By Imam Murtadha Gusau

IN the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Bestower of Mercy

All praise is for Allah, we praise Him, we seek His help, we ask for His forgiveness, and we seek refuge with Allah from the evils of our own souls and the wickedness of our actions, whoever Allah guides, there is none that can lead him astray, and whoever Allah allows to go astray, there is none that can lead him to the right path.

I testify and bare witness that there is no deity worthy of worship in truth but Allah, alone, without any partners. And I testify and bare witness that Muhammad (Peace be upon him) is His Servant and Messenger.

Dear brothers and sisters, the World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) is a global campaign held annually from 1 to 7 August in more than 170 countries to promote breastfeeding and improve infant health.

The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) coordinates World Breastfeeding Week activities with the support of a network of individuals and organisations.

Breastfeeding is the best way to provide infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. It also improves the bonding between the mother and child. Also there are many health benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and babies. Breast milk and breastfeeding play an important role in the child’s overall growth.

Respected brothers and sisters! This weeklong event was first celebrated in 1992 and has since become an important awareness day for many countries. It is an opportunity to promote and support breastfeeding, as well as to raise awareness of the importance of breastfeeding for the health of both mother and child.

The World Breastfeeding Week is also a time to educate people about the importance of breastfeeding and to provide information and resources to help mothers breastfeed successfully. 

During these week-long celebrations, people should join hand and get involved in the fight for better breastfeeding support and policies. There are many ways to get involved, from attending events and rallies to writing letters to your elected representatives, to sharing information and resources with others. No matter how you choose to participate, your involvement can make a difference in the lives of mothers and newborn babies around the world.

My beloved people! Exclusive breastfeeding for six months provides the following significant health benefits for both mother and child:

1. Helps to create a strong bond between mother and baby. This leads to complete physical and emotional recovery for the mother after childbirth.

2. Reduces the risk of certain diseases and conditions for both the mother and baby, including obesity, diabetes, respiratory infections, and ear infections.

3. Develops a strong immune system for the baby.

4. Increases IQ of the baby.

5. Lowers the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

6. Brings back the pre-pregnancy weight in mothers.

Dear servants of Allah! Early initiation of breastfeeding should start within 1 hour of birth. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life; and continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.

Optimal breastfeeding could save the lives of over 820 000 children under the age of 5 years each year.

Breast milk can provide half or more of a child’s energy needs between the ages of 6 and 12 months, and one-third of energy needs between 12 and 24 months.

Breastfeeding burns between 500-600 calories a day.

The smell and taste of your breast milk change depending on the foods you eat. Premature babies are fed more breast milk in the first 28 days of life. At the end of six months, breastfeeding rates fall to 43%, and only 13% of babies are exclusively breastfed.

Respected servants of Allah! Know that, with your baby’s arrival, the first part of his provision arrived too and that is breast milk! Allah Almighty ordained breastfeeding for humans and many animals and people have been breastfeeding from the beginning of their existence.

Allah’s Messengers too were breast-fed. Allah inspired Prophet Musa’s mother to put her baby Musa in a basket in the river to save him from Pharaoh’s killing decree, Pharaoh’s family found him and wanted to keep him and looked everywhere for a wet-nurse to breastfeed him and Allah caused Prophet Musa to refuse to be breast-fed by any woman except his own mother.

Also the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) in his childhood, suckled from his mother Aminah, Thuwaibah – a slave girl of his uncle Abu Lahab, Umm Aiman and Halimah as-Sa’diyyah.

The Prophet (Peace be upon him)’s children too were breastfed. His son Ibrahim had a wet-nurse as occurs in a Hadith and when his son passed away he was only 1 year and 10 months old so there were two months of suckling left for him so the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said as narrated by Al-Bara’ Bin Azib. The Prophet, after the death of his son Ibrahim, said:

“There is a wet-nurse for him (i.e. Ibrahim) in Paradise.”

It is only in modern times that the wide use of artificial forms of baby-feeding, cow’s and goat’s milk formulas, have been used and that women have left their homes in pursuit of careers which make them leave the superior role that Allah has given them and pulled them away from the home to serve others and leave their own families.

Allah Almighty tells us the recommended time of suckling a child in the Noble Qur’an:

“And the mothers are to suckle their infants for two years, for those who wish to complete the suckling.” [Qur’an, 2:233]

“We have enjoined upon the human being to treat his parents kindly. His mother bore him with weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years.” [Qur’an, 31:14]

Dear brothers and sisters! Look at the importance of breastfeeding! Our Creator even mentions it in the Qur’an a number of times! Breastfeeding is widely acknowledged now as being the best food for babies. It provides everything your baby needs: it is clean and sterilised, the right temperature, it’s fresh, it’s easily digested, contains antibodies and anti-allergens and is designed by Allah perfectly for your baby’s needs. As a result, breast fed babies have better immune systems, and less infections. But that is not all. Scientists agree that babies gain many psychological and emotional benefits through breastfeeding too. Some Islamic scholars say that the good characteristics of the mother are transferred to the child through breastfeeding. The child feels ultimate comfort and security through being so close to his mother and their special bond is strengthened, so much so that in Islam if a non-related woman breastfeeds a child she becomes a foster mother to him and her children are foster sisters and brothers to him who he cannot marry! As the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said as is related in a number of Hadiths:

“Indeed, Allah has prohibited (marriage) among suckling relatives, as He has prohibited it among birth (or blood) relatives.”

What more proof do we need of the bond that is created through breast-feeding?

It is permissible with the parent’s joint agreement to have a child breastfed by another woman and that wet-nurse is entitled to a wage. It was the custom at the time of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) to be breastfed by other women, which strengthened relationships and made more mahram men for women etc. This also took the strain off one woman if she was finding it difficult.

In Islam, unless there is a legitimate excuse, the mother is required to breastfeed her baby. It is an obligation upon both parents – the mother provides the milk and the father provides the material support for the mother even if they are divorced. If a parent thinks there is a need to wean the baby before the end of two years it is permissible after consultation and joint agreement.

In the West, although breastfeeding is regarded as the best way to feed a child, still, some health professionals do not hesitate to advise women to give their babies formula milk top ups or to part breast feed- part bottle feed, even without a serious reason. And unfortunately many Muslim Women take this up too. Of course if there is a serious reason then this is unavoidable (although reviving the tradition of other women feeding our children would be very useful in this case).

But all too often our sisters are talked into bottle-feeding for convenience reasons or because a baby’s weight is not picking up as quickly as the chart says it should. However many women have found that even if it seems difficult at first, if they persevere, breastfeeding becomes easier. Yes you may have some discomfort early on and it is physically demanding at times because as the mother, you alone must wake up often and feed your baby whereas with bottle-feeding someone else can do it for you. But we must ask ourselves: Why has Allah given the mother such an honoured and lofty status in Islam? Why does she have so many rights upon her children, even more than the father in many cases? Is it not because of the sacrifices she made? The pain she endured? The nights she stayed awake?

Your new baby has just come from a very secure environment where all his needs were being met and he was so close to you and now he is suddenly in this very sensuous world where he may be feeling hunger, thirst, separation, pain for the first time. He needs you and that closeness, nourishment and security that suckling gives him. Sheikh Suhaib Hasan so aptly puts:

“…the child should be suckled for the first two years of his life, instead of being given powdered milk which has been stored in tins for months. Few adults would abandon fresh fruit and vegetables for stale, tinned foods, yet they are quite happy to feed nothing but tinned milk and foods to their infants. Secondly, just as the mother’s blood in the womb passes nutrients and her emotions through to the blood of her child, so her milk also passes her characteristics and emotions to her child while she is suckling him, causing him to feel immense comfort and confidence.”

The scholars of the past too knew the importance of breast milk and the following is just a snippet of Imam Ibn Qayyim’s advice regarding breastfeeding:

“Babies should only be fed the (mother’s) milk until their teeth appear. Their stomach and digestive system (in the early months) are incapable of handling (solid) food. When the babies’ teeth come out, its stomach becomes strong and ready for food.

Indeed, Allah delays the growth of teeth until the baby needs the food. This is from His wisdom and kindness, and out of mercy toward the mother and her breast’s nipples, so that the baby would not bite them with its teeth. The babies should be given solid food in a gradual manner, starting with soft foods, such as wet bread, (animal) milk, yoghurt, meat broth… The parents should not be too disturbed by the baby’s crying and screaming, especially when it is hungry for milk. That crying benefits the baby tremendously, training its limbs, widening its intestines, broadening its chest… The complete breast-feeding term is two years. This is a right for the baby – if it needs it and cannot do without it…”

All praises and thanks are due to Allah alone, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true and sincere followers.

Wassalamu Alaikum

Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and the late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: [email protected] or +2348038289761.

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