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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