Breastfeeding forbids marriages like the blood relationship, with conditions. The relationship that created by breastfeeding entails two rulings, one causing prohibitions and another causing permissibility.
Breastfeeding that affects marriages refers to the feeding of a child of less than two years of age on the breast of a woman other than his natural mother, after the woman has given birth.
Ruling: Breastfeeding creates a relationship between the woman and the child that is equivalent to that of his mother, in respect of prohibiting marriages and permission of being alone together.
This ruling relies on the Qur’an, the Sunnah and the unanimity of scholars. The Qur’anic verse that lists the women a man is forbidden to marry includes in the list
‘Your mothers who have given suckle to you, your suckling sisters’
A’ishah reports that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
‘Breastfeeding prohibits (marriages) just as birth prohibits’
Related by al-Bukhari, hadith No. 2,646; Muslim, hadith No. 1,444
Moreover, all Muslim scholars agree that breastfeeding forbids marriages like the blood relationship.
Conditions: Two conditions must be fulfilled for breastfeeding to have its effect of creating a family relation and prohibit marriages:
1) The breastfeeding must take place before the child has completed two years of age. If it takes place after that, it has no effect. Allah says:
‘Mothers may breastfeed their children for two whole years; [that is] for those who wish to complete the suckling’
‘And his weaning takes place within two years’
Umm Salamah, the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) wife, reported that he said:
‘No breastfeeding causes prohibition of marriages unless it is on the breast, reaches the bowels, and is before weaning.’
Related by al-Tirmidhi, hadith No. 1,152; Ibn Hibban, hadith No. 4,224
This means that for breastfeeding to take effect, it must feed and nourish the child, stopping its hunger and helping its growth.
2) ‘It is clear that the breastfeeding that initiates the relationship prohibiting certain marriages is general. The condition is fulfilled when the child has been given a full-feed on the breast of a woman other than its mother. The child must let go of her breast by himself, without anything happening to make the child do so. If the child takes only a suck or two, this has no effect, because it is less than a full feed and does not give proper nourishment. A’ishah quotes the Prophet (peace be upon him) as saying:
“A suck or two do not prohibit marriages.”’
(Related by Muslim and in the four authentic anthologies)
Scholars have several views on this point which we may sum up as follows:
• All breastfeeding, whether little or plentiful has the same effect concerning future marriages, as the relevant verse speaks of breastfeeding in general.
• Prohibition of future marriages takes effect only when the child has had five separate feeds.
• The prohibition is confirmed by the child taking three feeds or more.
The relationship that is created by breastfeeding entails two rulings: one causing prohibitions and another causing permissibility. With regard to the first ruling, breastfeeding prohibits marriages in the same way as a blood relationship. Thus, the breastfeeding woman becomes a mother of the child she breastfeeds. Her mother is its grandmother and her sisters are its aunts. Likewise, her daughters and granddaughters are its sisters and nieces. Her husband is its father and her husband’s sisters are its paternal aunts. All these are forbidden to the child to marry when he grows up. Her sons and grandsons are its brothers and nephews. If the breastfed child is a girl, she cannot marry these when she grows up. With regard to permissibility, all that is permissible to a man through his relationship with his natural mother is also permissible to him through his relationship with his breastfeeding mother. A’ishah reports that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
‘Breastfeeding prohibits (marriages) just as birth prohibits.’
- Al-Zuhaili, Al-Fiqh al-Islami, vol. 10, p. 7,373.
- Al-Bahuti, Kashshaf al-Qina', vol. 5, p. 155.
- Ibn Qudamah, Al-Mughni, vol. 7, p. 537.
- Al-Nadawi, Al-Fiqh al-Muyassar, p. 332.
- Sabiq, Fiqh al-Sunnah, vol. 2, pp. 75–76.