The Prophet Muhammad (saw) was born at a time when it was customary among the wealthy of the Quraysh tribe to have their babies nursed by Bedouins around Makkah. It was believed that a Bedouin wet-nurse gave a strong physical constitution to the child, as well as the easy manners of the desert Arabs (Bashier, p.51). The free open-air life of the desert and a clean and healthy environment clean for the mother contributed towards the provision of a complete and nourishing food…milk (el-Geyoushi, p.40). The Prophet of Allah (saw) gained much from the milk of his wet-nurse, Halima.
An important period of bonding between mother and child, the process of breast-feeding, soothes the baby – new to the strange noises, smells and sensations of this world. It brings warmth, love, and security to the new child; but just as importantly, it brings complete nutrition, immunity and health protection. This is because breast milk, Allah’s intended food for babies, is nature’s perfect “formula”. Man-made formulas will never replace what Allah has created.
Breast milk allows the baby’s immune and digestive systems to develop and be nourished before the baby begins taking on more complex foods. It also provides increased immunity. “Breast fed babies have a health advantage over those given formula because of the immunity factors in human milk. Some researchers have gone so far as to call the human mammary gland or breast, an immunologic organ. It’s like Mother Nature guards her newborns with an infection-fighting elixir designed to safely carry them through the first few years of life” (Aesoph, p. 2).
So far, scientists have divided the not-completely-understood agents of human milk into three categories:
1. Germ fighters
2. Inflammation Soothers
3. Immune System Enhancers (Aesoph, p. 2).
Breast milk composition even changes throughout the day and the baby’s growth in order to fit the needs of the child. For instance, a mother with a premature baby has different milk, more suited for her child’s needs, than a mother who gives birth to a full-term baby.
Formula baby foods can never reproduce this quality that Allah (swt) has blessed women with. Cow’s milk, often the base of man-made formulas, frequently causes lactose-intolerance. In fact, very few populations remain able to tolerate lactose; and the ones who are tolerant are populations that have had to rely on the milk of their herds for food under difficult environments. However, over 70% of African, Chinese, Japanese, Ashkenazi Jews and Mediterraneans have lost their lactose tolerance ability. In the U.S. up to 25% of Caucasians are lactose intolerant. There also seems to be a relationship between colic in breast-fed infants and the cows’ milk drunk by their mothers (Colbie, p.156). Furthermore, many children are allergic to the alternative soy-based formulas recently being sold; many minerals and vitamins are hard for babies to digest in synthetic form. For instance, the minerals zinc and iron are easier to absorb when taken in human milk.
Furthermore, the ratio of phosphorus and calcium in cow’s milk makes it difficult to digest properly. The ratio of calcium to phosphorus in human milk is 2.35:1 but the ratio is 1.27 in cow’s milk. Frank Oski of the Department of Pediatrics at Upstate Medical Center, State University of New York in Syracuse said, “Only foods with a calcium-to-phosphorus ratio of 2-1 or better should be used as primary source of calcium.” Phosphorus can combine with calcium in the digestive tract and actually prevent the absorption of calcium. Therefore, humans absorb less calcium from the high-calcium cow’s milk than from the lower-calcium human milk (Colbie, p.51).
Perhaps this is why studies consistently show that nursed children are healthier in general, suffering less from allergies, eczema, diarrhea, and skin disorders due to the immunity factor in human milk. In places like the Chinese province of Hubei, babies are taller and weigh more the longer they are breast-fed (Aesoph, p.1). Breast milk also contains antibodies to protect babies against salmonella, E. Coli, candida and botulism; and help in the defense against polio and respiratory infections. Antimicrobes in human milk ease inflammation and fight bacteria, whereas cow’s milk in humans nurtures harmful bacteria.
A study by a Finnish scientist used 237 healthy children to discover that the longer an infant was nursed the fewer ear infections they had. This fact was taken even further if the child received no supplementation other than mothers’ milk. When a baby is taken off human milk and given formula, an allergy may develop to the cow’s milk in the formula. Sometimes, cow’s milk irritates the Eustachian tube that connects the ear to the throat (Aesoph, p.2). Researchers have also noticed that people who were breast-fed as infants are less likely to get diabetes, Crohn’s disease (a digestive disorder) and some types of cancer.
Obesity is another health problem that is less prevalent in breast-fed babies. Recent research by Matthew Gillman looked at 15,000 children and found that there is a lower risk of being overweight by age 14 in breast fed children. Gillman’s logical explanation was that babies who breast-fed regularly regulated their own food intake and stopped eating when were full; while a bottle-fed baby may continue to eat more, feeding until the bottle is empty. One can liken human milk to organic/fresh foods that provide more bulk in the stomach; whereas formula is more like processed foods that don’t satisfy the hunger because they provide less bulk. Gillman also found that the mother’s weight played a role. Thinner mothers were more likely than heavy mothers to breast-feed, and for longer periods (McKeown, p.1, 2).
British researchers found that, in addition to better health, mother’s milk increases IQ’s. They tracked 300 children until they were seven or eight years old. Children who were nursed had IQ’s 8.3 points higher than formula fed babies (Aesoph, p.2).
We try to provide the best we can and make the most of what Allah (swt) blessed us with. Therefore we should continue that effort, especially when it is in the best interests of our children.
Aesoph, Lauri, M. “Breast Milk: The Perfect Food”. Delicious! Magazine. 08/01/01.
Bashier, Zakaria. “The Makkan Crucible.” Britain: The Islamic Foundation. 1991.
Colbie, Annmarie. “Food & Healing.” US: Ballantine Books. 1996.
El-Geyoushi, Muhammad, I. “The Life of the Prophet. Vol:1.” Britain: Alam Printing Services. 1986.
McKeown, L, A. “Breastfeeding May Protect Kids From Obesity.” Health WebMD. 08/14/01.