was the employment of a wet-nurse for the child. For the newborn Muslim child, the intimate breastfeeding relationship is a right. It is beyond dispute that two full years of breast-milk provide a baby with long-term health benefits such as the prevention of ear infections and allergies, as well as providing a foundation of trust between mother and child. Scientific studies show that a bottle-fed baby will be a weaker child.

“Weaning” is the gradual transfer from feeding the baby exclusively breast-milk to table foods only. This happens sometime during the toddler period of life, usually between the ages of 1 and 3.

In Islamic terms, weaning is a process that is administered by mutual consent between parents. But in my conversations with sisters in various states who had given up nursing in favor of bottle-feeding, there is a sense of powerlessness over the situation. These mothers often wanted very much to nurse their child. But somehow, they lost their chance. This tragedy is largely caused by a hospital system that does little to promote exclusive breastfeeding of newborns. In most hospitals, the new mothers receive free samples of formula to take home, as a result of multi-million dollar deals with pharmaceutical companies who pay the doctors to promote their products. This practice is highly unethical because little or no education about the dangers of bottle-feeding the infant is given to the new mothers. Many Muslim mothers, especially those who don’t speak English well, come home with their babies already addicted to the bottle. Although at this point, all is not yet beyond hope, coaxing a small baby to breastfeed, after he has been bottle-fed even just once or twice, can be a big struggle. It may not succeed without the aid of a lactation counselor, because unfortunately, even the older generation of mothers and mothers-in-law often lack the knowledge of how to breastfeed. Thus, the likelihood of bottle-feeding is very high among immigrant and minority women in the U.S.

When women have given up nursing out of a feeling of powerlessness to get the baby to nurse, this is not a mutual parental decision to wean, but rather the result of lack of adequate help. Something is terribly wrong when Muslim women are giving up breastfeeding due to lack of education, counseling, and support. It reveals a stripping away at the postnatal rights of the Muslim woman to be in a state of rest for 40 days after childbirth.

If the child is rejecting the breast, the most common reaction is to try for a while, and then give up and give him a bottle, but this teaches him that all he has to do is fuss and refuse to nurse, and he will be rewarded by a free-flowing bottle of formula. The only solution to this power struggle is for the mother to refuse to give the baby a bottle, even if it takes several days for the baby to nurse willingly. (If the baby gets dehydrated, he can take water with a cup or medicine dropper). My eldest son was a sleepy baby, born a couple weeks early. I had to set my alarm for every three hours, take off his clothes and wipe him down with water to get him screaming mad, in order for him to just stay awake for a couple minutes to nurse before he would blissfully fall asleep in my arms. The first few days were terrifying and the emotional pressure was intense. After two weeks he finally opened his eyes, and he and I enjoyed a nursing relationship that lasted over two years. Nursing can be a strenuous effort that truly requires the full support and help of the father, neighbors and other family members, to allow the mother and child to be together undisturbed as much as possible for the first 40 days of the baby’s life.

Help is available. The ability to feed your child the best that nature has to offer is your choice. Only after a successful and long-lasting breastfeeding relationship can weaning the baby truly be done by mutual and conscious consent.

To locate a free breastfeeding consultant in your area, call 1-800-LA-LECHE

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer. karinfriedemann.blogspot.com

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The Love of Your Child

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karima Friedemann, TMO

There is nothing more intimate than the love between mother and child. Marriage is an interesting learning experience, but it cannot compete with the total human sacrifice it takes to produce a child. After bearing the stress in one’s womb for months and months, feeling the weakness and hunger, and finally the labor which cannot ever be described, a new human being arrives. This being suckles on you until your bones ache so that you cannot sleep at night, and yet you long for another one. This is love. This is true love.

“What is love? Does anybody love anybody anyway?” sang Howard Jones, a UK artist, when I was in Junior High School. I still don’t know the answer to these questions.

“The mothers shall give such to their offspring for two whole years, if the father desires to complete the term. But he shall bear the cost of their food and clothing on equitable terms. No soul shall have a burden laid on it greater than it can bear. No mother shall be treated unfairly on account of her child. Nor father on account of his child, an heir shall be chargeable in the same way. If they both decide on weaning, by mutual consent, and after due consultation, there is no blame on them. If ye decide on a foster-mother for your offspring, there is no blame on you, provided ye pay (the mother) what ye offered, on equitable terms. But fear God and know that God sees well what ye do. (Quran 2:233)”

He shall bear the cost of their food and clothing on equitable terms. No soul shall have a burden laid on it greater than it can bear. No mother shall be treated unfairly on account of her child. These are actually reasonable requests. God laid it down.

So now that we have got that straight, what have we now? A financial exchange. But is there more to life than that? I don’t know yet. But there are people who go through this life never knowing what it was like to fall asleep at their mother’s breast. There are so many of us, especially children of the 70’s, who just never knew that. When we had a nightmare, we had to “understand” that no one was going to cuddle us. We faced this world alone, without any sense of having any rights.

Even the most emotionally detached mother could fall asleep with her child, and this skin contact could even save a child’s life. For life. A scientific study in Brazil showed that mothers who “wore” their premature babies under their clothes with constant skin contact (instead of keeping them in an incubator) were rewarded with higher rates of weight gain and overall health of their babies. Love boosts the immune system. And if you don’t know how to love yet, the first step is lots of long hugs to increase the sense of emotional security, which gives bursts to all the healing hormones your body can release.

Close physical contact is part of Islam. I invited some neighbors to a local iftar and my friend’s husband, who was from Spain, commented that, during the prayer, he had never been so physically close to other men in his entire life. He kind of liked it.

There are so many things we could do wrong in our lives, but if we could at least give our children the emotional security of skin contact at a very early age, we could do well. Even if we are not nursing, how about putting your arm around your child? If you give it a few minutes, he or she might even fall asleep. What’s most important, even more important than the mother’s milk, is knowing that somebody cares. Somebody is there.

We come into this world alone, and we will leave it alone. Nobody will be able to help us. We have only a short time to love one another. Whomever we love, they may be gone tomorrow. We might be gone tomorrow. We need to set boundaries against disrespect, but we must keep an open door policy for those whom we love.

We should never think that our actions will not affect another human being. If we let a child cry himself to sleep, we might think he’ll never remember, but in fact this might be the deciding factor in whether he believes in himself or not. It actually takes someone else to help you realize that you have the right to take up space in this world, when you are new here. No one can do it alone. People who are mistreated or neglected all their lives often curl up and die. In any case their immune system takes a hit.

Christians and Muslims have a dispute because Christians say, “God is Love,” whereas Muslims say, “God is the Lover.” This is a grammatical problem, not a basic issue. There are so many beautiful people out there. Why not love them all?

Love comes from Allah alone. You can never force or will someone to love you back. It is entirely out of your hands. And there is a certain element of comfort in that.

There is somebody who will never refuse your love. That is your child.

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Houstonian Corner (V11-I37)

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Largest Ever Gathering At Houston Mayoral Iftar-&-Dinner

Picture L “This is my last term as well as Council Member M. J. Khan’s last term. My Descendant Mayor and other Elected Officials should learn that when you move an event from outdoors to indoors, the number of people gets tripled.” These were the words of Mayor of Houston Honorable Bill White, as he welcomed hundreds of Houstonians of all faiths present at the traditional Annual Iftar-&-Dinner by the Mayor. Prominent among them were several present and former elected officials & various candidates vying for City Hall Positions in November 2009 Election; Consul General of Pakistan in Houston Aqil Nadeem & his wife; Congressman AL Green, Houston Police Chief Harold L. Hurtt; City of Houston Councilpersons Pam Holm, Peter Brown, Jolanda Jones & M. J. Khan; President, Vice President and General Secretary of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH), who were one of the major organizers of the event, Dr. Aziz Siddiqi, Hashim Badat & Kamal Husain; President & Former President of Pakistani-American Association of Greater Houston Khalid Khan & Ghulam Bombaywala; President of Council On American-Islamic Relation Houston Chapter (CAIR-Houston)  Dr. Tarek Hussein; Hafiz Mohammad Iqbal and many others.

Sumptuous Food was catered by Mezban and Demasis Restaurants and served in a well organized by volunteers of Aga Khan Ismailia Muslims Community. This year saw record number of people attending.

Dr. Aziz Siddiqi and Dr. Tarek Hussein Faraz Khan, talked about the lessons learnt from Ramadan, as the month brings God Consciousness’ and an ingredient of thankfulness in a person. As such we need to be thankful to God for all the Blessings. God has informed us in Quran that if we do not thank human beings for their services, God will not be happy.

Mayor White and Congressman AL Green lauded the Muslim community for their societal service. Due to forecast for inclement weather, Councilman M. J. Khan moved the event from the City Hall Reflecting Pool to George R. Brown Convention Center. “Weather is good out there, but inside it is cool and we will have a nice and spiritual evening together.” Informed Emcee for the Evening Khalid Khan, President of Pakistani-American Association of Greater Houston (PAGH) and one of the candidates to replace termed-out M. J. Khan for District “F”.

For more information, one can reach Councilman M. J. Khan Office at 832.393.3002 or E-Mail: Rabia.Taslim@CityOfHouston.Net

You Cannot Use Cellular Phone In School Zone In Texas

With the schools back in session in the State of Texas, new traffic laws have been passed by the Texas Legislature that will take effect September first. Experts are saying that a lot of these laws are improvements; and they do also raise awareness for motorists out there, who just sometimes need to be reminded about wireless devices or buckling up.

The new laws prohibit cell phone use in school zones, and require everyone in the car to wear a seatbelt, not just those in the front seat. Tough new penalties on DWI offenders, who are caught with children in the car; first time offenders will automatically have their licenses suspended, and reinstatement fees are going up.

There are also new graduated licensing rules for young drivers’ ages 16 to 19-year-olds. Also starting September first, some younger kids will find themselves back in child safety seats. New medical research shows children under the age of eight – or under four-foot nine – still need special restraints in the car. Tickets for this offense can’t be issued till next summer.

Here are some of the things to see in the new traffic laws:

HB 537: Requires all occupants of a vehicle to be secured by a seatbelt; not just those seated in the front seat.

SB 61: Amends the statute regarding child passenger safety seats. Any child younger than 8-years old or less than four-foot nine-inches in height must be in an approved child safety seat.

HB 55: Makes it illegal to use a wireless communication device in a school zone, unless a hands-free device is used.

HB 2730: Increases penalties for driving while intoxicated with a child passenger. First time offenders will have their license automatically suspended. Reinstatement fees will double.

HB 2012: increases penalties on those driving with a suspended license and without insurance.

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Breastfeeding Rates too Low Despite Global Education Programs

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karin Friedemann, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

mother-and-child Despite widespread awareness of the importance of breastfeeding to the human child, mothers in developed countries demonstrate low rates of compliance with global recommendations. Nursing past six months is the exception rather than the rule. Bottle-feeding infants has become normal. Exclusive and extensive breastfeeding has become a pastime primarily for the rich with some interesting exceptions. Nordic countries exhibit the overall highest European breastfeeding rate with England ranking lowest. UAE ruling class mothers exclusively breastfeed the longest among Arabs while Iraq suffers the lowest breastfeeding rates. US Whites and Native Americans are most likely to breastfeed while Blacks and Hispanics are the least likely.

Class plays a large role in decision to breastfeed, for far fewer women belonging to the routine and manual labor socio-economic group nurse beyond six weeks than is typical of professional women and full time mothers. Yet, religion and philosophy also affect women’s decision to breastfeed. In Singapore non-Malay Muslim women are 6.7 times more likely to breastfeed than Buddhist women although Malays have the lowest rate. Urban babies receive half the breast milk of rural babies. The youngest mothers tend to supplement with bottles from birth.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF work hard to promote breastfeeding worldwide, but their success is undermined by factors such as free infant formula distribution, hospital practices and lack of personal support. Breastfeeding is a learned skill requiring effort and focus. Good intentions are not always enough to establish lactation. “Baby-friendly hospital” initiatives in many countries have significantly increased breastfeeding but rates are still well below optimum health guidelines.

Almost all new mothers attempt breastfeeding but few continue for the recommended period. According to UNICEF the early introduction of bottle-feeding and complementary food leads to premature weaning, the primary cause of malnutrition in children under age two worldwide.

Many women give up nursing in favor of bottle-feeding out of a sense of powerless over the situation. These mothers often wanted very much to nurse their child, but they lost their chance. Hospitals fail to promote exclusive breastfeeding of newborns. Most new mothers receive free samples of formula because of multi-million dollar deals between hospitals and pharmaceutical companies and come home with their babies already addicted to the bottle. Coaxing a newborn child to breastfeed after he has been bottle-fed even just once or twice can be a big struggle. Success may be impossible without the aid of a midwife or lactation counselor because unfortunately even the older generation of mothers lack sufficient knowledge.

When newborns reject the breast, mothers typically try for a while, then give up and supply a bottle. This teaches the baby that refusing to nurse will be rewarded. Parents must exercise “tough love” by declining to give the baby a bottle even if it takes several hours or even days for the baby to nurse willingly. (If the baby gets dehydrated, do give him water with a cup or medicine dropper, but introducing a bottle creates “nipple confusion” which is disastrous for the mother-child relationship).

Some women give up on breastfeeding because the husband insists. This tragedy reveals a stripping away at women’s postnatal rights and sets a dangerous precedent. Nursing a baby is an exhausting and time-consuming job requiring family help, encouragement, and support especially from the father to enable mother and child to be together undisturbed as much as possible particularly during the first 40 days of the baby’s life.

Many women manage to make it through those hardest days in the beginning and then stop breastfeeding after a few weeks out of fear of insufficient milk supply. These mothers need to increase their consumption of calories and to get adequate rest. Under no circumstances should they give their baby a bottle because this will only decrease the supply of breastmilk. Sometimes it is actually the doctor’s advice to start feeding their babies solids before 6 months that leads to premature weaning. A mother needs to weigh the fun of spoon-feeding her infant against the risk of premature rejection of the breast.

Thus bottle-feeding rates remain high despite awareness that breastmilk alone contains all the nutrients, antibodies, hormones and immune factors that a baby needs.

“Encouraging exclusive breastfeeding has to become a high priority in all sectors of society,” said Dr. Mahendra Sheth, UNICEF Regional Health and Nutrition Adviser for the Middle East and North Africa. Exclusive breastfeeding for six months followed by complementary feeding between 6-9 months with continued breastfeeding through the first year could save an estimated 1.5 million lives annually. 

Women receiving adequate advice can often prolong nursing even after returning to work outside the home. Premature or weak infants in particular need breast milk for the best odds in life.

Pregnant women should read books on how to breastfeed and understand fully the necessary commitment to avoid making a tragic mistake to be remembered with regret.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based writer on Middle East affairs and US politics. She is Director of the Division on Muslim Civil Rights and Liberties for the National Association of Muslim American Women.

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Bumps on the Head

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

tufail

Bumps that go away when you bump your head and others don’t has to do with the severity of the damage to the underlying tissue. When you bump your head, you get a bruise because you break small blood vessels under the skin and the blood pools causing discoloration and swelling in the surrounding tissue. As the blood clot (hematoma) breaks down it gets reabsorbed and disappears. If you whack your head hard enough you could damge the skull, the bone may be injured but not broken.  You can hurt your skull without causing a fracture. As the bone heals, it could get thicker in the damaged area. The same way your skin might form a scar. You could wind up with a knot that doesn’t go away.

Bumps on the head, even large ones, don’t always warrant a trip to the ER or even a call to your doctor. However a hard hit may shake up the brain – called a concussion, also blood can slowly leak out from a damaged blood vessel beneath the skull, called a hematoma–that push into the brain tissue. Larger hematomas can push into the brain tissue. This can either happen very quickly within an hour, or it can take two or three days. This is an emergency and requires a CAT scan of the head to diagnose. Remember, considering the many times children hit their head, injury to the brain is unusual. Most bumps on the head, even large ones, are not serious.

Loss of consciousness. If your child blacks out, even for a few seconds, this can mean that the force of the bump was strong enough to cause a hematoma. A reassuring sign is that you either hear or see your child start to cry immediately after the bump. This means he did not lose consciousness. If your child is unconscious, but breathing and pink (no blue lips), lay her on a flat surface and call emergency medical services. If you have cause to suspect a neck injury, don’t move the child but let the trained experts in neck injuries transport her.

Be very careful if your child has a head injury.

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