The importance of breastfeeding in light of the Quran and Sunnah
By Mahera Sheikh
Islam prescribed breastfeeding and commanded children do so until they attain full power and strength, as breastfeeding greatly impacts children’s growth and development. Allah gave the required time period for breastfeeding. Allah (swt) says, “The mothers shall give suckling to their children for two whole years.” (Al-Baqarah: 233)
Allah’s Messengers were breastfed. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was breastfed in his childhood, suckled from his mother Aminah (R.A) and two wet nurses, Thuwaybah Aslamiah and Halimah (A.S). The Prophet’s (SAW) children too were breastfed. His son Ibrahim had a wet-nurse and when he passed away he was only 1 year and 10 months old, so there were two months of suckling left for him to be sucked. The Prophet (SAW) said as narrated by Al-Bara (bin Azib): “There is a wet-nurse for him (i.e. Ibrahim) in Paradise.”
Allah (swt) informs us in the Quran, “We have enjoined upon the human being to treat his parents kindly. His mother bore him with weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years.” (Surah Luqman 31:14) Why does the Quran limit breastfeeding to two years? Because at the age of two the set of milk teeth is completed in a child and through the compassion of Allah (swt) biting the mother’s nipples with its teeth is avoided. The milk in the mother’s breast is provided to her for her child by Allah (swt); the Almighty has placed milk inside the mothers’ breast as a source of nourishment for her baby. This is why perhaps even in poorly nourished mothers the composition of breast milk is surprisingly good. A mother’s milk is fresh, pasteurised and sterilised and is easily digested by babies and thus reducing colic, reflux and other indigestion problems often associated with infant formula milk. Breast milk further helps to improve the immune systems and helps the baby to fight infections. Babies feel comforted and safe during lactation. The maternal lactation provided by the mother helps to strengthen the physical and emotional bond between the mother and her baby. As well as satisfying the psychological and emotional needs of the child, so to make him/her content and happy. If there are so many positives about breastfeeding why is it that less and less women are breastfeeding, why is it that most women feel it is easier to measure spoonfuls of powdered infant milk than giving their child the Haqq (right) that has been given to them by Allah (swt). Ofcourse, having said that there are exceptions with mothers, who are of ill health after their delivery, but for the majority of women, can, but sadly they choose not to.
Undoubtedly breastfeeding requires hard work, but it is extremely rewarding physically and psychologically for both the mother and baby. We all care for our children, we buy them the freshest produce available in the supermarket, we buy them new clothes for the summer and once winter arrives they have a whole new wardrobe ready for them to wear. When we care for our children this much, then do we not care enough for them to provide them with the best milk available to them? Or is it at that point we surrender to branded infant milk that has become somewhat a fashion icon in some countries that mothers boast about which brand they are using (for instance, I use the most expensive brand on the market or I buy mine from the capital city, which is 155 Km away!!) One of the best kept secrets about breast feeding is the benefits it has on the mother as well as the child. Breast feeding helps to shrink the mother’s uterus after child birth which in turn allows the mother to go back to her pre-pregnancy size allot quicker. In addition, breastfeeding acts as a natural contraceptive. Recent research has shown that breast feeding mothers have less of a risk of developing breast cancer than bottle fed mothers. A further research by epidemiologist Sir Richard Doll shows evidence of a drop in the chances of getting breast cancer amongst those women who breastfeed.
This begs the question that when breastfeeding has innumerable advantages for the human body that the majority of the mothers do not breastfeed their children. Have we succumbed to pressures of multinational companies and their promotions of their infant/formula milk that our judgment is clouded as to what is best for ourselves and our children? The WHO (Worlds Health Organisation) and UNICEF (United Nations Child Fund) have strongly advised Third World Countries Governments to ban advertising of manufactured baby foods (includes infant/formula milk). A nutrition specialist, Dr. J. Kreysler at the WHO states “the reason for the progressive decline in breast-feeding is the massive propaganda of the milk companies which is particularly effective in poor sectors of the population. The milk companies are creating a magic belief in the white man’s milk powder.” We all know that infant milk does not come readily prepared; it must be prepared using clean, sterilised water. Assuming that these milk companies have formulated an exceptionally good source of milk for babies, why do they advertise in third world countries where clean (boiled and sterile) water is a luxury to the women in third world countries? There is another underlying problem too, the majority of women are illiterate, and how will they follow the instructions when the majority of the suppliers print their instructions in English.
The WHO estimates that 1.5 million children die each year because they are not breastfed. The WHO states: “It has been estimated that improved breastfeeding practices could save some 1.5 million children a year. Yet few of the 129 million babies born each year receive optimal breastfeeding and some are not breastfed at all. Early cessation of breastfeeding in favour of commercial breast milk substitutes, needless supplementation, and poorly timed complementary practices are still too common.”Why does infant milk lead to so many infant deaths? The most obvious reasons that come to mind are that firstly, breast milk provides antibodies necessary to fight infections, which are necessary in Third World countries due to issues of poor sanitation and contaminated water. The second reason that seems most likely is that infant milk does not change its properties, it is unresponsive to the child’s needs, whereas breast milk changes in its properties day to day and by weeks and further months, the change in its properties in accordance to the child’s stage in development and breast milk necessitates the nutritional changes in accordance to the child’s nutritional needs at the time. Unlike breast milk infant milk cannot make such nutritional change and is in fact one universal formula given to all children, irrespective to the internal nutritional demands of the child.
Are women of Third World Countries aware of the effects that infant milk is having on their children? The most probably answer is no. They are brain washed by the aggressive marketing tactics used by these multinational infant milk manufacturers. What can be done? Unfortunately, until the mind set of people does not change, probably nothing. However, if the literate mothers amongst us can stop purchasing infant milk and there is a decline in the sales of infant milk, this may lead to a decrease in the amount being manufactured and thus sold. By doing so we are not only ensuring a better alternative (i.e. breast milk) but we are also following the Quran and Sunnah and consequently bettering the health of our children as well as taking a stand for the illiterate woman of the world. Furthermore, for the situation to chance in the Third World Countries, the Third World country Governments will need to stop manufactures of infant milk from using their aggressive marketing tactics and perhaps introduce a new campaign to educate their own people on the health risks associated with infant milk alongside the benefits of mother’s milk. It is Ironic to read the label “closest thing to a mother’s milk” provided on most infant formula milks, it is no wonder that the general consumer is deluded into thinking that it is what is best for their child, but if we deeply think about this statement, how can anything other than what Allah (swt) places in the breast of the woman for her child be anything other than ‘closest to mother’s milk’.
Mahera is a Mother and part of the behalal.org volunteers team to help others; hope you will gain benefit from reading this article. Help us, join us if you wish to research and write an article that will benefit others, email firstname.lastname@example.org