Note: The columns by Rabbi Boteach are no longer available online.
Rabbi Boteach urged a mother of an 11-month-old to wean in order to preserve her marriage. I agree with him that having a strong marriage is a top priority. If one or both partners are unhappy the children will suffer, and will suffer even more in case of divorce. If you have to choose between a strong marriage and breastfeeding an older baby, I can see choosing the marriage. But why should a woman be forced to choose between her husband and her baby? R. Boteach, despite having had eight children, is clearly not an expert on normal child development. It’s normal and desirable for year-old babies to need their mothers intensely day and night. And many mothers have just as strong an instinctual need to be with those babies. It’s nature’s way of ensuring that babies get the affection they need, and an outsider should be wary of interfering with that mechanism.
From R. Boteach’s response:
But for many women, who are already overrun with too many job and household responsibilities, the added chore of having to express milk prior to rushing to work, after getting their other kids ready for school and making lunch, becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
I agree that women today are expected to do too much. But why does the breastfeeding have to be the first thing to go? It would make as much sense for him to say that women should give up sex with their husbands.
Breastfeeding is an easy way to nurture the baby and be sure he gets attention and physical contact. Without breastfeeding, the mother will need to work harder for the baby to get those things, or the baby will lose out.
R. Boteach writes:
So a few weeks after having a baby, a mom will often be forced to return to work. She will feel extremely guilty at not being able to breast-feed during the day. Should we dig in the knife by telling her that she is harming her children?
Why does every discussion about breastfeeding involve guilt? A mother (and father) need to know the risks in order to make the best decision for their children. Convenience, cost and other factors are also important but the answer isn’t to withhold information.
It’s not Rabbi Boteach’s job to decide when it’s okay for mothers to breastfeed and when it’s not. That is between a mother and her baby (with input from the baby’s father). The marriage advisor can also give his suggestions, but one would hope for a better understanding of the value of the mother-child relationship. He seems to have only a superficial knowledge of the normal course of breastfeeding.
I’m still glad that, according to his account, the suggestion worked and the couple is happier. I do feel bad, though, that the baby and mother missed out on a longer breastfeeding relationship. Surely it’s unfair to say that the baby’s normal needs and the mother’s instinctual response are all that threatened the marriage, and that denying the baby (and mother) these comforts and health benefits is the only way to solve the problem.