Thursday, June 10, 2010

No, breastfeeding is not the real problem

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.  


Anonymous said...

Two good posts. I was unable to breastfeed and wish I could have, but my children were healthy. I can't believe this Rabbi's article, though. I mean, that's what breasts were meant know? Mary R.

grateful homemaker said...

My daughter recently saw responses to a question from a young ,engaged Christian woman on whether she should wait to have children when she married (implying using birth control). This was on a very conservative site in which these same young adults parents have had large families and let God plan their families. Almost invariably the response from other young adults is that,yes, you should wait 1-3 years. The euphemism was that this way you can get to know your spouse and not be burdened with a child right away. I was shocked and so was my daughter. She gets discouraged and says she feels so alone when this is the case among her peers and even wonders if a man exists that thinks the way she does about having children. My admittedly rather cynical view is that the young men are thinking that marriage without children anytime soon means more sex for them. Their is also a mistaken belief that after children most wives will no longer be willing to be intimate on any regular basis. I have truly heard and read that over and over. Therefore, adding in breastfeeding or any child is seen as a negative for a man's sex life and so they don't want them anytime soon, with any frequency and with minimal interference in whatever level of intimacy they want or expected. Their was also the response about the additional income the woman could bring in if she wasn't pregnant. So discouraging. I was always careful to nurture this part of my marriage whether pregnant or nursing but my dear husband was also very patient when this was not possible due to moments (just moments,ladies,not weeks long adjustments) due to utter fatigue. His very patience only made me love him more and then that love uplifted his attraction to me and then,well,you know ,attraction leads to other babies,timely or not, are not the doomsday to marital intimacy in my book and I would have made a beeline to my doctor if something was permanently putting a damper on my sex life because my husband was so dear to me and intimacy was such a beautiful gift from God that I would do all in my power to restore it.

MacKenzie said...

My baby is only two weeks old so I am by no means an expert on breastfeeding and it's impact on marriage and right now, whether I was breastfeeding or not, our marriage would be undergoing a whole bunch of changes that we will need to adjust but so far, it has been great for our marriage. Breastfeeding is hard, or at least it has been for me these two weeks. I know that it will get easier and I do believe that it is completely worth it but for now, it's a challenge. Knowing my husband is supportive of me and will help me in any way he can to do what we feel is best for our baby even if it means I, temporarily, have less to "give" him just increases my love and respect for him. And he has told and shown me that my willingness to give of myself for the sake of our child, even when it is hard, is beautiful to him. He loves to watch our little girl fill her tummy and sink back to sleep happy and content. We both see our selflessness for our child as a good thing that fuels our love for each other. I know that we will face certain challenges that as a couple we will need to address but I hope that we will always maintain the idea that fulfilling our child's needs is a way of loving each other as well.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Grateful Homemaker,

Among young Jewish couples, those questions arise as well.
I plan to do a post, as time allows, on birth control and divorce - two things that were never forbidden in Judaism, but were generally not practiced because the attitude was just so different from today.

Laura Ashley said...

I also disgree with his opinion on men watching their baby born. I don't think it is traumatizing for men to watch their children be born. It might help men better understand what women are going through.

Leah Brand-Burks said...

"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."

You're exactly right!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,

Boteach has left a bad taste in my mouth ever since he did a program here in the US where he was counseling couples and families. I was a little shocked at his thoughts on things, but I am not sure if that is just because it is Orthodox Jewish or not (for instance, it seems that the women are to not only hold down a family but work fulltime while the Husband finds himself for years..don't get that).

This latest outrageous lunacy that he is preaching is just more of what he has already done here. He was "counseling" Jon from the reality show Jon and Kate plus 8 and I believe he was also "counseling" Michael Jackson..who then died and Boteach felt it was ok to release tapes of some of their private sessions.

I have no respect for that man and, respectfully to you, I do not believe that just because someone has the name "rabbi" that they actually serve the Lord.

Many Blessings :)

Anonymous said...


I saw in your comments that you will be doing a post on divorce and that it is allowed in your religion. Is that in the Talmud, because the Torah is pretty clear that it is not allowed.

I am not trying to start a fight or anything, I am just honestly wondering.


Many Blessings :)

emily said...

How do you decide on which issues to take rabbinical advice and on which issues to stand on your own opinion?

Mrs. Anna T said...


I think rabbi Boteach is very Americanized (I'm saying this with all due respect to my American readers). I can't imagine any of the rabbis I normally look up to write a book titled "Kosher Adultery" for example.

I would love to know which passage of the Torah you are basing your opinion that divorce wasn't allowed. Look up for example Deuteronomy 24, passages 1-4, which deal with one particular divorce law. Obviously God hates divorce, and has meant marriage to be for a lifetime, but in some rare instances it always existed. The problem is that today, it's becoming not rare at all.


Basically, if one is in doubt about what is supposed to be done by Law, one must go to a rabbi for counsel. There are however many grey areas which don't deal with Law directly, and rabbis act as marital counselors as well. There are people who go to a rabbi for just about any question. It's a matter of perspective.

Anonymous said...

please cite your source for the gemara about a woman not being allowed to marry for two years, that is simply untrue, it is 3 months not 2 years. If it had anything to do with an infant's need to nurse, sex would in general be allowed only 2 years postpartum.

Mrs. Anna T said...


If you read Hebrew, you can read here:

Scroll down to "breastfeeding and new pregnancy." Sources cited there.

In general, birth control was allowed for two years postpartum, because it was known that a new pregnancy can diminish milk supply and in Talmudic times it was crucial to maintain a mother's milk supply for that long (the food selection was obviously not as large as today).

Today, breastfeeding isn't usually seen as a good enough reason to space out births, because even if a woman can't breastfeed beyond, say, several months, her baby is generally not in danger.

Anyway, the reasoning was that while practicing birth control within a married couple for the sake of their baby is reasonable, in the case of a new husband it is not because of course he will be eager to have children as soon as possible and may not care so much for a baby that isn't his. Also if a new pregnancy occurs, the stepfather is less likely to go out of his way to provide alternative nutritious foods for the child, than the baby's own father would have. Thus the rule to wait for that long.

Analytical Adam said...

A couple of points Mrs. Anna.

Throughout the exile Mrs. Anna Rabbi's are picked by us not by G-d. Moses our Patriarchs and Matriarchs David and all the hero's in the bible were not elected. So to be fair Mrs. Anna many of our Rabbi's who are famous do pander to some of our own weaknesses Mrs. Anna and the blame is all of us.

On the issue of divorce and young age I 100% agree with you Mrs. Anna. In fact I would think getting married to old is more a reason for divorce because they are no children.

The only reason young people may be getting divorced at higher rates is because some young people are just being used as pawns and they fit the feminist agenda so they get them married but of course them having a common hatred of other men is not a recipe for a healthy married although some mariges do last a long time based on the husband hating men because he doesn't want competition and the women hating men because she was brainwashed by feminism.

Regarding contraception Rabbi's buy the concept that women are always victims which sadly makes them unable to make good judgements in this area as many Rabbi's only see women when they come in distress although if they really read the torah they would see G-d does not view women as victims and holds them just as responsible as men for sexual sins. Rabbi's have always for political reasons been easier on women similar to what the church has done although it does tremendous harm and at the end of the day is suggesting that women can't rise above their most base desires.

Analytical Adam said...

It is obvious to me that some of your women friends hate men. Some of them stay home so they can abuse their male children. I know this goes on.

Some of them I am sure know about Boteach's background and his history and don't care.

You do know Rabbi Boteach defended Micahel Jackson who many feel did strange things with young boys and very few people defended him but Rabbi Boteach defended Michael Jackson.

It just shows you how immoral the religious world and how much they hate Jewish men like Pharoh did.

Please, Mrs. Anna. He is not trustworthy and some of your friends I think are classic feminists playing on you being naive.