The maximum period for breastfeeding is 30 months. But are there a recommended minimum number of months that the child should be breast-fed? The World Health Organisation states that a child should be exclusively fed breast milk for the first 6 months. What does Islam say?
The answer to your specific question can be found in the following verse of the Qur’an. Allah Most High says:
“The mothers shall breastfeed their offspring for two whole years, if one desires to complete the term. The father shall bear the cost of their food and clothing on equitable terms. No soul shall have a burden laid on it greater than it can bear. No mother shall be treated unfairly on account of her child, nor shall the father on account of his child, an heir be chargeable in the same way. If they both (parents) decide on weaning, by mutual consent, and after due consultation, there is no blame on them. And if you decide on a foster-mother for your offspring, there is no blame on you, provided you pay (the foster-mother) what you offered, on equitable terms. And fear Allah and know that Allah sees well what you do.” (Surah al-Baqarah, V: 233)
The above verse implies that it is the moral and religious responsibility of the mother that she breastfeeds her child, although it is not something that can be enforced upon her through the courts. The statement of Allah Most High “The mothers shall breastfeed their offspring for two whole years” indicates that breastfeeding for two years is the child’s right on his/her mother.
However, if there is some excuse, such as the mother is too ill or weak or her milk is not suitable for the child or she is pregnant, then she may stop breastfeeding the child. Allah Almighty said: “If they both (parents) decide on weaning, by mutual consent, and after due consultation, there is no blame on them” hence if the parents mutually decide that it is best for the child to be weaned, then there is nothing wrong with that, provided the child is not harmed due to this.
Similarly, if the parents decide that the child should be breastfed by a foster-mother, then there is nothing wrong with that also, as Allah Most High said: “And if you decide on a foster-mother for your offspring, there is no blame on you, provided you pay (the foster-mother) what you offered, on equitable terms”. (See: Ma’arif al-Qur’an, 1/581-582)
The renowned Hanafi Jurist, Imam Ibn Abidin states in his Radd al-Muhtar quoting from al-Quhustani:
“Breastfeeding the child is morally necessary until the child is in need of breastfeeding, recommended up to two years and permitted up to two and a half years. (Radd al-Muhtar ala al-Durr, 3/211, Bab al-Radha’)
Therefore, in conclusion, the mother should breastfeed her child for two lunar years, as this is the child’s right over her, especially if the child is in need of being breastfed. However, it will be permitted to wean the child before two years, with the mutual consent of the parents, provided this does not harm the child. This will be permitted particularly when breastfeeding may be harmful to the mother or the child, or because of some other genuine reason. Hence, in normal and general cases, the recommended period for breastfeeding is two whole lunar years.
It is also recommended that the child is weaned gradually so that it is not surprised by the sudden halt of being breastfed. The child should be trained in a gradual manner to move away from being breastfed to eating food. (See: Muhammad Ahmad Kan’an, Usul al-Mu’ashara al-Zawjiyya, P: 145)
And Allah knows best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK