Moms, Don't Forget to Feed Your Marriages
Why nurturing a passionate marriage is more important than breast-feeding.
For some of us, they are both important and not mutually exclusive.
The science section of The New York Times recently featured a lengthy study on breast-feeding and its benefits. Breast-feeding, the study found, helps reduce the chances of infection, cold, diarrhea, illness, and even later childhood obesity. No one argues with any of these benefits, but what the report neglects to mention, and what I have personally witnessed when counseling couples, is how breast-feeding can come between a husband and wife.
Breastfeeding may possibly come between a huband and wife, but it doesn't have to. Studies neglect to mention it because there is a certain amount of personal control over whether or not it interferes with one's marriage.
One of the episodes of "Shalom in the Home" this season featured a young couple in Pennsylvania who were madly in love when they married, but had slowly drifted apart after the birth of two children. Indeed, a Harvard University study maintains that a couples' love life decreases by 74 percent in the first year after the birth of a child. Now, given that sex is nearly dead in the American bedroom anyway, with national sex rates in marriage figuring at about once a week, a three-quarters decrease means that sex takes place once every few months—sparse pickings indeed.
Which has nothing to do with breastfeeding and everything to do with the stress of having a newborn.
With this particular couple, the situation was even worse. Their sex life had died completely, and one of the main causes was the mother's obsession with breast-feeding well into the child's eleventh month.
He makes it sounds like this is an unusually long amount of time. Let's not forget that the AAP recommends breastfeeding for at least the first year, and the WHO recommends two.
The baby was attached to his mother like a limb, and he even slept with her every night, consigning her husband to a different bedroom.
That doesn't have to be the case. Our son is 8 months old now and still sleeps with us part of the night. But my husband is there too. A baby doesn't have to kick daddy out of bed, and many happy couples successfully co-sleep.
I told the mother that in being so devoted to her son, she had committed the cardinal sin of marriage, which is to put someone else before her spouse, even if that someone is your child.
I would agree that it is possible for a mother to put her child before her husband, and probably happens quite a bit. What I think the Rabbi is confusing is wants vs. needs. The baby's needs come before the wants of the mother or the father. But the needs of the father shouldn't be neglected, either. What this mother possibly needs is more balance, not less devotion.
Furthermore, I said, her obsession had turned one of her most attractive body parts into a feeding station, an attractive cafeteria rather than a scintillating piece of flesh.
Rabbi, they can be both. What nurtures my child with my milk can nurture my husband during intercourse. Again, it's all about balance. And nursing a baby until it's 11 months old hardly makes her obsessed. Rather, I think it makes her dedicated. And who doesn't want to encourage a dedicated parent?
In my book "Kosher Adultery," I make the point that infidelity is primarily a sin of omission rather than commission. It is not the bad thing you do that destroys a marriage, but all the good that you fail to do, preoccupied as you are with a sinful relationship that diverts your attention away from your spouse. Similarly, with the example of breast-feeding, a wife who spends a year giving all her emotional and physical affection to the baby has left her marriage a barren wasteland, bereft of romance and affection.
That is not necessarily so. A wife who is breastfeeding is not giving all of her emotional and phsical affection to the baby. I suppose that is possible, but then it is not the fault of breastfeeding, but lack of balance that is the culprit.
Obviously, breast-feeding is not the same as carrying on an extramarital affair. But when a mother gives her breasts to her son and takes them away from her husband, the effect on the marriage can feel the same.
Yes, I suppose if she gives herself only to the baby and never to her husband, that is a problem. But again, not a problem with breastfeeding.
I am surprised that when scientists discuss all the benefits of breast-feeding, they neglect its most negative consequence. If breast-feeding gets in the way of the marriage—if it means that a husband and wife never go out on dates, or that the mother is so tired from always waking up with the baby that she has no energy to ever be intimate with her husband—the child will probably end up worse off, however many colds or bouts with diarrhea he now avoids.
Rabbi, respectfully, you have missed the mark. If the husband and wife never have time to connect, or the mother is never intimate with her husband, I agree that it will damage the relationship. But, again, you've targeted the wrong cause of that separation. We should be attempting to teach new parents to balance their roles as husband and wife, mother and father. And to feed our babies in the way that God intended can easily fit into that. God didn't make a mistake when he created babies to breastfeed.
Work on strengthening families, please, Rabbi. Not in attacking the most healthy way to feed our infants.
Apperantly the Talmud also disagrees with Rabbi Shmuley, and argues that it is appropriate to breastfeed for 24 months, and some think even longer. It turns out that the Talmutd says that a widow cannot marry before 21 months because another pregnancy could lower her milk supply.
Perhaps the Rabbi needs to brush up on his studies before offering women advice that appears that they have to choose between doing the right thing for their babies, and caring for their husbands. It was never a choice, ladies. You can do both.