Rabbi Shmuley, Breastfeeding, and Guilt


Here at My Postpartum Voice, I strive to empower and encourage women to be educate themselves and then move ahead forward filled with confidence in the choices they make for their family.

Of course I have my own set of beliefs which have worked for my family and set of circumstances.

This post is a bit of a deviation from the standard topic but I am so disturbed by this article I feel I must speak up.

I believe in breastfeeding.

But I have also bottlefed.

One of the biggest issues I struggled with while nursing my first daughter was the shift from viewing my breasts as sexual objects to the functionality they now served. It is absolutely amazing that a woman nourishes life from conception until well after birth.

I remember not wanting my husband to touch my breasts while I was nursing.

Today, I read an article at beliefnet.com by Rabbi Shmuley, the host of TLC’s Shalom in the Home.

Beliefnet’s mission is to “help people like you find, and walk, a spiritual path that will bring comfort, hope, clarity, strength, and happiness.”

With said mission in the forefront of my mind, I am appalled they published the article, “Can Breastfeeding Hurt Your Marriage” by Rabbi Shmuley today. Nowhere in this article does he offer one shred of comfort, hope, clarity, strength, OR happiness. Instead, he tears women down, treats them as sexualized playthings and utterly disrespects the directives set forth by his OWN faith in regards to breastfeeding.

According to the good Rabbi, nurturing your marriage is infinitely more important than breastfeeding. Your marriage is more important than protecting your baby from diarrhea, cough, or colds. (The Rabbi’s words, not mine.) He also points out that women should cover up whilst nursing, even in front of their husbands to avoid de-eroticizing the breast. Oh, and that place where the baby came from? A mere birth canal if your husband watches you give birth. Mere? Mere? Only if that’s short for MIRACULOUS, Rabbi Shmuley, because I highly doubt you could do down there what WE sexualized playthings are capable of with our downstairs. Frankly, I’d like to see you give nursing a shot too.

Nowhere in this article does the Rabbi refer to biblical verses which support breastfeeding. Nowhere does he prove his reasoning. This type of article is absolutely reckless and stands to set several mothers up to fail in the already shaky realm of breastfeeding. And for that, Rabbi Shmuley should be ashamed of himself despite his barely there attempt toward the end to support breastfeeding as always being best for the baby. Even then he points out that nursing should always be subordinate to the marriage.

The first example he gives of how breastfeeding ruins a marriage involves a couple in Pennsylvania. The wife held onto an “obsession with breast-feeding well into the child’s eleventh month.”

Ok, Rabbi, Schmuley. Let’s talk about that, shall we? Based on the Old Testament, right?

Moses.

Baby Moses, rescued from the fanatical infantacide of Egyptian Pharoahs, nursed by his own mother as a wet nurse for the Princess (Exodus 2:17), was nursed for close to two years according to Section 1:31 of the Shemmot Rabbah, which is a rabbinic commentary on the book of Exodus. This same resource, Breastfeeding from the Bible by Larry G. Overton, goes on to point out an ancient Babylonian tradition in which babies were nursed until they were three years old.

It also further points out this passage in reference to a woman named Hannah in the book of 1Samuel:

21 When the man Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vow, 22 Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always.” 23 “Do what seems best to you,” Elkanah her husband told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the LORD make good his word.” So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him. 24 After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. [1Samuel 1:21-24, NIV]

Correct me if I’m wrong but I would think that an infant would be fit to present to priests at a Tabernacle for lifelong service, thereby implying the child was nursed longer than a mere few months. (According to this same resource, Breastfeeding and the Bible, further reading into 2nd Chronicles reveals this verse: Besides those males from three years old and up who were written in the genealogy, they distributed to everyone who entered the house of the LORD his daily portion for the work of his service, by his division, [2 Chronicles 31:16, NKJV], implying that Samuel, the child from the above passage, would have been at least 3 prior to making said journey to the Tabernacle, having just been weaned)

Another resource, The ILCA Conference Reviewed: The Benefits of Nursing By: Yaelle Frohlich, Posted: 8/24/08, states the following in one of the last few paragraphs:

Breastfeeding is discussed in Jewish texts. Arthur I. Eidelman describes the positive impact of Jewish culture on breastfeeding rates among the orthodox in his article in “Breastfeeding Medicine” Volume 1 Number 1, and notes that the Talmud puts minimum nursing length at two years. Yevamot 12B even discourages a widow from remarrying if she has a baby under 21 months, lest she get pregnant, lose her milk supply and become unable to nourish her existing child. Additionally, according to tradition, biblical figures such as Isaac, Moses and Samuel were also breastfed for two years or more.

Breastfeeding and the Bible ALSO points out the following passage from the Apocrypha, the book of Maccabees specifically:

My son, have pity on me. Remember that I carried you in my womb for nine months and nursed you for three years. I have taken care of you and looked after all your needs up to the present day. [2 Maccabees 7:27, Today’s English Version. Emphasis mine., (Larry G. Overton)]

And yet here Rabbi Shmuley is tearing a woman down for daring to nurse well into the child’s 11th month as he freely admits, “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.” Wait. It gets better. “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.”

Say what?

Let’s go there. Yes, let’s.

First and foremost, breasts are functional. Their sexuality is icing on the cake. Again, back to Pharoah and Moses. A  wet nurse provided sustenance for little Moses so that he might live. Why? Because breasts are MEANT to feed infants. In fact, it’s the very attitude of the sexualized breast which Shmuley presents which has contributed to the difficulties mothers face today as they nurse in public.

Next up: “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 Shmuley

Now, if Mom today had half the amount of help available to her ancient counterparts, she might just be willing to go out on a date with her husband. If her husband or other family members would help with the baby duties at night by changing baby’s diaper and bringing baby to her so that she may get a few extra moments of sleep, she might just feel up to being sexual with her husband. Of course, there’s also the very real fact that Mom just gave birth to a baby from her “mere” birth canal. THAT may have something to do with not wanting to get busy. Just as with any other physical change or “injury”, it takes time to heal from birth. Some women take longer than others, even if they formula feed. I wonder how long it would take Rabbi Shmuley to bounce back after giving birth.

There’s simply no excuse for Rabbi Shmuley’s atrocious article. There’s no scientific basis. No faith basis. Nothing.

As you read the article further, clicking through to the second page, you’re suddenly clued into why Shmuley feels this way.

“When I was a young boy, all I wanted to see was two parents who loved each other. A daily vitamin also would certainly have done me a world of good. But only my parents’ happy marriage could have provided me with peace at my center and the more secure personality I sorely lack. I would take the diarrhea and cough any day over the permanent sense of brokenness that affects children of divorce.”

So if I’m reading this correctly, Rabbi Shmuley seems to think his parents divorced because breastfeeding destroyed their marriage. Wow.

I am SO sorry if that’s the case.

Sorry your mother was not supported in wanting the best for her children.

Sorry your mother was not supported in what YOUR OWN faith states is expected of mothers in sustaining their children.

Sorry you were raised in a broken household in which there truly was no integrity, respect, accountability, or compassion.

I am sorry.

It’s possible to nourish a child and your marriage. There’s a fine line. There ARE decisions to be made, with that I agree whole-heartedly. I made that decision as I pumped exclusively for our second daughter. I had to choose between giving my daughter breastmilk or my relationship with my family and my own mental health. As I drove home with formula, I wept. Openly. But I gave it my all. Had it not come down to it, I would have kept on pumping. Had I had more support, I would have kept on going. I would have given anything to have had an infant like a limb – anything!

Rabbi Shmuley – please. Please heed the words of those within your own faith. Those within the medical community. Those of the mothers struggling to do the best they can for their own families. Words such as those published at beliefnet.com are damaging at best. Do you believe breastfeeding is best? I dare you to prove it. I dare you to support nursing mothers. I dare you to support the family dynamic intended by God from the very start of our existence. I dare you.

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16 thoughts on “Rabbi Shmuley, Breastfeeding, and Guilt

  1. So glad you took the time to point out that this Rabbis article is preposterous! – He is hardly representing any pious ideology by reducing women to sexual mules. It is discriminating and, quite honestly- disgusting. The counter article should very well be how men are so primitive that they cannot think beyond their own sexual fixations to see the more social and spiritual aspect of this very wonderful time. Being motivated solely by what’s in their pants, men prefer to exploit the energy of their wives instead of taking a Playboy into the bathroom. A mature man would not be desensitized by his wife’s breastfeeding, nor would he lose sexual interest (or waiver in his fidelity) if the intimacy changed briefly. Honestly- this retract this man should retract his distorted personal views.

  2. Pingback: Rabbi Shmuley’s hang-up with breastfeeding « The Grand Scheme

  3. While I do not agree with the specifics of the rabbi’s message, I do see his general point. There are so many relationships – particularly in the attachment parenting realm – that take the back burner once children come along. It is a problem, in my opinion, if cosleeping and breastfeeding through the night are interfering with your marriage to the point where you call in a television show to fix it. There are mothers who put their children’s needs above all else, without realizing that balance is necessary in the long run. It IS important to have a healthy marriage, and a husband’s needs and wants are part of that equation.

    I only wish that Rabbi Schmuley at least drove home the point that one can express milk and give it in a bottle, rather than leaving the implication that switching to formula is the answer.

  4. Pingback: Shmuleygate: Part Deux « Crunchy Mommy Someday

  5. Wow…great, great response. I would also like to know: who are these wussy men who can’t put aside their own primal urges (at least to some degree) while their children are small. Does he really underestimate men so much? Men and women, really, to assume that “date nights” and sex is all that’s holding these partnerships together?

    Intimacy and sex, yes yes, very important to a marriage. But they aren’t the whole kit and kaboodle. I’m grateful for the amount of sacrificing both my husband and I have had to do as we’ve brought children into the world, because it’s forced us to move beyond our physical relationship and into a much stronger partnership based on common goals and love for our children. Breastfeeding has been a big part of parenting for us. All five of our children have breastfed, four of them well past a year. If you asked him whether that made him feel deprived, I promise you he would laugh. It’s not about HIM, and he’s adult enough to realize that. Too bad the men in Rabbi Shmuley’s world are apparently not grown-ups.

  6. Can I say first that I’m thankful to have had a friend encourage me to join twitter? Otherwise, I might not have met you.

    Second, I loved this response to his article. Loved it. Thank you, Lauren!

  7. I may be the exception, and not the rule, but my husband LOVES when I breastfeed, like…”Honey, can I have some when the babies done,” sorta love. As in, “Now, you’re gonna keep those ginormous boobs after the babies born, because you breastfeed, right?” Breastfeeding and sexy are synonymous in our marriage.

    And what exactly did the Rabbi’s Lord have in plan for all that milk spewing out of our ducts after baby is born? White washing the adobe?

    It breaks my heart thinking of the many, many women who will heed his words. Thanks for your post; for your research, for your common sense. This should be printed next to the Rabbi’s words. Scratch that, this should be printed IN PLACE OF the Rabbi’s words.

  8. Let’s all remember who this idiot is. He’s been called “the most famous rabbi in America”, and is the same guy who has been a spiritual advisor to Michael Jackson and Jon Gosselin. He is nothing more than an attention seeking, fame crazed celebrity who will go to any lengths for publicity. He is intentionally stirring the pot for his own fame. I really can’t believe people like this have an audience. I sincerely hope no new mother would be willing to listen to this dribble.

    • Lisa –

      I agree that he is an attention seeking fame crazed psuedo celeb who will go to any lengths for publicity. There’s no doubt. I find it hard to believe people like him have an audience as well. He’s also been associated with Oprah and her group of “friends.”

      It frightens me that new mothers may hear/read his advice and think they can’t nurse because they will irreparably harm their relationship with their husband. So many other issues already float around out there setting mothers up for failure. Now we’ve got this on the plate. Sighs.

      Next I suppose nursing mothers will be irreparably harming their relationship with family pets so we’ll be boycotted by PETA. It’ll never end.

      Bottom line – As mothers, we HAVE to do what is right for us and move forward with those choices in a confident manner. We can hand a woman all the information in the world but that does not mean she will apply all the information to her life. I’m determined to make sure women see the whole picture.

      • You’re absolutely right, he needs to be called out on this. I thought your response was excellent and I really hope the backlash against this article makes more impact than the article itself.

  9. What a relief to have this response to Rabbi Shimuley’s absurd recommendations. In becoming a mother, it has been even more freeing to realize the purpose of my body in new ways through birth and breastfeeding. I know it has been a long process for my husband and I to respect our new roles as parents. We are flat out different as parents and I whole heartedly believe that this was used to make us better humans. Thank you for offering a sense of fulfillment in taking care of yourself and your child, unlike staying put at “breastfeeding can ruin your marriage.”

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