January 23, 2009

Breastfeeding in Islam

Filed under: Blogroll, Interfaith, Islam, Women — mariahussain @ 12:44 am

The Importance Of Breastfeeding To The Muslim Child
By Maria Hussain
Islam Online, New Jersey

“The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole years, if the father desires to complete the term. But he shall bear the cost of their food and clothing on equitable terms…If they both decide on weaning, by mutual consent, and after due consultation, there is no blame on them. If ye decide on a foster-mother for your offspring there is no blame on you, provided ye pay (her) what ye offered, on equitable terms. But fear Allah and know that Allah sees well what ye do.” (2:233)

Given the importance of breastfeeding in the Islamic religion, the low rates of compliance among Muslim women in North America are puzzling. Although a formal research study has not been conducted, it seems upon observation that the breastfeeding rate among Muslim women is actually lower than among the population at large. There are small pockets of “fundamentalist” Muslim women who are well educated and adamant about nursing their children under their chadors, and who often practice natural childbirth and home schooling. However, those mothers who nurse their babies past the age of one year are the exception rather than the rule. There seems to be a lighthearted attitude among the general Muslim populace towards the bottle-feeding of infants. It is not frowned upon, and it is rarely something people even question. Perhaps it is a lack of education about the benefits of breastfeeding, combined with an absence of a support network to assist the new mother. Perhaps it is a misunderstanding of the meaning of weaning.

Understood in the general sense, weaning means the gradual transfer from feeding the baby exclusively breast-milk to table foods only. This can happen sometime during the toddler period of life, usually between the ages of 1 and 3. Transferring the child to animal and vegetable foods before he even had any teeth, was not done by the early Muslims. The most likely option, if a mother declined to breastfeed her infant, was the employment of a wet-nurse for the child. For the newborn Muslim child, the intimate breastfeeding relationship is a right. It is beyond dispute that two full years of breast-milk provide a baby with long-term health benefits such as the prevention of ear infections and allergies, as well as providing a foundation of trust between mother and child. It has been proven that a bottle-fed baby will be a weaker child, and that breastfed babies often have higher IQ’s and are more emotionally well adjusted.

In Islamic terms, weaning is a process that is administered by mutual consent, with the full intention of both parents who have decided that this is the best thing for the family. But in my conversations with sisters in various states who had given up nursing in favor of bottle-feeding, the sense is a feeling of powerlessness over the situation. These mothers often wanted very much to nurse their child. But somehow, they lost their chance. This tragedy is largely caused by a hospital system that does little to promote exclusive breastfeeding of newborns. In most hospitals, the new mothers receive free samples of formula to take home. This is a result of multi-million dollar deals between hospitals and pharmaceutical companies who pay the doctors to promote their products. This practice is highly unethical because little or no education about the dangers of bottle-feeding the infant is given to the new mothers. Many Muslim mothers, especially those who don’t speak English well and therefore are not able to question the nurses, come home with their babies already addicted to the bottle. Although at this point, all is not yet beyond hope, coaxing a newborn child to breastfeed, after he has been bottle-fed even just once or twice, can be a big struggle. It may not succeed without the aid of a lactation counselor, because unfortunately, even the older generation of mothers and mothers-in-law lack the knowledge of how to breastfeed. Thus, the likelihood of bottle-feeding is very high among immigrant and minority women in the U.S.

So many women have given up nursing out of a feeling of powerlessness to get the baby to nurse. Because this is not a decision to wean, but rather the result of lack of adequate help, this situation cannot simply be dismissed under the heading, “there is no blame.” Something is terribly wrong when Muslim women are giving up breastfeeding due to lack of education, counseling, and support. It reveals a stripping away at the postnatal rights of the Muslim woman to be in a state of rest for 40 days after childbirth. It also points to a fundamental lack of self-esteem in the mothers, that already at the age of 4 days old, she is allowing the child to make important decisions that will hurt him, rather than taking command of the situation and turning it around. If the child is rejecting the breast, the most common reaction is to try for a while, and then give up and give him a bottle. This teaches him that all he has to do is fuss and refuse to nurse, and he will be rewarded by a free-flowing bottle of formula. The only solution to this power struggle is for the mother to practice a bit of “tough love,” to refuse to give the baby a bottle, even if it takes several hours for the baby to nurse willingly. (If the baby gets dehydrated, he can take water with a cup or medicine dropper). All this requires the support and help of the father and other family members, to allow the mother and child to be together undisturbed as much as possible for the first 40 days of the baby’s life.

Many Muslim women manage to make it through those hardest days in the beginning and then give up breastfeeding after the baby is less than 6 months old. The most common reason given is, “I was afraid I wasn’t producing enough milk.” At this point, a lactation advisor could have told her to increase her own consumption of calories and to get adequate rest. Under no circumstances should she give the baby a bottle because this will only decrease her supply of breast-milk. But it is so rare for Muslim women to seek advice further than their doctors, who often do not give adequate help. Sometimes it is actually the doctor’s advice to start feeding their babies solids at age 3 months that leads to problems. Only with independent research will a mother be able to compare the “fun” of spoon-feeding her infant versus the risks of premature rejection of the breast.

How can we help the Muslim women of today to understand that Allah has made her able to feed her baby with the milk of her body? She needs to read books about breastfeeding and understand fully the commitment she is facing. She needs encouragement to seek help from a LaLeche League Leader or midwife if she runs into problems getting help from her doctor. Help is available. Women who receive adequate counseling are often able to sustain nursing even after returning to work outside the home. Premature infants can and should be breastfeed for the best odds in life. In fact, women who have never even been pregnant can actually stimulate the production of breast-milk for a foster child through the use of a special infant feeding device. The ability to feed your child the best that nature has to offer is your choice. Only after a successful and long-lasting breastfeeding relationship can weaning the baby truly be done by mutual and conscious consent. It will not simply be a tragic mistake to look back on with regret.

To locate a breastfeeding consultant in your area, call 1-800-LA-LECHE


Experience the miracle



  1. tell me the true stand of islamic jurispudency on breastfeeding

    Comment by Abdul razaq — April 22, 2009 @ 3:44 pm

    • Peace be upon you all,
      Islam has a lots of rules and limits in regards to breasfeeding. it is impossible to write it in one book because a matter would bring another one. as a mother and and an expert i can tell you the following:
      – breastfeeding is the only optimal nutrition for the baby
      – breasfeeding is the only optimal means of bonding with the mother
      – if you can not breastfeed for any reason, you have to start pumping as soon as you can
      – you never give formula. it has unlimited side effects (this needs a whole book)
      – if unable to breastfeed, then you have to find another mother to breastfeed for you even if you have to pay her
      – weaning should be in up to two years.
      enjoy your baby. let me know if i can help

      Comment by Amar — May 9, 2009 @ 10:54 pm

    • Very good article maashAllah. Its an encouragement to all mums out there who want the best for their child but often feel dont know what’s right due to lack of knowledge and experience. However, even if one got the knowledge, that little push to breastfeed is needed as after giving birth the mother is weak physically and tends to listen to all sorts of suggestion in her surroundings.

      Comment by Tasleem — January 14, 2012 @ 3:35 pm

    • My wife got baby…. I want to know about in details that’s when she can pray? And how many days she can’t pray in Islam and why?
      And can we make sex before 40 days?
      And why is this 40 days?
      Please in Islam any one here let me about all this? Please

      Comment by Muhammad Wasim — November 15, 2013 @ 11:15 am

  2. […] also read an article entitled Breastfeeding in Islam written by Maria Hussain. The general idea to be extracted from it is that Allah has gifted upon us the ability to […]

    Pingback by My Notes on Breastfeeding « Becoming Parents — July 30, 2009 @ 10:41 pm

  3. can i give my milk pumped still to my child after 2 years of age ,i didn’t stop lactating yet and my child over 2 and half so i wonder if i have anything harmful in the milk that is contained now in the breasts or not?

    Comment by yasmin — June 16, 2010 @ 12:58 pm

    • Yasmin,
      Sorry, I wanted to add that there is one of Mohammad PBUH’s saying that I personally understand as if he wants us to give breastmilk to help the toddler’s body grow. and it is by age two that the human body is complet in terms of being able to function as a seperate unit. the toddler has all the teeth necessary to eat food, he/she is walking, and he or she is learning to talk. but i hate to assume that your breast milk is only regular nutrition for the baby. Because to my limited knowledge, i simply don’t know

      What i can help you with though is taht I can assume taht you “did not stop lactating” because you are still pumping. and you ll never stop lactating as long as you are pumping. so, if i am correct, STOP pumping and let me know so that i can further help you. if my assumption was wrong. then forget about it.

      Comment by Aamar — June 17, 2010 @ 2:50 pm

  4. Dear Yasmin,
    Islam as I know it, is very clear, simple, and straitforward. Allah wants us to breastfeed for two years only (Quran). the human made laws (Science in particular) is very limited in this area. I know that breastfeeding advocates wnat the children to get all the benefits of breasmilk but i am not sure about how much sIgA we have in the brast milk after 2 years. I am very sure it is a small amount but i am not sure if it really worth pumping and the hard work. the most of sIgA is in the colostrum (first milk right after delivery). But again, I believe that the Almighty knows much better. He SWT could not have limited the suckling in two years if it was benefecial to the baby, mother, or humanity in general. Also, do not forget that the child brain is developing more rapidly now. and it is here where morals and values are being set. My thinking is that you, the parent, have to guide your baby and set limits especially when to wean him(2 years the maximum). also, I am not sure why do i relate sexuality with breastfeeding after 2 years. again there is no research out there that has been done on this issue. Yet, I always think that it is after 2 years, where the kids start developing that awareness of their genital organs and it is here where we have to stop the close breast contact/relationship/ with the mother.
    If you have too much milk, you may breastfeed another baby for the sake of Allah if the other mother’s baby wants to. it is the most noble thing. You may check with the human bank and see if they can screen you and you start donating your milk to save sick babies’lives in NICU. but you have to know who these babies are because you are gonna become their mother from breastfeeding. So, according to the Islamic jurispudency. no matrriage relationships between the baby brotheres and sisters from breastfeeding should develop. so, you have to be very careful about your decisions.
    Brast milk can stay in the freezer for 6 months and deep freezer up to one year without going bad.

    good luck
    Omm Mohammad

    Comment by Aamar — June 17, 2010 @ 2:33 pm

  5. Excellent article. Thank you. I am curious though by some of these comments which interpret the prescription of two years to be a maximum rather than a minimum. “Two whole years” does not mean up to 2 years, or 2 years if you can manage it, it means “two whole years”. And yet, there is nothing here that says that after two years breastfeeding should be stopped. It does not say “two whole years … and no more”. In terms of scientific evidence, the WHO (World Health Organization) recommends breastfeeding for a minimum of two years and for as long thereafter as is mutually desired by mother and child. Along the same lines, I would interpret the time for weaning, according to this Quranic passage, would be a family decision sometime after the the first two years are completed. In many parts of the world, breastfeeding is continued beyond two years and continues to provide nutritional and emotional value. In fact, the global average age for weaning is closer to the age of 4 and most children will gradually wean themselves from the breast between ages 2 and 4. As a child gains more independence, he will naturally desire the breast less and less as other things take his interest. But, toddlers will often return to nurse for comfort when hurt, injured, tired, or just overwhelmed by a new situation. Many women practice the weaning process of “don’t offer, don’t refuse” to gently shift the child’s interest away from the breast without refusing outright.

    To Yasmin’s question, provided the breastmilk is still fresh, it still has beneficial nutrients and is still the superior food that it always was. Breastmilk is also excellent for treating ear infection, eye infections and even cuts and scrapes. I have even known some women to use excess breastmilk on their skin and hair as a conditioner.

    Comment by Leah — July 21, 2010 @ 4:19 am

  6. Dear Leah,
    You may ask an Imam to explain to you verse 233 in Surah/chapter al Baqarah/the cow. the interpretation of some scholars may be slightly different depending on the school they belong to. I usually go with Al Maliki because that is the school we follow in my country. as far as Islam is concerned, WHO is human made, parts of the world means different religions and different human made laws. the best thing I do when I get confused is talk to a scholar. they have a broader knowledge
    I hope this helps,
    omm Momahammad

    Comment by Aamar — July 23, 2010 @ 9:40 pm

    • Thank you Aamar, perhaps I should. I do not claim, nor pretend, to be a Quranic scholar. However, I would like to point out that Imams, like scientists and doctors, are human and do on occasion get it very very wrong. As the recent example of the Cleric who issued a fatwa that women offer their breastmilk to adult men in order to interact with them as relatives, or even worse, the Cleric who took this further and suggested that the women must suckle the men directly at the breast.( I do not wish to have a theological debate here. My point, is Islam is not monolithic religion. When the Quran itself is not explicit about something, we look to other sources for help in interpreting. If your understanding is that 2 yrs is the absolute limit, that is fine, I am sure you are making the best choices for your family.

      Comment by Leah — July 24, 2010 @ 3:17 pm

  7. Hi Leah, I myself am no scholar and I don’t understand much in the Quran either. And I absolutely agree with you and you have no idea how I was so frustated and I was going crazy about this guy who suggested direct suckling of other adults. Especially that it came from Egypt where we are supposed to have the BEST of imams given the historique value of that place. But i calmed down a lot when i learned that they made him resign. the internet is full of false claims about Islam however. yet, i am very aware of what is going on in terms of research/WHO/UNICEF/WABA/ILCA/…and I am proud to be a Muslim specialist in this field. I just expressed my opinion as I know it, so other people MIGHT benefit from it. At the end, you are very right again, I and everybody else do what is good for their families.

    Comment by Aamar — July 24, 2010 @ 7:05 pm

  8. Asalaam alaikum,

    It seems like there is a lot of controversy if it is 2 yrs. max or min. because the translation says two full year. On, which is pretty conservative with their answers say that it is okay to keep nursing beyond two years. Its not like if today the child turns two, you stop immediately.

    I personally think that the weaning process should be very gradual and as mothers we have to be patient. I know many sisters who weaned anywhere between 2-3 yrs in a very gradual process. Some even tandum nursed. SO if we can’t prove its HARAM then I personally think its okay.

    Every child and mother is different…iA we are all doing the best we can!

    Comment by Shahnila — July 30, 2010 @ 7:54 pm

  9. […] The Importance Of Breastfeeding To The Muslim Child by Maria Hussain […]

    Pingback by Links: Breastfeeding, Parenting and Religion : — July 28, 2011 @ 12:03 am

  10. I felt so sorry for my wife when she would sometimes be woken up 8 times in the night to breast feed our little ones. (twins) She persisted and today they are both healthy graduates and almost have children of their own. I salute all Moms who breastfeed.

    Comment by Gliders and Ottomans — August 22, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

  11. The child has the right to be fed breast milk (by the mother or foster-mother) for two full years, until weaned (eating solid foods). Even if the mother is to be executed for a crime, the baby’s right comes first. Parents should not feed baby formula (powdered milk, etc.) to a child who has not yet been weaned as a substitution for breastmilk unless all other viable options are exhausted in an effort to provide obtaining breast milk (for instance: medical problems, death of the mother and unavailability of a wet-nurse).

    Hadith – Al-Muwatta 41.5

    Malik related to me from Yaqub ibn Zayd ibn Talha from his father Zayd ibn Talha that Abdullah ibn Abi Mulayka informed him that a woman came to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and informed him that she had committed adultery and was pregnant. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said to her, “Go away until you give birth.” When she had given birth, she came to him. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said to her, “Go away until you have suckled and weaned the baby.” When she had weaned the baby, she came to him. He said, “Go and entrust the baby to someone.” She entrusted the baby to someone and then came to him. He gave the order and she was stoned.

    Please note that nobody will get it to be exactly two years, as the length of weaning until the child is actually weaned, depends on the child (statistically it takes a few months up to 6 mo. approx). But it appears clear that the goal, barring any health risks or condition that would prevent breastfeeding, should be two Islamic years of breastfeeding and that the child should completely be weaned off the breast sometime shortly after the completion of two years.

    Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Vol. 1 of 10, p. 654, under section “No Darar (Harm) or Dirar (Revenge)”:

    “We should state that Ibn Jarir has explained this subject in detail in his Tafsir and that he also stated that suckling the child after the second year might harm the child’s body and mind. Sufyan Ath-Thawri narrated that ‘Alqamah asked a woman who was suckling her child after the second year ended, not to do that. (At-Tabari)”.


    The following excerpt is taken from The Fragile Vessels (Book Three- The Muslim Family) written by Muhammad Al-Jibaly, p. 92-96.

    Breastfeeding the Children

    A woman has the obligation of breast feeding her children for up to two complete years. Allah says: “Mothers should nurse their children two complete years– for whosoever desires to complete the nursing term.” (Al Baqarah 2:233)

    A woman may not forsake this important obligation unless she has an ISLAMICALLY acceptable excuse, such as a genuine medial problem. Women who deny their children their nursing rights are liable to punishment in the grave and in the Hereafter.

    Comment by nedy — September 2, 2011 @ 4:47 pm

  12. How long can i breastfeed my baby boy for he 14 month old

    Comment by liz khan — November 28, 2011 @ 10:10 am

  13. a.o.a i want 2 know the duration for baby girl n baby boy for motherfeed as i heard that we can give feed to girl for 1.5 to 2 years n for boys 2 to 2.5 years is it true? kindly clear ma point

    Comment by nafi — December 1, 2011 @ 2:58 pm

  14. The verse 233 from Al Bakarah is your best answer. Check it out in Arabic or English here:
    You can breastfeed your baby up to two years if you can and want. And it is OK to stop before 2 years too.
    Formula is not forbidden. But the All Knowing, Allah SWT ordered in the same verse 2: 233, to find a substitute mother (wet nurse) to nurse the baby if the biological mother is sick or absent. He SWT never ordered to feed the baby whatever food there is because He knows that breast milk is the best there is. Now, with the advanced technology, scientists have concluded that there is indeed nothing superior to the breast milk. For this reason, pumping, milk banks, and wet nursing are greatly encouraged .

    Comment by Omm Mohammad — June 3, 2013 @ 8:23 pm

  15. Comments like the one by “nedy” sound very ignorant to me. there is no mention in quran about stoning thats why i believe that some of the hadiths are very questionable imo. i dont believe in hadiths. i follow quran only..anyway back to topic.

    ok this is something im very confused about. does the quran say “exclusive breastfeed” for 2 years or is it breastfeeding with supplemental food? my wife has sofar exclusively breastfed for 11 months straight without anything else (water. fruits, juice). we just for the first time gave him mashed banana yesterday. but i was confused if she should continue to breastfeed with milk only without any other foods? can someone clarify?

    Comment by Osman — July 3, 2013 @ 3:22 pm

    • After age 6 – 9 months it’s safe to feed them food, and necessary too, because milk isn’t enough nutrition by that age.

      Comment by mariahussain — May 8, 2014 @ 8:34 pm

  16. Thanks for your effort for composing “Breastfeeding in Islam |
    mariahussain”. I reallywill really wind up being back for even more reading through and commenting here soon enough.
    Thanks, Isabelle

    Comment by Heather — November 8, 2013 @ 1:08 am

  17. I want to know that what age the baby girl should be fed the breast milk in the occurance if islam?? I heared it till 21months for a baby girl and 24months for a baby boy..

    Comment by hira — April 27, 2014 @ 9:27 pm

  18. […] The Importance Of Breastfeeding To The Muslim Child by Maria Hussain […]

    Pingback by Links: Breastfeeding, Parenting and Religion • — February 9, 2016 @ 4:21 am

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