April 30, 2012

Our Milk is More Than Just Food

Umm Layth is an American mother of two, currently living in New Jersey, USA. She is a WHO/UNICEF Certified Breastfeeding Counselor, an AFPA Certified Pre/Post Natal Exercise Specialist, and a staff writer for the Saudi Life Motherhood column. This article originally appeared on Saudi Life in April of 2012

Many choose breastfeeding because it’s a baby’s most perfect food. But our milk is more than just food.  Even well after our children have finished their “mommy meals” and their hunger is satisfied, our milk continues to provide for them in numerous ways.

Our milk is an on-call body guard
It’s a true mercy from Allah that the moment our children are born our milk is there to help protect them from infection, disease, and illness.

The first bit of milk we get, colostrum, coats and seals our child’s intestines so germs and bacteria don’t make him sick. It also helps to clear his body of excess waste that he accumulated in the womb. If he’s born jaundiced, colostrum will help clear that too!

MashaAllah, as time goes by our milk will provide ongoing infection protection for our children at every single feed. Each time our child is exposed to germs (from the air, from the floor, from a sick relative or fellow playmate) she’ll transfer those germs to us when she breastfeeds. Immediately, our body will produce antibodies to fight that germ and then pass them back to her through our milk, helping to keep her strong and healthy.

Our milk helps protect our bodies too. From the first day our babies are born, breastfeeding lessens mom’s risk of hemorrhaging and helps balance out our hormones, reducing the risk of post-partum depression. The more we breastfeed, the more our bodies benefit. Breastfeeding has been shown to help protect women against various cancers (breast and cervical to name two), naturally help space children, and even speed up post-baby weight loss!

Our milk is a safe haven
Breastfeeding babes know that there’s no comfort object quite like mommy’s milk. Whether it’s used to soothe trauma from a bad fall, crankiness from a recent illness, or anxiety over life’s many changes, our breastmilk is always there to help our little ones feel okay again.

The real beauty of breastfeeding our children through stressful times is that it provides us moms with comfort too! How relaxing it is for us to watch our children’s upset cries fade to content smiles with just a few suckles at the breast. How comforting to look down after a feed and see our children calmly (and deeply) sleeping without a worry in the world.

And unlike other comfort objects (such as toys, dolls or dummies) our breastmilk can never get lost in a mess, forgotten about in a rush, or worn down after years of wear and tear. As long as we choose to breastfeed, our milk will be there to help provide a safe space for our children when they need it.

Our milk is an ever-lasting connection
It’s no coincidence that babies can smell their mother’s unique milk scent and are more attracted to it over other smells.

Divine design made our breastmilk smell similar to that of our amniotic fluid which housed baby during his time in our womb. When baby is born, his familiarity with our smell helps him to search for our breasts when he gets hungry, a newborn reflex called ‘rooting’.

With every feed that baby takes from the breast, the hormone oxytocin is released into our bloodstream, increasing the feelings of love and attachment to our children. This process sets the foundation for a uniquely strong and caring bond between mother and child.  

The bond between breastfeeding child and mother is so strong that in Islam any breastfeeding child under two years of age can forever be considered the son or daughter of the woman who breastfeeds him or her, a process known as Tahrim (creating mahram relationships through breastfeeding). 

Our milk is an inspiration
Breastfeeding didn’t begin with us.

Allah, subhana wa ta ala, mentions the mother of Musa, alayhi salam, who suckled her son before sending him down river to save his life (Qur’an, 28:7).

Prophet Ismaeel, alayhi salaam, was breastfed by his mother Hajar before she climbed Mt Marwa and Mt Safa to look for water (Sahih Bukhari).

The Prophet Muhammad himself, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, was breastfed in his childhood by a wet-nurse named Haleemah (The Sealed Nectar). Later, his daughter Fatima, radiAllahu anha, was breastfed by her mother Khadija bint Khuwayylid, radiAllahu anha (Great Women of Islam). 

I like to think that every time we breastfeed, we’re continuing the legacy these great women left behind. And every time our older children see us breastfeeding the younger ones, we’re setting the example for this legacy to be carried forward after we’re gone, inshaAllah.

Our milk is so much more than just food! It’s nourishment for the whole family; unbreakable bonding for mother and child; and when done with the intention to please Allah, it can even be an act of worship to better our souls. 

April 5, 2012

Maria Zain on the The Birth-Faith Irony: Who Are We Really Relying On?

Maria Zain never thought she would become a birth junkie after two disastrous medical births but things changed a bit when she caught baby number three on her own. Now between homeschooling her four children (yes, number 4 was also born at home), writing and editing, she is honing in onto birth advocacy with a du’a that all mothers will have their own empowering births.

This article was originally published in Saudi LifeThank you and JazakamAllahu Khairan to Maria Zain and Saudi Life for allowing us to re-post this piece on our blog.

A Western woman from Europe approaches a woman of the East. She says, “I would think that in a country like yours, being conservative and being Muslim-majority, that there would be many more homebirths than hospital births, as it would be closer to your beliefs.”
The woman of the East – a Muslim – answers that this isn’t the case in her country – and in fact, it is completely the opposite. She continues to describe the standard birthing scene that a woman in her country has to undergo...
A passer-by, of the same Eastern country, scoffs quietly. “How insulting. And I suppose this Western woman also believes we hang from trees and bathe in mud. We ARE modern, you know.”
It is easy to feel insulted at such comments made by our Western peers, but in retrospect, there is so much truth in it. As a natural birth advocate, I agree totally in what the “Western” woman had to say. But for those who are not on the natural birth bandwagon, it may sound incredulous that homebirths have anything to do with religious beliefs.
The country I come from is a Muslim-majority country, and one that churns out babies by the dozen to boot. I nearly have half a dozen myself, but that’s not the point. The irony of the “Western” statement above is that though Malaysia comes across as conservative and somewhat religious in many ways, she prides herself in modernity and technological advancements in the medical industry – both dangerous and detrimental to her birth culture.
Birth, for natural birthers, is part of a journey for the female form, the medical industry parades it in a different way – in a very “Western” way, one might say. The majority of women birth in hospitals, not at home, and along with hospitals come intervention, protocol, fears of litigation and medically-induced complications. Why is this contrary to faith?
While for many, medicalised births seem the way to go. Why would anyone want to avoid medical interventions, when they are supposedly there to save lives? And why on earth would anyone have their babies at home when there are machines at hospitals that can gauge progress and complications? Contrary to this popular belief, there is plenty of statistical data that proves that even the minute intervention, including monitoring, causes the birth process to become jagged and disturbed, leading to a cascade of interventions that cause potential harm to both mothers and babies.
Birth is rushed along in government hospitals where capacity is usually the pressing issue. Women are admitted and treated like sick patients, hurried along a factory line, and in many cases emerge with distasteful experiences. Some wards have been likened to jail cells, with birthing mothers – in raging on oxytocin – are left strapped down in fear and doubt, causing hindrances for her baby to be born gently. These women are often engulfed in protocol and timelines, and leave the hospital as quickly as they arrive.
In private practice, where the underlying motive for the birth industry is profits, medical intervention is the cultural norm, with inductions being scheduled even weeks before the infamous EDD, regardless of the health of the mother and baby. Scare tactics also run high, as do non-emergency and elective Caesarean sections (c-sections).
Walk along any neighbourhood and throw a few rocks, at least half will hit women who have had to undergo c-sections at birth, the remaining of those rocks will probably hit women who have had traumatic vaginal experiences.
Still, this has nothing to do with faith? It does, as it does with having knowledge. The art of birth has been lost along the tresses of time in this country, Malaysia, and birth is often feared and ridiculed, associated with pain, trauma and even death. Few women are even aware that they are able to birth their babies on their own, not only without medical intervention or “assistance” but without doctors themselves. This isn’t to say that every woman who is expecting a baby should go ahead and plan an unassisted birth, but they should at least be aware how birth was designed by Allah SWT, and how they too were designed to birth, mostly without assistance. They should also at least be aware of the perils of birthing in a hospital, coupled by the hazards of medical intervention, no matter how small.
By understanding a little more about pregnancy and birth, women would be able to be better care providers for themselves rather than rely on medical judgment for non-medical conditions like pregnancy and birth. Over-reliance on hospitals in communities that are perceived as more conservative or religious is really becoming an oxymoron. There is so much more to birth than meets the doctor’s eye, and it is for us women, to try to learn and understand further, and to have faith that our bodies are able to birth our babies.
Having a little more knowledge takes us on leaps and bounds of our faith. In the Qur’an, the womb is known as “mekiynin,” defined as the term “secure receptacle,” or a powerful, sound, unshakeable, fixed object that is designed by Allah SWT. By knowing this alone, mothers would stop consenting to unnecessary inductions that usually happen out of convenience and allow babies to be born on their own accord without rushing the womb along through augmentation or even a c-section.
The one, single birth mentioned in the Qur’an was the birth of Prophet Isa (AS), where his beautiful mother, Maryam (RA), birthed him on her own, assisted only by Allah SWT.
To have the perfection of Maryam is a feat on its own, with one whole verse in the Qur’an named after her. But to come close to having that type of tawakkul – the feeling of complete submission – will allow us to have our babies in gentler, safer environments, without bright lights, without dangerous medical intervention, without prejudice and judgment... and maybe even at home. Who knows?
The compounded irony of the European “Western” woman’s statement is that the highest rates of homebirth are recorded in some European countries, and these have the best outcomes for both mothers and babies; whereas countries with high rates of hospital births have the worse effects on mothers and their babies. Yet we feel insulted when we are culturally associated with homebirths as this discredits the modernisation that is paraded by the medical industry. Oh, the irony.
We need to let go of the fear that is fuelling our reliance on the medical industry and start believing in ourselves. And we certainly shouldn’t feel insulted if an outsider thinks we should. It’s not because we are backwards or under-developed. It’s about having a shimmer of faith in what is natural and letting the gift of birth shine through as per its design by Allah SWT.