Birth, Death, Illness, and Breastfeeding

The other night I attended an evening of prayer and song for the recovery of Penina bat Shimona and her premature baby, Odeya Chana bat Penina. Please keep them in your prayers.

At the evening I met a woman from my synagogue, who asked me what I do. When I said that I counsel breastfeeding mothers, she said, “Oh,” and changed the subject. I walked home with a different woman that I knew equally well (that is, not so well). She not only remembered what I did, but told me all about the challenges she experienced nursing her numerous children. One had a heart problem and she pumped exclusively for several months, one was hospitalized as a newborn and didn’t nurse for a few days, and she weaned all her children when they began to bite.

I’ve noticed that when I go to a shiva (mourning) house, the mourners want to talk about the moment of death with each person who enters. They describe who was there, what the deceased said, and any other details they can recall. They feel the need to relive that critical moment between life and death. In the same way, women enjoy telling the story of the births of their children long after the child has grown.

When I meet a mother in a context other than breastfeeding support, her reaction to the topic generally speaks volumes about her breastfeeding experience. If she has enjoyed breastfeeding and we are in a relaxed setting, she usually treats me to her nursing stories. In my neighborhood where large families are common that might take a while! In some cases she might just say how long she nursed each one, but I often hear long stories about overcoming early difficulties, and how and why she weaned. I am convinced that women remember much more about the beginning and end of their breastfeeding relationships with their children than they do about the day their children first walked, or their first day of school.

Some women who react like the first one above had a traumatic nursing experience. (Only a small number of Israeli women choose not to nurse at all.) In many cases of attempted breastfeeding, the mother received poor support in the hospital and afterward but may still feel a sense of failure. When a mother weans before she is ready, there are physiological and emotional repercussions. She may want to process those feelings.

I am actually most fascinated by a third group–the ambivalent mothers. These nursed long enough to get past the learning curve, but never seemed to “get into it.” There are dozens of reasons why this can happen, including outside stress, scheduled feeds, lack of support from family members (or even outright criticism), unaddressed pain, unrealistic expectations or lack of knowledge, a very fussy or sick baby, or a baby who seems unhappy at the breast. When such mothers wean they may be surprised at their strong feelings of loss, but sometimes they are simply relieved. Fortunately for most mothers the hormones kick in at some point after they get the hang of things, and they enjoy a satisfying and mutually enjoyable nursing relationship with their babies.


  1. Nursing each of my 2 was intricate and rewarding, unique each time. It’s funny how moms who are/have nursed can seemingly talk about this topic without getting tired of it, and are drawn to one another like a magnet!

  2. My mother never nursed, but I believe she tried and “failed” because I remember her doing someting with my younger sister although the memory is vague.
    She didn’t get the whole trouble and to-do that I would go through with my first: the set up, the initial pains, and the length of feedings and frquency of nursing. But I can’t imagine giving a bottle. Nursing is as natural around here as any other daily activity. Even my son nurses his baby, lol. And he seems to be “addicted” also since I sometimes catch him nursing when he is by himself. Even cuter, he strokes his baby’s head, just like I do.

  3. I think it’s just like anything….when people feel they have an experience that is worth sharing, they do. I also can’t imagine giving my kids anything but. And I am the first to proudly tell friends that neither of my boys ever had a drop of formula!!!
    gotta run, being paged by the 3 year old on the toilet!!! 🙂

  4. mominisrael says

    Ora–thank you for sending this to me. I would definitely like to respond to it and to your reaction.

  5. mominisrael says

    RM–so true!
    SL–glad it is going better this time. Mothers should look forward to nursing and not see it as a burden (nothing is 100% of course).
    Emah–I think nursing is still different than say, mountain climbing or Flylady.

  6. “In the same way, women enjoy telling the story of the births of their children long after the child has grown.”
    That is so true! I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a new playgroup, or any other group of women who didn’t know eachother well, and before you know it, we’re all sharing our birthing experiences.
    I don’t think men have anything comparable (universal conversation topic, that is)

  7. No connection to nursing, but can you maybe respond to this?
    It really annoyed me–it’s hard enough raising kids without a rabbi telling you you’re not capable of it and need to send them away. As if I needed less confidence.

  8. mominisrael says

    RR, we should ask them.

  9. I think the Universal Subject amongst men is how long or short their minyan was. 🙂

  10. Men talk about army. Get any two Israeli guys together and within 5 minutes they’re babbling on about where they served, who they both know, etc. Using words that barely pass as Hebrew, if at all.
    I can’t let my husband wear his army T-shirt out of the house anymore. If he does, whenever we try to walk into the mall, cafe, etc, the guard asks “Oh, you were in givati? Mertz Arba?” and of course my husband gets all excited and in the end I have to drag him in so that they’ll stop talking about nagmashim and mefakdim and whatever other madeup army words.

  11. mominisrael says

    SL–I don’t know about that, that doesn’t get my husband going. Nusach, yes.
    Ora, LOL. Mine didn’t do the army as he was too old when we made aliya. But I’m sure you’re right.