Sex vs. Breastfeeding

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.

Dads and Breastfeeding: Response to Rabbi Boteach 


  1. SephardiLady says

    I don’t care for blank marriage advice. Shmuely certainly gave a lot of it in the JPost article.

    Another subject could be the advice on time away from the children:

    Once a week dates, a necessity? One or two overnight trips away from home without the children, a necessity? (This advice I have some issues with, but I digress). And, no wonder the wife is running back to work so quickly. Somebody has to fund this! 🙂

    But, in all seriousness. Each relationship between husband and wife and parents and children is different and unique, and should be treated as such. If a couple needs a once a week date to thrive or even survive, then let them enjoy! For us, hiring a babysitter for a once a week date and scheduling that once a week date would do us in. It just wouldn’t work for us.

    Well, I guess I don’t care too much for R. Shmuely’s blanket relationship advice. So, I’ll leave it at that.

  2. Jerusalem Joe says

    i do not understand with what authority he is speaking. wouldn’t a psychologist be a better choice? after all, it does seem that he is using psychological research in a very spotty, amatuerish way. and if you choose to use psychology,why stick to the pervasive , anti-religous freudian branch, and not adler or jung?

  3. mother in israel says

    Yes, I decided not to comment on the necessity for overnight trips because the post was getting too long; maybe I’ll make it a separate post. Very funny comment about the funding!!

    Thanks for stopping by; your blog looks very interesting! Rabbi B. has written about relationships in the past, and some network liked him enough to hire him to solve people’s problems on a reality show. What more authority could he possibly need than that? 🙂

  4. This reaveals a lot about his own marriage and priorities.

  5. Anna in Rehovot says

    I just wonder why women are always supposed to do everything….I’m an observant Jew (not haredit), and my husband always helps me in everything- and that’s the only reason I managed to breastfeed for over a year….

  6. femalejewishblogger www.myjblo says

    I agree that children need breastfeeding at least a year-and-a-half, but really more like two!
    I REALLY don’t think men, who don’t spend many hours with a baby in a sling and then sleeping nearby, for many nights in a row, have a good feeling for a baby’s needs.

  7. absolute insanity! it says in the torah to nurse for 2 years!
    where can we protest?

  8. the original article is ‘not available’!

  9. Seems to me that this woman probably might have benefited from help with making lunches, getting kids ready for school, looking after the baby and more before being told that the breastfeeding was the problem.


  1. […] while ago I posted about R. Boteach’s column on the perils of breastfeeding to a young couple’s sex life. […]