IN THE QURAN, Allah says:
Mothers shall breastfeed their children for two whole years, for those who wish to complete the term. Upon the father is the mothers’ provision and their clothing according to what is acceptable. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:233-234]
So vastly important is the act of breastfeeding that Allah mentions it specifically in His book and sets down His recommendations for its duration. He requires a father to provide for the mother’s basic needs during the time period.
Beyond the essentials, what else can Muslim fathers do to ensure that their wives and children are going to have the best possible chance for a healthy, successful nursing relationship? And why should fathers invest so much in breastfeeding in the first place?
The benefits of full-time breastfeeding far outweigh the use of baby formula—and thus the extra work required during the breastfeeding period merits the father’s time and effort in supporting his nursing wife. While articles about the advantages of breastfeeding are plentiful, and a simple web search can reveal hundreds of useful facts, I will summarize some of the main ones here:
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Breastfeeding has innumerable benefits to infants’ health.
- Breast milk contains the perfect balance of protein, vitamins, fat, enzymes and hormones that infants need to grow and thrive. No man-made formula can replicate human milk. According to Dr. William Sears:Human milk is a live substance containing live white blood cells and immune-fighting substances, and is a dynamic, changing nutritional source, which daily (sometimes hourly) adjusts to meet the individual needs of a growing baby. Formulas are nothing more than a collection of dead nutrients. They do not contain living white cells, digestive enzymes, or immune factors.” (http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/feeding-eating/bottle-feeding/comparision-formulas-and-breastmilk)
- Breast milk contains antibodies to fight and prevent illness. Pneumonia, colds, and viruses are reduced in breastfed babies, as are chronic conditions like diabetes, celiac disease and Crohn’s disease. (http://www.fitpregnancy.com/baby/breastfeeding/20-breastfeeding-benefits-mom-baby)
- Breastfeeding encourages mothers to be more responsive and attached to their children, which then influences the children’s IQ, positively. (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140226155645.htm).
Breastfeeding is good for mother’s health, too.
- According to the American Academy of Paediatrics, “Breastfeeding provides health benefits for mothers beyond emotional satisfaction. Mothers who breastfeed recover from childbirth more quickly and easily. The hormone oxytocin, released during breastfeeding, acts to return the uterus to its regular size more quickly and can reduce postpartum bleeding.”
- Women who have breastfed, studies show, experience reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer later in life. Some studies have found that breastfeeding may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Finally, exclusive breastfeeding delays the return of the mother’s menstrual period, which can help extend the time between pregnancies.” (https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/Benefits-of-Breastfeeding-for-Mom.aspx)
Breastfeeding saves a great deal of money!
- The cost of formula feeding one child for one year is between $800 and $3,000, depending on the price and quality of the formula. (http://kellymom.com/pregnancy/bf-prep/bfcostbenefits/) .
- Also, since formula-fed children are not protected from some illnesses like breastfed children are, the cost of medical bills should be factored in. Breastfeeding saves money on office visits, treatments, and medication.
Those are just some of the ways that breast is best.
What Dad Can Do
Now that it is abundantly clear that the natural feeding of baby is beneficial for the whole family and indeed for the whole Ummah, here is what fathers can do to support their wives optimally during the nursing period:
- Realize that the first few months after childbirth are crucial for establishing the nursing relationship. Especially if this is the first time she is nursing a child, mom will need some time to adjust to the demands. It is best for baby to suckle frequently for two reasons: (1) Breast milk is quickly digested, and thus babies quickly get hungry again. (2) The more baby sucks, the more milk is produced.Substituting with a bottle or a pacifier will likely reduce mother’s milk supply.Both husband and wife should understand from the beginning that the nursing mom will need to spend several hours a day holding and nursing the baby. In fact, in the first months, it will feel like all she does is nurse the baby! This is normal and actually healthy for both mom and nursling.
- To enable mother to bond with her child and nurse as much as necessary, fathers should help as much as they can around the house, or hire help if possible. While she is dedicating countless hours to child care, she will not have as much time to tend to household duties.Again, the first few months of an infant’s life are when breastfeeding is most time-consuming. If you can afford to hire help with housework and/or cooking, or if you can accept meals and assistance from family and friends, now is the time to do it.
- Recognize that your lactating wife is sacrificing and doing very important work. It might look like all ease and relaxation to sit and nurse a baby, but actually her body is working hard to produce milk, and meeting a newborn’s needs can be exhausting. In fact, lactating mothers need to consume 400-500 extra calories per day to produce milk. It can be mentally and physically taxing to be on duty, as mothers are, 24/7.Remember that your wife is likely not getting a full night’s sleep. Recognize that she wishes she could get up, have a leisurely cup of coffee, chat with friends, and have a few minutes alone. Those are “luxuries” that she will probably forgo during the first several months of baby’s life. She might also feel anxious and guilty about the piles of laundry waiting to be folded, the dusty shelves, or the clutter around the house.This is the time for both of you to make your infant’s well-being the main priority. The first year of baby’s life is a short but crucial epoch. Her brain is developing, her body is rapidly growing, and the best possible place for her is her parents’ arms, and the best possible food is mother’s milk. Let housework and entertaining be low on the priority list at this time.
- Be your wife’s advocate. Over the years, many sisters have confided in me that just a day or two after giving birth, they were already expected to be out of bed, cooking, cleaning, and serving tea to family members and guests. This is unhealthy and unfair!A woman who has just given birth needs and deserves rest. Her body has gone through a huge trial. Her hormones are in upheaval, causing moodiness and sometimes sadness or anxiety. Bonding with her baby, breastfeeding, and healing are the only things she should be doing for the first couple months. If she has had a cesarean section or a traumatic birth, she might need even more time to heal.There must be a leader who will set the tone for the first months after baby’s birth. That person is you, Muslim father! You can lead the way in so many positive ways. You can discuss with your wife which visitors, if any, will be permitted in the first weeks after birth. Visitors should be extremely limited, as a newborn should not be exposed to germs, and a mother should not have to use her energy to be a hostess.Even close family members should keep their visit short and make themselves useful. They can do so many things to help smooth the transition: bring meals, tidy up, entertain older children, take care of house plants or pets.If you do not feel comfortable asking them for help, at the very least you can be your wife’s spokesman. Say what needs to be said and be her protector and advocate. Gently remind everyone that she needs rest and privacy to take care of herself and the baby. There is no need to be apologetic about this; in fact, it will be clear that you are a father who cares deeply about your family.
- Help her find assistance, if she needs it. While breastfeeding is natural, difficulties can arise. Baby might have trouble latching on, or mom might experience pain.Many families give up on breastfeeding when the going gets tough. Please do not give up too quickly! Almost all breastfeeding problems have relatively easy solutions. Certified Lactation Consultants are trained to help diagnose and fix problems. Hospitals and doctors can recommend a consultant in your area. La Leche League International is a non-profit group that offers free breastfeeding support and education, as well as meetings. (http://www.llli.org.)Breastfeeding is now recognized as both a science and an art. Old wives’ tales about breastfeeding should be avoided, as up-to-date research, discoveries, and strategies have revolutionized the way we approach breast milk and breastfeeding. I cannot stress this enough: Do not give up too quickly! There is almost always a solution to any breastfeeding problem! Moms just need extra support at this time.
- Express your appreciation to your child’s mother. The Prophet ﷺ said: The best of you is the best to your wives. (Tirmidhi)
If your wife is dedicating herself to nurturing and feeding your child, she is giving an amazing gift that should not be taken for granted. Tell her that you love her and appreciate her. She needs to hear it!
Originally posted 2016-03-30 16:00:02.