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Breastfeeding and weaning child with severe allergies

25 January, 2016

Question:

Hello,

I am nursing my 3.5 year old daughter, am considering weaning, and was wondering about the halachic guidelines for this.

I should mention three relevant circumstances that are probably relevant:

a) She suffers from multiple and severe food allergies, so severe that she cannot attend preschool, eat outside the house, or be unsupervised (at shul only one parent can pray, the other needs to supervise her).

Mount Sinai Center for food allergy research (in NYC) recommends breastfeeding as a tool to help mitigate allergies.

Also, because of her allergies her diet is highly restricted and the nursing presumably gives her a lot of nutrition that she would otherwise not get.

b) she has a one year old sister, also breastfed, and they tandem nurse happily.

c) I am in my mid 40's and sometimes all the nursing is a bit much for my body (requires me to be sedentary a lot) but other than that I don't mind it and usually really like it.

I understand that the allergies could be extenuating circumstances that allow me to nurse her until her fifth birthday, but when I read about weaning on websites like La Leche League I understand that natural weaning sometimes happens after that. Are the halachic guidelines around the age limitations strict? Are there other guidelines for when to wean and how to do it in a loving and successful manner?

Also – for general advice and so I don't have to ask again in the future – do the guidelines on breastfeeding, weaning, extenuating circumstances and associated age timeline apply similarly for boys as for girls, or are there differences between the genders and if so what are they?

Finally, I know this is not your focus, but I would be happy if you can recommend any hinnuch resources – parent/child groups, advisors, frameworks, books, toys, etc. (I can't rely on the school system since I don't know if it will ever be safe for her.) If you can't recommend anything that is also OK. We live in Yerushalayim. Thanks.


Answer:

Nursing is permitted without limitation until age four.  If the child is "weak" (a more lenient definition than ill), then nursing can continue until age five. In the case of actual illness, then the rules of possible danger to life apply and an individual halachic decision may allow nursing longer if needed.

As you daughter's circumstances clearly at least reach the definition of "weak", you may continue nursing until age five. As she approaches her fifth birthday, we suggest discussing with your physicians (and possibly dietician), the role of breastmilk in her diet at that time. At that point, another halachic question should be asked.

There are no halachic guidelines about when and how to wean in this situation. Follow your intuition and slowly start cutting back feedings when you or your child are ready. Using small prizes, or cuddling while reading a book instead of nursing will help her adapt.

There is no difference in these halachot whether the child is a boy or a girl; the same rules apply.

We recommend asking friends/acquaintances in your neighborhood if there is a recommended local parenting class. You can also find lots of resources online for Jewish homeschoolers. There is even a facebook group "Torah observant homeschoolers in Israel" that may be of interest to you.

Please feel free to get back to us with any further questions.

B'Hatzlacha and refuah shleimah!


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