Moms, Don't Forget to Feed Your Marriages
Why nurturing a passionate marriage is more important than breast-feeding.
The science section of The New York Times recently featured a lengthy study on breast-feeding and its benefits. Breast-feeding, the study found, helps reduce the chances of infection, cold, diarrhea, illness, and even later childhood obesity. No one argues with any of these benefits, but what the report neglects to mention, and what I have personally witnessed when counseling couples, is how breast-feeding can come between a husband and wife.
One of the episodes of "Shalom in the Home" this season featured a young couple in Pennsylvania who were madly in love when they married, but had slowly drifted apart after the birth of two children. Indeed, a Harvard University study maintains that a couples' love life decreases by 74 percent in the first year after the birth of a child. Now, given that sex is nearly dead in the American bedroom anyway, with national sex rates in marriage figuring at about once a week, a three-quarters decrease means that sex takes place once every few months—sparse pickings indeed.
With this particular couple, the situation was even worse. Their sex life had died completely, and one of the main causes was the mother's obsession with breast-feeding well into the child's eleventh month. The baby was attached to his mother like a limb, and he even slept with her every night, consigning her husband to a different bedroom.
I told the mother that in being so devoted to her son, she had committed the cardinal sin of marriage, which is to put someone else before her spouse, even if that someone is your child. Furthermore, I said, her obsession had turned one of her most attractive body parts into a feeding station, an attractive cafeteria rather than a scintillating piece of flesh.
In my book "Kosher Adultery," I make the point that infidelity is primarily a sin of omission rather than commission. It is not the bad thing you do that destroys a marriage, but all the good that you fail to do, preoccupied as you are with a sinful relationship that diverts your attention away from your spouse. Similarly, with the example of breast-feeding, a wife who spends a year giving all her emotional and physical affection to the baby has left her marriage a barren wasteland, bereft of romance and affection.
Obviously, breast-feeding is not the same as carrying on an extramarital affair. But when a mother gives her breasts to her son and takes them away from her husband, the effect on the marriage can feel the same.
I am surprised that when scientists discuss all the benefits of breast-feeding, they neglect its most negative consequence. If breast-feeding gets in the way of the marriage—if it means that a husband and wife never go out on dates, or that the mother is so tired from always waking up with the baby that she has no energy to ever be intimate with her husband—the child will probably end up worse off, however many colds or bouts with diarrhea he now avoids.