Around 95% of babies around the world are breastfed at some point in their life. If you’re about to embark upon the breastfeeding journey or if you’re already in the midst of feeding your little one, it may be helpful to understand what exactly Islam says about breastfeeding your child.
Disclaimer: Please seek advice from a scholar from your sect with regards to any rulings on fasting whilst pregnant. This is a general post.
Is breastfeeding considered wajib?
In Islam, breastfeeding is highly regarded as it is known to be a child’s entitled right. It is an obligation for the mother to breastfeed the child as seen in the Quran in the following verse:
“Mothers shall breastfeed their children for two whole years, for those who wish to complete the term” [2:233]
It is also mentioned in many hadiths:
“Oh Mother of Ishaq, don’t feed the child from just one breast, but fed from both, as one is the substitute for food, and the other is a substitute for water.” – Jaffer Al-Sadiq (AS)1
“For a child, there is no milk better than the milk of the mother.” – Prophet Muhammed (SAW)2
Breastfeeding isn’t the easiest but rest be assured, there are many rewards that the mother will get in doing so. These are outlined in several narrations as follows:
“The reward of a woman, from the time of pregnancy until birth and breastfeeding, is the same as the reward of one on the path of Allah. And if a woman leaves this world during that time because of the hardship and pains of birth, she has the reward of a martyr.” 3
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“And when she is giving milk to her child, for every suck of the child, Allah gives her the reward of freeing a slave from the children of Ismail. When the period of breastfeeding the child is finished. One of the great angels of Allah taps her side and says: “Start your deeds afresh, for Allah has forgiven all your minor sins.” – Jaffer Sadiq (AS)4
“And when she delivers, no mouthful of milk flows from her nor a [child’s] suck except that she has a reward with every mouthful and with every suck.”
What is the role of the father during this time?
With regards to the role of the father, he must support the mother with clothes and food throughout the lactation period within reason. This is supported by this verse:
“but the father of the child shall bear the cost of the mother’s food and clothing on a reasonable basis. A mother should not be made to suffer because of her child, nor should he to whom the child is born (be made to suffer) because of his child.” [2:233]
This also holds true if the parents were to divorce and must be followed through until the end of the lactation period. If the father was to pass away, the heir of the family must support the mother so that she is able to continue breastfeeding.
How long should I breastfeed my child for?
There are a collection of Quranic verses that mention the duration of breastfeeding:
“Mothers shall breastfeed their children for two whole years, for those who wish to complete the term.” [2:233]
“His mother bore him in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and his weaning is in two years” [31:14]
“And his gestation and weaning [period] is thirty months.” [46:15]
These verses recommend mothers should feed their babies for two lunar years (approximately 24 months).
A mother can choose to feed the child beyond the age of two years given that no harm comes to the child or herself in doing so and if the father agrees, however this may vary according to different sects. There is also no difference in the lactation period between a male or female child and it is seen as “un-Islamic” to differentiate between the two genders.
What if I can’t breastfeed?
Islam recognises that it may not be possible for mothers to breastfeed for the full two years or even breastfeed at all – this can be due to returning to work, feeding taking a toll on the mother’s mental health, not enough milk etc. Therefore with the consent of both parents and given that the child’s health will not be affected by this decision, the mother can stop breastfeeding and go on to wean the child, which is supported by this Quranic verse:
“If they both (parents) decide on weaning, by mutual consent, and after due consultation, there is no blame on them” [2:233]
Wetnursing in Islam
If both parents consent, another alternative for a mother who is unable to breastfeed is wet nursing, whereby another woman breastfeeds the child. Wet nursing is a practice that has Islamic roots – it was followed by the Prophet (SAW) who fed from his own mother as well as a wetnurse – and is still quite common in Arab countries. This outlines the preference of breastmilk over animal milk when it comes to feeding the baby in Islam.
A child who has been breastfed regularly (3-5 satisfying feeds) by a wet nurse becomes “milk siblings” with the children of the wet nurse making it haram for the child to marry their “milk-siblings” when they are older. This is also applicable to the “milk-parents”; a man is forbidden from marrying his wet nurse (his “milk-mother”) when he is older as is a woman prohibited from marrying the wet nurse’s husband (her “milk-father”).
“Forbidden to you are your mothers that have suckled you and your foster-sisters” [23:4]
According to scholars, it is mustahab to choose a wet-nurse who is of a good character as breastfeeding influences the child’s character and thus it is makruh to use a wet-nurse who is “kafir or of immoral character”
With regards to the role of the father of the baby, he must pay compensation in clothes and food to the wet-nurse that is equal to what was recommended to be given to the baby’s mother. This must continue throughout the lactation period of the child.
“And if you decide on a foster-mother for your offspring, there is no blame on you, provided you pay (the foster-mother) what you offered, on equitable terms”. [2:233]
Adoption and Breastfeeding
If the parents have adopted a child, it is recommended to breastfeed them at least 3-5 satisfying feeds before the age of two as this allows the mother and father to become the child’s parents through wet-nursing according to the Shariah law. This can be especially important for boys who have been adopted as this creates the relationship of mahram once they reach the age of puberty.
The Prophet (PBUH) said; “The only breastfeeding that creates the relationship of Mahram (unmarriageable relatives) is that which fully satisfies the stomach and takes place before weaning (i.e. during the two-year-suckling period).” [Bukhari and Muslim]
Please remember that fed is best and don’t feel disheartened if you are unable to breastfeed your child!
1 Al-Kāfī, vol. 6, pg. 40, no. 2
2 Mustadrak al-Wasāil, vol. 15, pg. 156
[Makarim al-Akhlāq, pg. 238]
4[al-Kāfī, vol. 5, pg. 496]