When you see a woman feeding her child with a bottle of formula, don’t judge. Islam has granted her that concession.
Some people preach that it is selfish for a mother to wean her child before two years. That to give her child baby formula is against the rulings of Islam. That 2 full years of breastfeeding is incumbent upon the mother according to Islamic law. It’s depressing how much misinformation is spread, shaming mothers for weaning early or turning to formula. While I am in no way advocating for formula or weaning, since the evidence makes it clear that a mother’s milk definitely is best, what’s got to STOP is the religious shaming. Especially when it is laden with false claims about our religion, and often comes from men (from my experience) who have not, nor will ever experience the agony of getting a child to latch, the drowsiness of nursing a child in the middle of the night, the pain of engorgement, the depression of not being able to produce enough milk.
Maybe she tried for weeks but her milk never came in, maybe her child had tongue tie and cries every time she tries to nurse him, maybe her child was allergic to her milk, maybe she had another little one who wouldn’t allow her to spend time alone to nurse the newborn, maybe she was sick and took medication that stopped lactation, maybe she got pregnant, maybe it was just too painful after the baby’s teeth came in, maybe she had to go back to work or school and couldn’t find a suitable place to pump, maybe she had post-partum depression that was exacerbated by her fatigue because she had been waking up three times every night for the last 8 months to nurse her child back to sleep, maybe she actually DID nurse for a whole year and the doctor OK’d cow’s milk and she just wants her body back. Maybe… she just wants to…
And that’s OKAY. Allah Himself gave her that concession. Allah says in the Quran:
“Mothers may breastfeed their children two complete years for whoever wishes to complete the nursing [period].”
“And if they both (parents) desire weaning through mutual consent from both of them and consultation, there is no blame upon either of them.”
“And if you wish to have your children nursed by a substitute, there is no blame upon you as long as you give payment according to what is acceptable. “
From the ayaat above, scholars of tafseer and fiqh have derived that proper nutrition (i.e. breast milk) is the right of a child in his first 2 years. Medical science has shown that the nutrients in breast milk are necessary for a baby to survive. A child cannot eat real food for usually the first 6 months, so he NEEDS breast milk.
However, it is not INCUMBENT upon the mother to breastfeed the child. The incumbency is upon the father to provide for his child, whether that’s through the baby’s mother or through a substitute, as mentioned in the ayah. That “substitute” can be in the form of a wet-nurse who breastfeeds, or – by way of qiyaas (analogical deduction) – it can come from formula milk. The two conditions are that both parents agree, and the child accepts the substitute without it causing him harm. Since medical science shows that formula contains similar nutrients to breast milk and fulfills the necessary requirements for a child to survive in those first 6+ months, it has been allowed as a suitable substitute in Islamic law (this is the opinion of , Shaikh Uthaymeen and The Standing Committee for Scholarly Research and Fatwa among others).
Additionally, the ayah clearly mentions that if the mother and her husband both mutually agree that they want to stop breastfeeding before 2 years are up, THEY CAN! Mufassirroon have agreed that this means she has the choice to stop, if she pleases, if it won’t harm the child, and if her husband agrees (Tafseer Qurtubi, Tafseer Sa’di among others). It doesn’t say she has to be sick or lacking milk in order to wean, she has the choice! The scholars say the only reason she cannot stop breastfeeding is if the child refuses the substitutes given to him. If however, doctors deem that the refusing child is not in need of breast milk anymore (i.e. an older child on solids that can survive without breast milk) then stopping would not harm the child, and she may wean him.
The reality is that many women do stop breastfeeding early… some at 3 months, 6 months, or 1 year, because frankly nursing a child around the clock can be extremely tasking. I know as men you will never have to experience it, but inshaAllah one day you might find your wife in that situation, where she wants to stop nursing – perhaps after a year, a year and a half – because she doesn’t want to have to wake up at 3am every night to nurse. She doesn’t want to have to decline continuing school and work because she knows her child will need to breastfeed several times a day. She might just want to stop for her own personal reasons, and we have to come to the realization that Allah has allowed her that concession.So YES, it is perfectly allowed for the most SELFLESS human (a mother) to be selfish in this regard – so long as the baby is healthy and takes well to the substitute which is given.
SubhanAllah, Allah knows His creation best, and gave the concession to women to stop when they desire to stop, or to keep on going if they desire to keep on going. Because He knows how much women and mothers have to go through, He knows the difficulty associated with it, He knows our nature more than we do. While of course breast is best and there’s no denying that, we shouldn’t shame mothers who turn to formula or wean early, telling them that they are “selfish” and going against Allah’s commands. Allah has given her the choice, so it’s time we leave it up to her.
And Allah knows best.