An interesting take on religion and breastfeeding.

Hat tip: Ari Kinsberg.

According to this article, if a woman breastfeeds anyone, even an adult, the two are considered family and the usual restrictions regarding separation of men and women don’t apply. According to Islamic law, that is.

My husband points out that this could cause problems if the two (or their relatives) actually want to marry at a later point.

The Shulchan Aruch, based on the Talmud, allows breastfeeding until age two in all cases, and up to age 4 (or 5, if the child is sick) as long as the child has not ceased nursing for 72 hours. I know a few observant women who have nursed children older than that, but never discussed it with them. According to an article in Kolech’s collection on women and halacha by Dr. Deena Zimmerman, the reason for the restriction is that adults are forbidden to breastfeed (although they may drink mother’s milk indirectly) and the halacha designates the age of four to delineate between the two. I don’t remember what is special about age four, but will try to contact Dr. Zimmerman.

Halacha clearly considers breastfeeding until age two as a minimum. I know someone who thinks that a rabbi should be consulted before weaning a younger child. Whether this halacha applies today, when weaning may not visibly harm the baby, is a matter of dispute. In any case, rabbis need to recognize the health and emotional benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby when ruling on the subject.


  1. Since when did the age of 4 mark the transition between childhood and adulthood? I thought that was what the age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah was all about!!! I breastfed my daughter for SEVEN years. AFter she was a toddler, it was always done privately and modestly. I don’t understand how the SAges of the Talmud – all men – could possibly understand what breastfeeding is all about!!! My daughter is now 20. And we’re still “seeing” the benefits of extended nursing. My daughter is absolutely brilliant and talented – both academically and in music. She’s very very close to both of her parents. We NEVER went through the “usual” teenage rebellion thing. Health-wise, by kid hasn’t been to the doctor in over 5 years for illness, of any sort. So yes, breastfeeding is one of the best investments parents can make in the health, happiness and well-being of their children. I’m passionate about this topic.

  2. The Islamic idea sounded like Purim Torah. Too many teeth for me. I’ll stick to nursing my own babies!
    Hope your preparations are going well. I’m done. I just need to get the challah in the oven once it rises.

  3. mominisrael says

    Helene, I am sending you something in the mail.
    Thanks for sharing about your daughter!! 13 years ago, there surely could not be much support for moms nursing a 7yo. I know that someone is writing a book on nursing past age three–her name is Janell Robisch.
    SL–hope everything worked out. My Shavuot food went pretty fast, even though my kids don’t feel a real meal can include anything except chicken and potatoes or pizza.

  4. Naturally everything more than worked out. I’ve even got leftovers and will be taking care of a myriad of little things that need to get done instead of cooking for Shabbat.

  5. 4/5 is “gil chinuch” when a child has “understanding.” That’s why in “separate” swimming places the age restriction is around there. I consider age 3 better, since I have memories from 3 and even under.
    Two is important and one of the reasons many rabbis allow and even encourage “limited” birth control, so as not to injure the already born child.

  6. mominisrael says

    Thanks Muse–I’m sure you’re right and that is the reason.
    A friend whose husband learns in an Israeli yeshiva for chozrim beteshuva (newly religious) said that their rabbi allows birth control for two full years, even when there is only one child. He says that in ancient times spacing of three years was normal, and that is in the best interest of the child. Of course I have written about child spacing previously.
    Regarding mixed swimming, one local pool won’t allow entry of any females during men’s hours, even if they are fully clothed females.

  7. mominisrael says

    SL–wish I didn’t have to cook for Shabbat–all I have is soup and some challah (I can’t believe we made dough with 3kg flour last Friday). I made yeast cake with some of it, but I only have two small challahs left. One teenager went away. Fortunately, as long as there are chicken and potatoes and a salad everyone is happy.

  8. Ari Kinsberg says

    thanks for the link
    1) maybe the idea is just so foreign to me, but nursing past ages 2 or 3? i don’t want to sound judgemental (esp. after helen above), but isn’t that a little strange? i still have a few memories from ages 3-4. i’m glad one of them is not of me being breastfed by my mother.
    2) i’m too lazy to look it up, but i’m not sure about something from your post. is nursing till 2 “allowed” or “required”? i know many frum mothers who did not nurse, for various reasons. from my own friends (not that they are necessarily paradigms of piety) i’m sure not even one was aware of these halakhic aspects.
    3) what is the 72 hours issue?
    4) i’ve heard that prolonged nursing is common among hassidim, who do so as a form of (ineffective) birth control.

  9. mominisrael says

    1)Nursing until 4 or 5 is very common in most non-western cultures, and gaining popularity in the US as well. Most people feel like you do until they actually experience it (or their wife/child do)–I did myself. Most children who remember bf have positive memories.
    2) Apparently some rabbis believe it is required, but not any that I know. My friend who believes that it is is chassidic.
    3)The shulchan aruch, based on the gmara, does not allow a toddler who stopped on his own for 72 hours to resume nursing; presumably he doesn’t need it. Some rabbis give heterim for resuming if the mother initiated it (i.e. she went on a trip) or for other extenuating circumstances. Unfortunately there are few rabbis who are very knowledgeable on this topic. Rav Neventzal of the Old City is one.
    4) If you check my posts labelled fertility, pregnancy, and sleep, you will find some old posts that explain the mechanism of breastfeeding infertility. It works very well, but you have to know how to maximize it and when to stop relying on it. I experienced two years of breastfeeding infertility after my last baby.

  10. Ari Kinsberg says

    1) “very common in most non-western cultures”
    i prefer not to take my cues from non-western cultures in general
    2) “Most people feel like you do until they actually experience it”
    i guess husbands can never really experience it. actually, when my wife went back to work i happened to be on winter break so i stayed home with the baby. the first day i could not for the life of me get him to drink from a bottle. after trying for a few hours i finally took off my shirt (i remembered reading in one of the parenting books something about skin-to-skin contact during feeding), put the bottle under my armpit with the nipple sticking out and put him in a breastfeeding position. it worked.
    3) halakhically, what is the difference between using breastfeeding for birth control and using the pill?
    4) “If you check my posts . . .”
    i checked them out. if done “properly,” how successful is it in preventing pregnancy? can it achieve 99.9%?
    for someone that needs to make sure they don’t get pregnant (for whatever reason), would you really recommend breastfeeding over “conventional” birth control? in school one of the principles of clinical therapeutics is to make a medical regimen as simple as possible to ensure compliance. i would not feel comfortable recommending that a patient rely on breastfeeding.

  11. Ari Kinsberg says

    p.s. i hope you did not cringe too much when i wrote about reading parenting books

  12. mominisrael says

    Ari, somehow I missed this comment.
    1) Well, you have to ask whether the way we treat babies in our culture meets their needs. In general, no.
    2). Whatever works, Ari! I will remember that one, maybe it will help someone else.
    To be continued

  13. mominisrael says

    3)3) Perhaps none, but not everyone wants to use the pill. And the more effective combination pill can reduce milk supply, so the progesterone-only pill is usually used during breastfeeding. If you don’t take it exactly the same time everyday, it may lose effectiveness. And not everyone wants to ingest hormones when you they already infertile. Anyway, Lactation Amenorrhea Method is 98% effective, about the same as BCPs. It has been proven to work across cultures, and is very easy to learn. I don’t think that everyone should rely on breastfeeding for birth control. I just think that women (and doctors) should be educated to make their own choices.
    to be cont.

  14. mominisrael says

    4) Here is a list from the FDA about different types of b/c and their effectiveness.
    LAM is considered 98% effective. Most American women breastfeeding exclusively return to fertility between 6 and 12 months.
    I didn’t see your post on parenting books.
    To reiterate, I don’t “recommend” anything to anyone. I believe that women and their partners are smart enough to make their own choices but they should be provided with accurate information. NFP is also very effective when taught properly, much more so than the FDA chart implies.

  15. Balabusta in Blue Jeans says

    > The Islamic idea sounded like >Purim Torah. Too many teeth for me. >I’ll stick to nursing my own babies!
    The case in question sounds a little demented to me, too, and apparently to the Al-Azhar authorities, although the goal it’s apparently trying to reach is a good one. Unless this guy is well-known to just have a nursing fetish.
    My first thought, though, was of the scene toward the end of _The Grapes of Wrath_, where Rose of Sharon nurses the dying man they find. I suppose under Islamic law, that would establish a kinship connection of the same kind that would have been established if she has nursed his child.

  16. mominisrael says

    Balabusta–I think whoever wrote the opinion retracted it in the end. It also reminded me of Steinbeck. Actually a couple of years ago a woman who had recently weaned sustained a group of adults stranded on a boat, with breastmilk.

  17. Yet another example of Halachah being more advanced than modern thought – here in the UK, the government recommends breastfeeding for a minimum of only 6 months. There’s massive social and political pressure on women to get back to work quickly, and no support for those who would like enough flexibility in their job to be able to keep breastfeeding. Nursing beyond a year old is even referred to as ‘extended’ breastfeeding, as if it wasn’t healthier, more natural, and historically the norm!

  18. mominisrael says

    Anon, thanks for your comment. The author of “What Mothers Do” is from the UK and she talks about pregnant women who sign a contract that they will return to work.
    It’s called extended here too.

  19. dear mother in israel,
    i’m trying to find out more about breastfeeding in halacha, and to sort through the rumours and the facts. do you know where i could find the actual sourse in the shulchan aruch about breastfeeding?

    • mominisrael says

      Ketubot 60a, Yoreh Deah 81:7.
      If you look at my “Breastfeeding” page from the sidebar you will see other posts that mention Judaism and breastfeeding.