When it Comes to Religion and Breastfeeding
Updated: Jul 28, 2020
I'm a new mother and struggling with breastfeeding. I have a two-part question
1) can you please send me encouragement from a religious perspective? I'm having a hard time feeling good about breastfeeding when a lot of my religious friends are not.
2) Are there any sources in the Torah (Bible) regarding breastfeeding in public? We had generations of women that were only breastfeeding (no formula in those days) and I can't imagine women were always hiding to feed their babies. I have a hard time with this as my baby won't nurse with a cover and I don't feel comfortable nursing in the bathroom.
First of all I commend you for all your efforts with your breastfeeding journey. It is not easy especially when you feel alone in it. I think it's amazing that you're seeking answers and support instead of giving up. You are strong and please remember that! I would like to combine the answers to both your questions into one.
I think breastfeeding in general is such a beautiful thing and there should never be any shame involved. It is not an easy thing to find sources specifically on breastfeeding in public and I believe there's a few reasons for that. One being that breastfeeding was the norm therefore there wasn't a need to bring strong attention to it; it was just a very regular part of life. Another reason is that in the biblical times and even in our ancestors generations it was very common to have wet nurses. These were women that were able to nurse your baby if you couldn't for health reasons or because you couldn't physically be there.
I was able to find a few great sources on this topic though. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner paskened (Torah law ruling) that it is permissible to breastfeed your baby when in synagogue. According to the Ben Ish Chai, while a woman is breastfeeding, her exposed breasts are not considered erotic. The function of the breasts, feeding a baby, trumps considerations of modesty. Her breasts at the time of nursing are considered to be like her palms and her face.
Mishna Brurah 75:1,8 One may study Torah and recite blessings and prayers in a room where a mother's nursing even when she is not covered. My understanding is that according to these three sources that it is acceptable according to Jewish law to nurse in a public setting and there would be no reason to have to go into a closed room if you are not comfortable with that.
I Shmuel Chapters 1 and 2 discuss how Chanah nursed her son for many years until he self weaned. Rabbinic texts define the nursing period from between 2 to 4 years old. The Torah definitely supports long-term nursing. My personal opinion is that you breastfeed as long as it's working for both you and your baby. It doesn't need to be all or nothing. Take it day-by-day without putting pressure on yourself.
Brachot 10a: A woman's breasts were formed in the most appropriate area of the body, close to her heart".
Knesset Chachmei Yisrael 914: "A child cradled in his mother's arms, nestling his head where he can hear the soothing rhythm of her heartbeat, can surely sense that along with milk, he is receiving love".
How beautiful is that? By breastfeeding our children we are naturally nurturing them and giving them love and reassurance.
In conclusion the Torah very much supports the breastfeeding relationship. It's encouraged and according to the above sources very much contributes to love and bonding with our children. It shouldn't be made more difficult than it already is, and again according to the above sources you can nurse wherever you feel comfortable. Breastfeeding is a journey, it can have its ups and downs. It can be very challenging in the beginning but it is a journey that is so fulfilling and worthwhile. May you only grow in a positive direction full of love and self-assurance.
Disclaimer: These are my opinions addition to sources I've compiled. Ultimately you get to make choices that best fit your personal beliefs.