World Breastfeeding Week. 1-7 August 2014
Khalil Charles reports of one of the important traditions in Islam
This year's World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) theme stresses the importance of increasing and sustaining the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding - in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It’s estimated that child mortality rates can be decreased by more than 13% if breastfeeding practices were improved.
The Muslim Association of Britain takes a look at breastfeeding in Islam and compares some of its recommended virtues against some the development goals aimed at improving the well being of mother and child.
So important is the virtue of breastfeeding that in Islam, a woman who dies during the two year recommended period of breastfeeding is considered to be a martyr. [i] Today, breastfeeding is on something of a revival in the Western world including many Muslim women, who are now returning to this practice encouraged by knowledge and the teachings of Islam.
At the beginning of the century, 8 Millennium Development goals (MDGs) were identified to help improve the health of babies and particular to help reduce the child mortality rate. It’s estimated that 13% of children can be saved each year by an increase and encouragement of the practice around the world. In addition, about 50-60% of under 5s mortality, second only to malnutrition is caused by inadequate complementary feeding following on from poor breastfeeding practices.[ii]
Verse 233 of the 2nd Chapter of the Quran (The Chapter of The Cow) says, “Mothers shall breastfeed their children for two whole years, for those who wish to complete the term.” There are also references to mothers bearing and weaning children for a period of thirty months in Verse 15, Chapter 46. Therefore, it is quite evident that Islam strongly recommends the practice and even endorses babies being breastfed by wet nurses. Halima Sa’diyyah bint Abi Dhu’ayb was given the honour of caring for and feeding the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him). [iii]
Indeed many of the benefits of breastfeeding encouraged by the Quran are now reinforced by the Millennium Development Goals. Breastfeeding is now seen as a means to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, to improve the health of the mother and combat diseases like HIV/AIDs and malaria.
In terms of eradicating poverty, breastfeeding is regarded as a cost effective way of feeding babies and children. It is affordable and does not burden the household budget in the way that artificial feeding can. Its also a means to improve maternal health as it decreases blood loss while feeding, decreases the risk of breast cancer, and osteoporosis as well as contributing to reducing the risks of pregnancies being too close together. In addition, together with antiretroviral therapy it can reduce the transmission of HIV from mother to child to a very low level.
The role of government in helping to encourage and facilitate breastfeeding is important today as it was in the time of the Companions. During the reign of the second Caliph Umar Ibn AI-Khattab, every Muslim in the community, except for newborn babies up to and including the weaning stage, received social security benefits from the Government treasury. When Umar noticed that mothers tended to wean their babies too early to get the benefit of social security, he cried, "How many young Muslim souls you have deprived from their food O, Umar!" He then, ordered that every newborn should get the subsidy from birth.[iv]
Next year, a review of the Millennium Development goals will be carried out. Latest information suggests that although much progress has been made, there is still a lot of ‘unfinished business’. Poverty has gone down, but 1 in 8 people still go to bed hungry. In the last 2 decades, child mortality has decreased by about 40%, but still almost 7 million children under-five die each year, mainly from preventable diseases. As the overall rate of under-five mortality has declined, the proportion of neonatal deaths (during the first month of life) comprises an increasing proportion of all child deaths.[v]
The organisers of World Breastfeeding Week have placed this message on their website “Exclusive breastfeeding and adequate complementary feeding are key interventions for improving child survival, potentially saving about 20% of children under five.”
The Muslim Association of Britain adds its voice to this important message and continues to support wonderful awareness campaigns like this.
[iii]Muhammad, Man and Prophet Adil Salahi p.25
[v]Figures from: http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org