The Jewish perspective on breastfeeding.
hen Susan Chomsky
nursed her first child,
something magic hap-
She loved her daughter, Riki, of
course. But through nursing, she dis-
covered a relationship that would be
like nothing else in her life.
Just finding the words to describe it
is like trying to gather clouds into
"You establish a certain bond that
you cannot find through any other
means," says Chomsky, of Southfield.
"I'm not saying it's better or worse
[than bottle feeding], or that you can't
connect other ways with your chil-
dren. But this is a very special connec-
"It helps to begin the give-and-take
that parents hope for in raising their
children," she continues. "You begin
to feel on a very practical level what
your child's needs are in terms of feed-
ing and comfort.
You're right there when your child
feels satisfied and full and joyful.
"I know some women don't want to
nurse because they say they're con-
cerned about being a 'human pacifier.'
But humans relying on other humans
to pacify them can be delightful."
When nursing, Chomsky says, "I
felt I was everything to my children."
Today, physicians encourage nursing
as the best option for new mothers.
Studies, such as a 1998 survey con-
ducted by Drs. L. Horwood and D.
Ferguson and reported in Pediatrics,
show that breastfed babies often have
a higher IQ, along with greater cogni-
tive ability and academic achievement
in school, than non-breastfed babies.
Long before such studies, Halachah,
Jewish law, stood as a staunch advo-
cate for nursing. (Or as one local
rabbi put it, "If HaShem would have
preferred formula for babies, He
would have created it.")
Not only does Halachah actively
endorse nursing, Jewish texts thor-
oughly address various aspects of the
subject. The Gemara, in Ketuvot 60a,
for example, states that age 2 is the
normal weaning age for a child; how-
ever, a mother may continue to nurse
until the child is 4. Mothers of chil-
dren who are "feeble" may nurse until
the child is 5 years old.
After age 4-5, however, Halachah
does not allow breastfeeding, calling it
the same as nursing from a treifani-
A few facts you may not know about
Judaism and breastfeeding:
• Breast milk is parve, and while
parve items normally may be warmed
in a fleishig; or meat, cooking imple-
ment, this isn't the case with breast
milk, which should only be warmed in
a dairy container, lest someone mistake
it for cow's milk.
• While in general we consider the
benefits that breastfeeding brings to the
baby, consider this additional advan-
tage for the moms: breastfeeding moth-
ers are not obligated to fast on the four
minor fast days on the Jewish calendar.
• For those mothers unable to nurse,
the Gemara recommends the hiring of
a wet nurse.
• Weaning, then returning to nurs-
ing, can be a tricky issue in Jewish law.
Most rabbis agree that if a baby is 18
months or younger, then suddenly
stops for a few weeks, then wishes to
return to nursing, he may do so until
he turns 2 years old. For complete
details on this matter, consult your
• Torah study is, of course, central to
Jewish life. The Talmud relates that a
man cannot learn too much Torah —
just as a baby cannot nurse too much.
(For everything else you've always want-
ed to know about nursing, see Tehilla
Abramov's Straight From The Heart)
The magic of motherhood
Welcome To LLL
When Susan Chomsky, today a semi-
retired La Leche League (LLL) leader,
became pregnant with her first child,
she took it for granted that she would
"It was a clear decision," she says. "It
wasn't, 'Well, I'll try it.' It was some-
thing I definitely wanted to do."
Her daughter Riki was 2 weeks old
when Chomsky attended her first LLL
meeting, 16 years ago.
According to its mission statement, La
Lache is "an international, nonprofit,
nonsectarian organization dedicated to
providing education, information, sup-
port and encouragement to women who
want to breastfeed."
"I brought my baby, and I walked
into an open discussion," Chomsky
says. "It wasn't a lecture, a seminar or a
demonstration. It was just a discussion,
warm and welcoming, about parenting.
I felt very comfortable."
Right away, Chomsky saw that while
breastfeeding had come easy for her, she
did not know everything there was
know on the subject.
She quickly noted, from women at
the meeting, that breastfeeding could be
done discreetly in public. (Many mater-
nity shops carry tops with a flap that
can be lifted to nurse a baby, then
placed back down to cover the breast.
To passersby, it appears only that the
mother is holding the baby close to her.)
She also appreciated seeing, in life,
what she had previously only read
about in books.
"It's one thing to read about it,"
Chomsky says, "and another to really
connect with other women."
By the time her daughter Madison,
now 13, was born, Chomsky was
active in the Royal Oak chapter of
LLL. She decided to step forward as a
"La Leche [in metro Detroit] need-
ed a Jewish voice," she explains.
Often, it was as something as simple
as a phone call.
LLL offers free telephone assistance
to nursing moms, which sounds easy
enough until you consider the details.
Suppose a woman calls and says her
baby Menachem is having difficulty
nursing and she needs a little help, but
could someone please get back with
her in the next hour because Shabbat
would be starting soon.
Menachem? Shabbat? It would cer-
tainly make a difference not to have to
explain all that — before explaining
the nursing issue.
Chomsky, whose youngest child is
9-year-old Nate, sent her children to
Hillel Day School of Metropolitan
Detroit. She didn't need to ask for a
definition of "Shabbat" or ask what
kind of name "Menachem" is.
"I found that I did connect in a
pretty special way with Jewish women
who came to LLL," she says.
THE FIRST LESSON on page 80