Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Does breastfeeding ruin marriages?

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 America is not undernourished children, it is undernourished marriages."


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. 

29 comments: said...

I have heard so many excuses why women don't breast feed, but its usually from women. Not sure breastfeeding is the Rabbi niche and something he needs to be giving advice on. I am so Thankful for my husband who thought breastfeeding was a beautiful gesture of my love for his children. I had one friend who told me her mom didnt want her to breast feed because it ruined her breasts and she always felt sorry for her husband that those were the only 2 breasts he had in his life. It's hard for me to relate to such thinking, breastfeeding is one of the most intimate and greatest life experiences I have ever had!

Erika said...

I think it is between husband and wife. Each couple has different quirks in their marriage. Child birth changed the entire setting in our lives, made us more comfortable with each other. But a friend said it didn't change a thing except make her even more private about herself.

I think it depends on each individual person some men find breast feeding sensual some are repulsed by it. It depends on how they were raised or how they have approached their marriage.

It is weird how the world finds somethings totally exceptable that definately shouldn't be. And things that are natural and apart of human life unexceptable. My mother n law was embarrassed about her body and never breast fed she said it wasn't natural. And having a baby to her was the most embarrassing thing in the world. To me it was normal and she never understood that.

Erika @ Homegrown Family

Natalia said...

I am really surprised to hear Rabbi Schmuley Boteach say these things! I have read a few of his articles and they certainly didn't sound like this! I totally agree with you!

And your second last paragraph, about chopping onions--I love it! I've never thought of or heard that comparision before, and I am sure I will be quoting it multiple times. Wonderful post! Thank you! (Thankfully, my husband is like yours. I have been breastfeeding for quite a bit of of the last 17 1/2 years!)

Laura said...

I am shocked that a father of 9 can be so in the dark about healthy breastfeeding and marriages. Men only find breastfeeding unattractive when they've been trained by the world's standards that breasts are ONLY for pleasure. What men need are to be educated about the benefits of breastfeeding, not to be encouraged to hold a grudge against his breastfeeding wife!

The most ludicrous claim? That the mother is too tired from waking up with the baby. I completely agree with you Anna, this is ridiculous. So really, you have three options. Either don't feed the new baby at night (baby might die), feed formula and BOTH parents (or still just mom) can get up in the night and be exhausted, or mom can breastfeed and sleep while feeding.

Not to mention, if you really want to throw a wrench into the marriage. Have mom NOT breastfeed which contributes to postpartum depression. I don't think much will be going on intimately then.

Breastfeeding is not the problem here. The problem is the general lack of apathy toward the marriage when babies are blessed to the marriage. I agree that time should be given to nurture the marriage even when there is a new baby. We need to show our husbands affection even when we are tired and worn from the baby. However, this is a matter of unselfishness from both mom and dad, NOT breastfeeding.

This article makes me angry!! I'd better stop commenting before I become unkind. This guy doesn't know what he's talking about... it's a shame that he's discouraging breastfeeding.

AnneK said...

Hi Anna T,

I agree with you that breastfeeding is best for baby, despite me having a horrible breastfeeding experience. I did breast and bottle for a long time, and although I think the rabbi's points are ridiculous, I want to point out certain things in your comments which doesn't make sense to me. You never fed your child from a bottle, right? So that makes you not really competent about saying how hard or not hard bottle feeding is.

1. There are so many ways to take formula on the go that it does not spoil. In fact on trips, formula makes their tummies fuller, so longer trips are much easier as they get up less often. Same with night feedings. Breastfed babies get up a lot more than a formula fed baby as breast milk is easily digested.

2. It does NOT take 20 minutes to prepare formula in the night.

3. It is much easier to read blogs or a book when you are feeding a bottle than breastfeeding. I could not do ANYTHING else while I was breastfeeding.

4. I think it is just a coincidence that your child got a cold as soon as she was weaned. My friend who has a baby same age as mine who was breastfed exclusively got sick much more often and had to take antibiotics before Neil. Another friend's kid (also exc. bf) had so many ear infections that she had to have tubes put in her ears. I was breastfed until I was 2. I was the sick all the time as a kid.

Having done both, I do have to agree with you that breastfeeding is clearly the thing to do if you are able. I agree with pretty much everything else you said. My only disagreement is how you portrayed bottle feeding. Also, breastfeeding is not as easy as a lot of blogs make it out to be. But, I am of the opinion that nothing worthwhile in life is easy. And breastfeeding? The baby is totally worth all the trouble.

Mrs. Anna T said...

AnneK, I'm sorry that your breastfeeding experience wasn't as good as you might have hoped for! We did occasionally give Shira bottles with pumped milk, for example on those rare date nights we were able to carve out, and on days when I had to fast and my milk supply dropped. I pumped in advance, which is quite a bit of a hassle in itself, but obviously if you feed formula you don't have it.

Anyway, after doing bottle and breast for even a day, I said, thank God I don't have to do it all the time.

Of course preparing formula doesn't take 20 minutes. It takes a minute or so. However, preparing it + feeding baby + helping her get the air out (the last one is something I only needed to do with bottle feeding) surely takes about that long, and you don't have the benefit of staying in bed all or almost all the time.

I've heard, indeed, that babies' tummies get filled more on formula because it's harder to digest, and is often fed in larger portions that the baby would get from the breast. But I see it as additional proof that breast is better - surely the more digestible food is preferable!

I realize breastfeeding does not come easily to some women. To me, it was easy and natural for the most part and of course I know no other experience, so far. When I breastfed, I had my baby in one arm and the other hand free. When I bottle-fed, I had my baby in one arm and the bottle in the other hand, making it impossible to do anything else. So for me it was all pretty simple.

Of course there are also breastfed babies who are sick a lot. And formula babies who thrive. But statistically, breastfed babies are sick less often.

Mrs. Anna T said...

PS: If you read the original article, you'll notice that the author's argument is essentially, "let the baby have more colds, at least his parents will be in love because the mother isn't breastfeeding". I can hardly think of a more ridiculous statement. Who can think of romance with a sick baby?

Mary said...

I have read the Rabbi's book that contained the comments that you posted and I completely agree with you. I found his comments to be totally lacking in a mature understanding of the fact that breastfeeding is the G-d given way for a mother to nurse her baby and a normal and natural part of marriage and the blessing of children.

I had 6 children and my own personal experience of breast feeding was a nightmare due to some physical abnormalities that I have. Nevertheless, I have encouraged my own daughters to breast feed which three out of the four have done very successfully.

I think that the Rabbi's remarks unfortunately reflect the very distorted ideas about sexuality that our culture promotes today. It's sad because some young couples may read what he has written and be influenced in a negative way.

Your blog is great ! You bless so many young Moms who may not have a mother or other older woman to mentor them.

Mary L.

Ladybug Janet said...

I've read the article in question. Rabbi Schmuley says: This is not to say that breast-feeding should not be practiced. It is instead to say that it should always remain subordinate to the romantic and passionate needs of a marriage.

I think it's very clear that the point he is making is that the passion that should exist in a marriage should never take a backseat to the utilitarian duties a woman's body can serve. I think we all know women who have begun to put the needs and desires of their children first and have let their relationship with their husbands shrivel. He could have easily used bottle feeding, but the particular episode he was discussing involved a woman using breastfeeding as a barried to intimacy and care for her husband.

I was not able to breastfeed. I had an allergic reaction to my own oxytocin. It started during labor and lasted for two months after my son's birth as I tried to breastfeed. I am not to be pitied though. I made the choice to switch to formula and supplemented with breast milk from my friends.
I realize that your post was a discussion about Rabbi Schmuley's article. But, it seems like any discussion of breastfeeding seems to lead to a criticism of whoever doesn't choose breastfeeding. It's not important whether or not a woman chooses breastfeeding or formula (she may not have a choice in the matter). What is important is that we encourage each other to seek out what our mother's heart is called to do. Speaking words of life and affirmation instead of criticism.

And Rabbi Schmuley is speaking as a man. He is telling us that the way men's minds work is to be very literal in their memory of their experiences with our bodies. That's why he encourages them not to watch the birth from a southern viewpoint. And for the wife to consider that the husband needs to see his wife in an erotic light and that breastfeeding doesn't necessarily build that. He is telling us that we have the power to seduce and satisfy our husbands by guarding ourselves when our bodies are a vessel for another means (birth, breastfeeding).

He has also posted a response to the outcry his initial article generated:

Michelle Potter said...

Anna, did you read the follow up where the Rabbi attempted to explain what he meant?

It's a bit better, at least he mentions that he supports breastfeeding and encouraged his wife to breastfeed all of their nine children. However, I came away with the feeling that the couple he was discussing, the ones for whom breastfeeding was this huge impediment to their marriage, had some deeper issue that was being ignored, and breastfeeding was a scapegoat. It seems to me that in a healthy marriage, where both spouses are making a normal ("normal," not "average"), healthy effort to keep marital intimacy alive, the simple act of breastfeeding a baby should not create such a problem. I wondered if one of these parents was using breastfeeding as an excuse to avoid or neglect the other -- perhaps the mother was avoiding fixing difficulties in her marriage by replacing her marital relationship with the breastfeeding relationship with her child (instead of fostering both as she should)? Perhaps the father was using his wife's breastfeeding as an excuse to avoid and neglect her, to blame her for the troubles in their marriage instead of seeking a real solution? 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.

As far as the whole keeping covered while breastfeeding thing, apparently Rabbi Boteach believes that husbands and wives should always keep themselves covered around each other -- that simply seeing each other in the nude when they aren't being intimate causes "erotic boredom." Personally, I find that... strange. Can you tell us if that's part of Jewish teaching?

Serenity Now said...

Wow - normally I respect Rabbi Schmuley's opinions, but not about this one. And I didn't even breastfeed! I have a medical conditon that prevented me from being able to - but still, if I could have..I would have expected to be able to whip out a boob and feed my kid without feeling the need to cover up in my own house with my own husband. I think he's way off on this subject, and honestly? I'd LOVE to hear his wife's point of view :)

THE Princess Bombshell* said...

Oh, good night nurse! That's some of the most goofiest arguments I have ever heard!!! LOL OH. MY. WORD. I can't believe this is a grown man...

Mrs. Anna T said...

Michelle, I believe you said it very well.

In the Jewish philosophy, intimacy is very carefully guarded against being trivialized, which is great. But our sages also stated that while a woman breastfeeds (I mean, during the time of the actual feeding) her breasts acquire a special, functional status, meaning that breastfeeding is not something shameful and is to be viewed as natural and normal.

Kari said...

Granted I am not Jewish, but I also agree that these arguments are a bit out of left field! My husband has seen me nurse for over two years with our kids, and he thinks it is beautiful and consistently thanks me for serving him and our babies in that way. Additionally, he saw both of our babies being born and he counts that as one of the most amazing experiences he's had! :)

Anonymous said...

It is hard to keep the physical passion while carrying/birthing/nursing babies. As I understand it, during the nursing period, the hormones that make us, um, frisky, are at an all time low. This makes abundant sense from a biological perspective, but it does make it more challenging to be as responsive. I happened to have the sort of babies who liked to wake up and nurse every three hours until six months or so, so the fact that I didn't get more than three hours of consecutive sleep for half a year didn't help either. Is bottle-feeding the answer? No. The answer is grace and forbearance on the part of both partners, understanding that we don't always get exactly what we want when we want it (whether what we want is a wild night of passionate love or a decent night of sleep) and an understanding that this is simply a season of our life together. They won't be babies for long; enjoy the babiness of it together, do the best you can for each other, and look forward to having good sex and good sleep in the next phase of life.
I would also say that if some husbands find nursing to be repulsive, then that's not something that should be catered to. Nursing babies is God's good design. If you're taking your cues about what is attractive from someone else (like the media, for example), you're taking the wrong cues and need to get your head on straight.

Morag said...

I think time spent with the TV, newspapers and the internet and computer gamers are more more of a barrier to couple intimacy than the presence of young children, nursing or not. It's actual lack of conversation and being together that kills the romance in the long run, not the bearing together of all of life's daily burdens with patience and forbearance with each other.
I think also these remarks show the insidious effect pornography has had on the culture that women are fractured in male minds (even religious minds)into either sensually pleasing sexual partners or utilitarian mother/housekeeper drudges. Men would be highly offended if a female in a position to counsel were to suggest that the calluses from manual labor made men sexually unattractive. Pornography has perverted the perceptions of nearly the whole world of what the relationship of men and women should be. We are created to be yoke partners in the long, hard pull that is daily life and raising a family together, to provide support and comfort to each other. To see another person as existing for one's own titillation, entertainment or amusement is narcissistic.

Anonymous said...

I'm kind of stunned that the original author would actually say that. I don't know a whole lot about Orthodox Judaism, so maybe I am missing some of the cultural context. But I found the rabbi's comments extremely offensive. He seems to want to totally divorce sexuality from its natural consequences-- i.e. childbearing. "That's mine, and I don't want to share it with the baby" is a childish attitude, and really sad to see... it makes me feel sorry for his wife.

Jenny said...

Gracie -- excellent comment!

Anonymous said...

Wow! I feel sorry for his wife!

Following his logic, perhaps women shouldn't get pregnant either. After all, there are times during pregnancy (and after) when the wife's intimate body parts are altered, pained, or otherwise off-limits. If it means our poor husbands can't have us, then I guess we shouldn't get pregnant. Ugh!

Amanda said...

I think that husbands who find breastfeeding unattractive and who do not want to watch their wife and child at the moment of birth ought to be treated sensitively.

I know some men who have watched childbirth, some who opted not to view it directly (like my husband), and others who wished they had the freedom to express their desire not to. Men have been denied the right to express their desires and told what they "ought" to find wonderful and attractive and that is sad and coercive.

Birth and breastfeeding are normal, natural and healthy, but no one is obligated to find their grosser functions attractive - or even neutral. Our bodies have many functions we may choose to conceal and loving husbands shouldn't be made to feel inadequate because they don't want to observe their wives sexual parts being used for other purposes. No one would argue that they should have to watch their wives in the toilet although that function is just as natural, necessary, and part of G-D's good design as any other.

Bethany Hudson said...

My husband loved having me breastfeed our children. And for the record, he was right there for the births of both our precious babies, too--and he thought that was beautiful, as well.

I will say that breastfeeding can do some FUNKY things to your hormones, and though I breastfed for 11 months with both my children (and co-slept for 6-7 months with each), my husband did ask me to wean them by one year so we could "return to normal." I did. Both children were happy, and we were, too.

Jo said...

The comments by the Rabbi just made me cross and so outdated.

Thanks for sharing and adding your views.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Amanda, there's a vast difference between breastfeeding and going to the toilet. In the Jewish tradition, going to the toilet renders one's body impure, and a person cannot pray while in the toilet. On the other hand, a breastfeeding woman can pray (while she is modestly covered up). Breastfeeding simply isn't seen as offensive in our tradition.

Amanda said...

Anna, I did not mean to address Jewish tradition but Gracie's comment that men who find breastfeeding and/or childbirth unattractive should not be catered to. There are lots of people (hippies especially) who think that we all should find bodily functions equally wonderful and that those who close the bathroom door are far too uptight. I think that we should be sensitive to our husband's preferences especially when it comes to childbirth, but also to breastfeeding. As I said before I've known men who felt completely voiceless and forced into seeing and doing things that lessened their desire for their wives because of the militant attitude that "all people must find these things as mysterious and wonderful as my midwife does." I think that childbirth is amazing and breastfeeding is a sweet picture of motherly love, but not every husband is going to be enthralled with the images and some might prefer not to see it. I think that's OK.

Anonymous said...

Amanda, I wouldn't insist that a man watch the baby being born if he didn't want to, and I certainly don't think we all need to be enamored of every bodily function. I just really wonder what kind of man would look at the person he loves most in the world nursing the other person he loves most in the world and find it repellent, you know? To me, that seems like immaturity and selfishness.

CappuccinoLife said...

Huh. Normally I'm a fan of the Rabbi Boteach but not this time. :( Not impressed at all. :(

Love your rebuttal, though!

Analytical Adam said...

Mrs. Anna,

You should know Rabbi Boteach was thrown out of Chabad. He also baits men all the time Mrs. Anna.

Again, why bating man is OK I will never understand.

Rabbi Boteach has defended Michael Jackson and very sick people Mrs. Anna.

He makes money by baiting men which many immoral women want to hear.

He projects everything that he is.

He claims 99% of abortion are because men force them . That is no true Mrs. Anna.

Analytical Adam said...

Mrs. Anna,

To add to my last post honestly you should not waste your time with Rabbi Boteach. He also wrote a book called Kosher Sex.

He has no ethics Mrs. Anna and has made money in very immoral dishonest ways.

It is disappointed that some people even told you to read some of his stuff as I guess they like the fact on every problem he baits Jewish men and says they are 99.9% to blame for it and to be honest he project what he is to others.

The only compassion I have for Rabbi Boteach is the fact that he himself came from a home from a bitter divorce. From being in the trenches and having been in environments with divorced women the boys in these homes are taught by the divorced women that they have to respect women no matter what they do and for any provocation (even if the women initiated it) a man should be punished very severly. They obviously have no qualms about taking a man's money and denying him contact with the children for something minor. So he has a lot of backage although sadly because of this antisemitism towards Jewish men by our own people they like a man who baits Jewish men which he likely coming from a broken home learned inappropriate idea's of gender relations and that with both genders respect has to be earned. This shows the tremendous immorality in the so called religious world that they support this man with some of his vicious behavior and the fact that he does come from a broken home himself and his learned horrible behaviors.

Which of course men who have problems usually are from single mother homes who many are doing it because they hate men and any idea of patriarchy. They also tend to overcompensate. For example I have noticed it is single mothers that are obsessed that boys be involved in sports do an extreme degree and physical stuff but never allowing them to think or even have a sense of teamwork in something physical. These boys end up very disturbed sad to say.

Lady Anne said...

Granted, my daughters are rushing down the line to fifty (how on Earth did THAT happen?) so my memories of those days area bit fuzzy. Regarding nursing getting in the way of intimacy, back in the day, sex was forbidden for the first six weeks, and that was the time the baby most wanted to nurse, so there really wasn't any conflict.

I was able to cradle my oldest with one arm and read, type, etc, with the other hand, so nursing barely slowed me down. Twins, on the other hand...

I loved nursing, even if we went visiting. Grab a couple of diapers and go. If I was alone, most moms had absolutely no problem with my sitting quietly with them and nursing, and if we went to see another couple, I'd just pop into a bedroom and nurse. One mother even asked me if I minded if her four- or five-year old daughter watched me. I didn't mind, and little girl was singuarly unimpressed. Oh, OK, and she went on about her business.

As far as co-sleeping goes, I can't think of anything that would put a bigger crimp in your sex life. My girls all slept like windmills, anyway. They could fall asleep in the middle of a ballroom and bang into the walls!