Islamic concept of breastfeeding

IN the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

Almighty Allah declares in Holy Qur’an 2:177: “It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces toward East or West; but it is righteousness to believe in God and the Last Day and the Angels and the Book and the Messengers; to spend of your substance out of love for Him for your kin for orphans for the needy for the wayfarer for those who ask and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient in pain (or suffering) and adversity and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth the God-fearing.”

The world is indeed afflicted with criminal activities. Stone-hearted youths, male and female, are engaged in nefarious activities that debase humanity. There is general lack of fear of God; of government; of rule of law; of law enforcement agencies; of parents. They degrade societal norms and values to engage in theft, armed robbery, rape, drug peddling and addiction, violence, arson and vandalism and, in fact, corruption and murder. We now live in fear and in the midst of danger in the world where lives have been reduced to nothingness due to criminal activities of youths.

Besides the fact that there is high death toll from assassinations and other criminal tendencies daily, the world is afflicted with diseases resulting in high mortality rate, especially of infants. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “globally, the infant mortality rate has decreased from an estimated rate of 65 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 29 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018.” The organisation said: “Annual infant deaths have declined from 8.7 million in 1990 to 4.0 million in 2018. In 2018, 4.0 million (75 per cent of all under-five deaths) occurred within the first year of life. But the risk of a child dying before completing the first year of age was highest in the WHO African Region (52 per 1,000 live births), over seven times higher than that in the WHO European Region (seven per 1,000 live births)”.

Also, the United Nations Children Funds (UNICEF) notes that “poor nutrition manifests in many ways in the world.” It said: “In 2020, 21.3 percent (144.0 million) of children under 5 were stunted, 6.9 percent (47.0 million) wasted and 5.6 percent (38.3 million) overweight. Globally, malnutrition is linked to nearly half the deaths of children under age 5. About 144 million children under 5 suffer from stunting and chronic malnutrition. Also, in 2020, acute food insecurity threatened 135 million people in 55 countries. It is not just children who are malnourished. Mothers and pregnant women aren’t getting the nutrition they need to ensure that their babies develop in the womb and are born at a healthy weight. Conflict and economic shocks have created a food crisis in Yemen. Only 15 per cent of children eat the minimum acceptable diet they need to survive, grow and develop; 360,000 suffer from severe acute malnutrition, a potentially deadly but treatable condition. UNICEF promotes exclusive breastfeeding, a practice that could save the lives of an estimated 800,000 children under 5. The human suffering caused by undernutrition is immense. The economic costs are staggering, too. Africa and Asia’s Gross Domestic Product is expected to drop by up to 11 percent due to undernutrition”. The UNICEF adds that not less than 4.000 infants die daily from diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, and other communicative diseases like cholera, meningitis, polio, and malnutrition. And in fact, millions of others are impaired in growth and physical health including their mental and physical agility.

These criminal tendencies among youths and death toll of infants from diseases have been attributed to lack of breastfeeding for children. Science is rediscovering what Islam has taught us in the last 15 centuries that breastfeeding is the perfect food for babies in the first two years. It thus exudes the virtues of humanity in man to the maximum level.

Besides, the suckling of the child in Islam for two years imbues the fear of God in man, as well as makes man tenderly, respectful and caring for the parents, apart from ensuring healthy growth of children, and the proper spacing of children as an in-built family planning measure. It is, in fact, obligatory in Islam for mothers to give suck to their offspring for two whole years in order to properly foster the child and safeguard the children.

Almighty Allah declares in Qur’an 2:233: “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. No soul shall have a burden laid on it greater than it can bear. No mother shall be treated unfairly on account of her child nor father on account of his child. An heir shall be chargeable in the same way 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 (the mother) what ye offered on equitable terms. But fear God and know that God sees well what ye do”.

Scientific research has confirmed the Islamic verdict that children that are fed on cow milk and other baby food are more criminally minded that their counterparts fed on breast milk. According to UNICEF reports, the increasing rate of crime in the world is due to the bottle-feeding culture adopted by nursing mothers. Hence, the World Breast-feeding Day is celebrated annually between August 1 and 7, since 1992 to call attention to the need for communities to promote and support of breastfeeding.

Medical researchers have also just confirmed Islam’s posture that breast milk provides total nutritional requirements for the first six months of life and serves as an invaluable source of nourishment until the second birthday. According to UNICEF, this prevents malnutrition and allows the child to develop fully, apart from colostrums (the first milk) serving as the baby’s first immunisation against worldly germs, infections and diseases.

As Islam requires us to be kind, humble, caring and tenderly towards our parents, and pray for them as they did when we were young (Qur’an 17:23-24; 46:15-17), the UNICEF is just confirming the need for breastfeeding as a form of bond between mother and child. The cherishing of one’s child in childhood, as Islam requires presupposes two whole years of breastfeeding. And the parents in turn get the benefits from the kindness of their children at old age when they shall be helpless and weak. Such bond of relationship is developed through breastfeeding. It gives the baby the instinct for protection and nurturing through the mother’s feel, sensation and visual image. God says in Qur’an 17:23-24: “Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: ‘My Lord! Bestow on them Thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood’”.

Even WHO has confirmed that breastfeeding is the single most important measure to prevent diseases like diarrhea among infants. It reveals that up to two months old babies not breastfed are at least twice likely to have communicable diseases and their chances of dying from their effects are up to 25 times greater. Therefore, UNICEF recommends that breast milk should be given to babies exclusively for six months and with little solid food, for two years. It gives a 10-step guide to successful breastfeeding.

May Almighty Allah make us accept the verdict of Islam on breastfeeding for the benefit of humanity. Amen.

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