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Islam encourages mothers to nurse their babies for prolonged periods (up to two years.) Meanwhile, Islamic teachings free the lactating mother from any responsibility for her sustenance, even if she is divorced. She is absolved from any other bondage in order to give her full time and care to her baby.

The implications of these teachings and their good effects on both the health of the baby and the mother are discussed in this paper. 


Breast Feeding and Islamic Teaching

Mohammad Ali Al-Bar, MB, ChB, MRCP
Dr AI-Bar is a Consultant of Islamic Medicine
at the King Fahd Medical Research Centre,
King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

(Note from Islamic Garden Editors: The following are verses from theQur'an, the Holy Book of Muslims.)

"The mothers (including those divorced) shall nurse their children for two whole years if they wish to complete the period of nursing. The father shall bear the cost of their feeding and clothing on equitable terms. No soul has a burden laid on it greater than it can bear. No mother shall suffer because of her child. Similarly the father should not suffer. The same duties rest upon the heir (that is, if the father dies). If they (that is, the parents) both decide on weaning (the child) by mutual consent and after due consultation they are not to blame. Also they are not to blame if they decide on a foster mother, provided they insure, in a fair manner the safety of the child."

"Remain conscious of God, and know that God sees all that you do." (Qur'an 2:233)

"His mother bore him by strain after strain. His nursing (suckling) period lasts two years. Be grateful to Me and to your parents." (Qur'an 31:14)

"In pain did his mother bear him, and in pain did she give him birth, and her bearing and his suckling period took thirty months." (Qur'an 46:15)

"Let the women divorced (in the waiting period) live in the same house you live in and in the same manner, in accordance with your means. Do not harass them, and if they are pregnant spend freely on them until they deliver their burden. If they nurse your offspring, give them their due recompense. Counsel each other in a fair manner about the child's future. If you get in discord, let another woman nurse him; and the father should pay for the nurse."

"The wealthy should spend in accordance to his wealth, and the poor should spend in accordance to his income. God does not burden any soul more than it can bear."

"God will grant after hardship ease." (Qur'an 5,6:7)

From these verses we can understand the following points regarding the "nursing of the child."

During the reign of Khalifa Omer Ibn AI-Khatab, every Muslim in the community, except for new born babies up to and including the weaning stage, received social security benefits from Baitulmal, the Government treasury. When Omar noticed that mothers tended to wean their babies too early to get the benefit of social security he cried, "How many young Muslim souls you have deprived from their food O, Omar!" So he ordered that every new-born should get the subsidy from birth.

From Surah 2:233 and from Surah Al Hakaf 46:15 (Chapters from the Qur'an -ed.), Ali lbn Abi Talib deduced that the shortest period of pregnancy for a child to survive was six months.

It was not recognised until recently that a six-month-old baby can survive (outside the womb-ed.). Until the sixties it was taught in medical schools that viability is not possible before 28 weeks: that is, seven months.

The Islamic communities paid great attention to breast-feeding and wet nurses were very common until recently. Even if the mother nurses her baby it is not uncommon for a neighbor, relative or friend to breastfed the newcomer. Extended families also have the advantage of relieving the burden from young mothers.

If we remember that many girls marry at 15 or less, and boys under 18 too, then we are aware of their need for help and guidance from older generations.

I personally saw a lady in my clinic in Jeddah who became a grandmother at the age of 27. Al Imam AI Shafi saw a girl of 21 who had become a grandmother.

However, the tide of western civilisation is quickly changing the pattern of social and cultural attitudes in all Muslim countries. This is more pronounced in the urban areas. Breast-feeding is rapidly declining not only in urban areas but also in rural areas. There are many reasons such as the influence of the western and industrial culture, the dramatic changes in the structure of Islamic and Third World societies, and promotion of bottle feeding by multi-nationals. The baby food companies are the vital cause of the decline of breastfeeding in developing countries. The companies saw the potential of increasing their sales and profits to the large and rising infant population of the developing world. The sales of these companies to the Third World alone have already exceeded $8,000m annually.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) consider these companies as the number one killer of babies in the Third World and have strongly advised Third World governments to ban the advertising of manufactured baby foods.

Bottle-fed infants in the Third World often receive dilute and contaminated feeds containing little nutrients and massive doses of micro-organisms. It is estimated that 9.4 million cases of severe malnutrition occur in the Third World annually, of which at least half are due to bottle feeding.Similarly, there are annually about 10 million infant deaths due to GE in the Third World. At least half of them are due to bottle feeding.

Thus, we find 10 million babies die annually due to the widespread use of bottle feeding in the Third World. They can be saved by the simple measure of breast feeding.

All the bodies concerned with infant health, including WHO and UNICEF, stress the importance of breast-feeding, especially in the Third World. Breast feeding in these poor countries will not only save 2,000 million dollars annually that is badly needed for health and education, but also has many other advantages:

Islamic teaching encourages mothers to nurse their children. The renowned Ibn Hazim said, "A mother should nurse her baby even if she was the daughter of the king. She is not exempted from that duty, unless she is incapable of nursing."

The nursing mother should be financially supported by the husband, even if she is divorced. If the father dies, his heirs should support her fully during lactation. If there is no heir, the government takes responsibility.

If Islamic teachings are adhered to many evils that befall children and their mothers could be avoided.

Islamic World Medical Journal
July/August 1986/D.Qudah 1406
Pages 55, 56 and 57

Referencesfor Article

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