I already read this article a year or two ago, but when I was sent the link again I had so many comments swirling in my head at once that I felt I'd better put them into writing.
The title is "Moms, Don't Forget to Feed Your Marriages", by rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an Orthodox Jewish author, television host, and father of nine children. Normally I have a lot of respect for rabbi Boteach; this time, however, I was seriously miffed by his presentation of breastfeeding as a factor that ruins marriages.
It's a known phenomenon that many married couples find it difficult to spend time alone after the birth of a child, and of course, this is true in any case, whether the baby is breastfed or not. I no longer breastfeed but it doesn't mean we can just go out on the spur of the moment – we still need to arrange for someone to watch the little one.
Rabbi Boteach describes a situation where "The baby was attached to his mother like a limb, and he even slept with her every night, consigning her husband to a different bedroom." Obviously, the issue in this case was co-sleeping, not breastfeeding. It's entirely possible to breastfeed without co-sleeping if one of the spouses is uncomfortable with it.
"I said, her obsession had turned one of her most attractive body parts into a feeding station, an attractive cafeteria rather than a scintillating piece of flesh."
Breasts were made to feed babies. To delight husbands, yes, but also to feed babies. Rabbi Boteach entirely ignores the many biblical references to breastfeeding, and the fact that in the Jewish tradition, it is considered normal to breastfeed a baby for two full years. Is breastfeeding unattractive? It's a matter of perspective, I suppose. My husband at least always found it endearing.
Breastfeeding is even compared to having an affair:
"Obviously, breast-feeding is not the same as carrying on an extramarital affair. But when a mother gives her breasts to her son and takes them away from her husband, the effect on the marriage can feel the same."
Again, renewing intimacy after the birth of a child is largely unrelated to breastfeeding. The very presence of an enormous new responsibility is what causes the tension. It's not the breasts that are "taken away" (I personally feel this is an immature distortion of the situation), it's the attention that could previously be devoted to the husband alone, and that's where we must look for a solution to the problem.
"If breast-feeding gets in the way of the marriage—if it means that a husband and wife never go out on dates, or that the mother is so tired from always waking up with the baby that she has no energy to ever be intimate with her husband—the child will probably end up worse off, however many colds or bouts with diarrhea he now avoids."
Again, I no longer breastfeed, but do we go out to dates more often? Not significantly. When you have children, some of the spontaneity is lost, and that's a part of life. You must find a way around it, not blame a natural physiological function such as breastfeeding. Oh and by the way, do you think there would be no sleepless nights without breastfeeding? I find such a misconception amazing when it comes from a father of nine. There's a period of time when baby must be fed during the night. When we were going through that period, I would wake up at night to a crying baby, take her out of her bassinet which was standing next to my bed, put her to my breast, kick back, relax, doze for twenty minutes or so, then put her down again and go back to sleep. I didn't need to stagger up in the middle of the night and prepare bottles. I never needed to wash and sterilize bottles.
And perhaps we couldn't go out spontaneously as a couple, but we could always pick up baby and be on the go, without worrying about bringing formula and how fast it would spoil – baby's food was always available. When she was hungry, we'd just stop the car and I'd nurse her. And I got many hours of relaxation during the day, simply because I could put up my feet and nurse my baby while sipping a glass of water, snacking and/or reading a book (something I don't imagine I could do while holding a bottle). I could nurse lying down. I could even doze off while nursing. The more I look at my entire breastfeeding experience (once the initial difficulties with latch-on were overcome), I see nothing but convenience and saving my energy. It would have been so much more of a hassle to bottle-feed.
By the way, I believe the author grossly underestimates the health benefits of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding may do a lot more for a baby than "only" diminish chances for colds and diarrhea. Not that infant diarrhea is to be taken lightly, indeed it may lead to serious complications. And speaking of colds, the first time my baby got a cold/virus was shortly after she completely weaned from the breast. Coincidence? I don't think so. And by the way, would you like to take a guess as to when a mom is less frazzled, more energetic, and more in the mood for fun with her husband – when the little one is healthy, eats well and sleeps soundly, or when she is sick, constantly needs to be tended to, and wakes up multiple times at night with an ear infection or tummy aches? You can't exactly drop your baby off at the babysitter and go off on a date at a time of sickness! If breastfeeding means better health for baby, it means more relaxed time the couple can spend together, too.
"The crisis we have in
is not undernourished children, it is undernourished marriages." America
I find this statement puzzling, considering how much junk the average kid consumes. But yes, many marriages are under a strain. Will giving the baby a bottle solve the problem? I find the concept frankly ridiculous.
"I believe that wives should cover up, even when they nurse their babies in their husband's presence.
I believe this same problem comes up when men witness childbirth up close. There are certain poses in which a husband should not see his wife."
Watching a baby nurse is not like watching childbirth. The actual process of childbirth is not very long and one can easily avoid watching it; breastfeeding takes hours in a day for many months, sometimes years. It's true that our sages said the husband should not look at the actual delivery. I agree with that (it's possible to be there for the entire labor without watching the delivery). Our sages never said such a thing about breastfeeding. I would never think to cover up in front of my husband.
Many parts of our body can serve both a utilitarian and romantic purpose. Think of our hands chopping up onions versus holding hands with our husband or performing a romantic massage in a candlelit room. Are we going to say our husbands should never see us chopping onions or mopping the floor? Is that off-putting, too?
Of course there should be time for romance. It's essential, it's often lacking, many of us are guilty for not finding the time. But it doesn't mean real-life functions should be banned – things like doing the laundry, washing the floors, and yes, nursing babies. We can't always see each other in a purely romantic light when we're living real life and raising a family. And when it comes to breastfeeding, I can think of no situation when breastfeeding per se would come between a husband and wife.