Following my latest post on breastfeeding, where I commented on an article written by rabbi Shmuley Boteach regarding breastfeeding as a potential ruining factor for intimacy in marriage, several of you have sent me a link to this article. Thank you – I haven't seen it before, and it's good to read additional perspective from rabbi Boteach.
In the second article, rabbi Shmuley claims to be pro-breastfeeding and states that his wife has breastfed each of their nine children; however, he maintains that for some couples, breastfeeding is a source of tension and should be given up. If I may quote Michelle, who said it so well in the comments to my last post, "I just
have a difficult time understanding -- assuming there weren't undisclosed breastfeeding problems causing extra stress -- how the simple difference between feeding a baby from the breast, and feeding him from a bottle, really caused that much trouble in an otherwise healthy marriage." If we're talking about a healthy marriage, breastfeeding shouldn't be a hindrance. If the marriage has unresolved issues, bottle-feeding won't be the solution.
Once again, I take issue with some of the points the rabbi makes. For example, he lumps together breastfeeding and co-sleeping, pointing to a case where a one-year-old was sleeping with his mother and constantly waking during the night to nurse. Of course the mother was exhausted the next day. But why should the solution be weaning the baby altogether? If we're talking about a one-year-old, he probably eats a variety of solids already, and wakes up to nurse not because he's hungry. Perhaps there's a certain emotional need that needs to be resolved, and the frequency of night feedings can be reduced.
It's also understandable that the husband didn't appreciate always having to share the matrimonial bed with a baby. But co-sleeping is a parenting attitude which sometimes has nothing to do with breastfeeding, and obviously both husband and wife must agree on it. Personally I must say I'm very happy to have our bedroom just for the two of us, and none of us, including baby, could ever get a decent night's sleep on the rare occasions when the three of us had to share a bed (for example when we were away from home and there was no crib available). I know some families love co-sleeping, though. But in any case, co-sleeping can be given up without giving up breastfeeding.
Rabbi Boteach says that
"many families are absolutely dependent on a wife’s income for their basic sustenance. So a few weeks after having a baby, a mom will often be forced to return to work." I think that's where our points of view radically differ. While the rabbi may not see it as abnormal that a mother must be separated from her baby just a few weeks after birth, I do. I can't imagine anything that would contribute more to postpartum depression and create a strain on marriage and the whole family than leaving your baby in the care of others when he or she is only a few weeks old. Breastfeeding is not the major issue here. Breastfeeding or not, the new mother must rest, recuperate, and just be with her baby. In many, many, many of the cases where the mother "must work", arrangements could actually be made for her to stay home. I believe any decent husband should go out of his way to allow the possibility for his wife to stay home with a new baby.
He goes further and says,
"She will feel extremely guilty at not being able to breastfeed during the day. Should we dig in the knife by telling her that she is harming her children?"
I think that for a mother who must leave her young baby against her will, the inability to breastfeed is just a part of her grief, a part that perhaps is defined most easily among all the joys she and her baby are missing out on, and which should have rightfully been theirs. I can only imagine the pain of a mother who so badly wants to breastfeed and just be with her baby, as she feels her milk dry up in her breasts because she is away from home during most of the day, and pumping just isn't enough to keep her supply going. I don't think I would have been able to breastfeed without my baby having a full, unrestricted access to the breast at any time of the day or night.
No, surely we aren't after the blood of mothers who weren't able to breastfeed, for whatever reason. Whenever I hear of a mother whose breastfeeding experience didn't go well, I feel nothing but sympathy. But I don't see how this comes into this discussion in the first place. I thought we were talking about mothers who can and do breastfeed, but it is somehow "detrimental" for their marriages.
Breastfeeding was always seen as something of exceeding importance in the Jewish tradition. Just an example from the Talmud: a widowed woman with a baby was not to get married until the child was two years or at least close to two years old (during which time she was presumably breastfeeding). The reason for this was that with marriage, there was a chance for a new pregnancy, which could diminish the woman's milk supply – and there was concern that the new husband won't provide alternative nourishing foods for a child that isn't his. A restriction on personal choices and freedom? Perhaps, but in that day people weren't expected to be so self-centered.
I also feel that the rabbi's advice to get a weekly babysitter, get away alone together at least once a year, etc, is very… how shall I put it? Not exactly applicable to every family. Not all of us can afford babysitters, and not all of us live close to their parents or to friends they could count on. Some of us have a very limited entertainment budget, and even have to account for the cost of gas. And I can imagine it gets more complicated as the family grows. Perhaps right now we could, theoretically, leave our little one with her grandma for a weekend gateway. But what do you do when you have nine children? Sometimes you must find alternative ways to recharge and connect. For some of us, watching a movie while eating popcorn in bed, or just taking a stroll around the block, is as close to a real date as we can get. We all must make the best of what we have and nurture our marriages the best we can. On this, I fully agree. It's vitally important to keep married love going.