Maria Lactans

Maria Lactans
Maria Lactans (wikimedia commons)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

What We Can Learn From the Jewish Faith about the Importance of Breastfeeding

I recently attended an online lactation conference.  One of the presenters was a lactation consultant who works quite a bit with large Jewish families.  The women she cares for are pregnant and/or breastfeeding for up to 25 consecutive years with most women having babies every 1.5 to 2.5 years even though birth control is allowed by their faith.  When I heard that, I immediately thought of my own 15 consecutive years of pregnancy and breastfeeding and about the advantages of ecological breastfeeding for spacing babies.

After listening to this exciting talk, I did a google search for more information.  I found an article in Breastfeeding Medicine on this very topic.  It confirmed a lot of what she said in her presentation.

Rabbis in the Old Testament found it "inconceivable" that a mom would not nurse her baby.  This is because Jewish people believe that God would not make something without a purpose, and it is not right for man to ignore that purpose.  Also, breasts are not seen as sexual in the orthodox Jewish community as they are often seen here in the US and in some cultures.  

According to Jewish law, the new mother should start nursing her baby for the very first time on the left side, because it is closest to her heart.  It also says that a mother should nurse her baby for at least 2 years but up to 4 or 5 years.  Even if due to unforeseen circumstances, the woman has an older baby and wants to remarry, she needs to wait until the baby is at least 21 months of age to ensure a good milk supply for the baby (in case she conceives soon after remarriage).  Jewish law also extolls the myriad physical benefits of breastfeeding.  Jewish families treat their nursing family members with extra special care.  Breastfeeding mothers are supported by given extra portions of food and are required to minimize housework and put breastfeeding first to keep her milk high in quality and quantity!  Wow!

 Because Orthodox Jewish women view breastfeeding as an "integral part of their religious lifestyle."  I don't think it is too much of a stretch for Catholic women to see breastfeeding in a similar light.