Laura Trickle, a mother committed to breastfeeding, was called to jury duty and brought her baby even though her request to bring the child was denied. She will now have to face the court herself.
Breastfeeding women are exempted from jury duty in 12 states. It ought to be in all states. The rabbis teach that a mother should determine whether or not she should nurse and no one else, not even her husband.
If she (the mother) says that she wishes to nurse her child and he (the father) says that she shall not nurse it, we listen to her (because) the suffering would be hers. What about where he says that she shall nurse (the child) and she says that she will not nurse it? Whenever (nursing by the mother) is not the practice of her family, of course, we listen to her (Ketubot 61a).
The rabbis even appreciated that many women may choose to nurse for an extended period of time.
A child nurses continuously for twenty-four months. From that age onward (he is to be regarded) as one who sucks an abominable thing: these are the words of Rabbi Eliezer. And Rabbi Joshua says: (He may be breast fed) even for five years continuously (Niddah 2:3).
The rabbis even believe that women should be exempt from work when nursing.
A woman is obligated to care (tippul) for her child for the entire twenty-four months. Whether it is her child or whether it was a child given to her to nurse, the woman who is given a child to nurse should not do work (while caring) for him and should not suckle another child with him (Niddah 2:4).
There are solid scientific data supporting this. Breastfeeding, which is endorsed by many medical organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, is obviously the preferred method of feeding for infants, as a mother’s milk is far better suited to provide the proper balance of vitamins and other nutrients than other methods, and also is the best way to provide infants with resistance to harmful bacteria and viruses. The benefits for breastfeeding for the infant are many:
- Infants who are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life are less likely to be hospitalized or be brought to a healthcare provider for care, as they have less likelihood for respiratory ailments, ear infections, or persistent diarrhea
- Breastfed babies have a reduced incidence of allergies, asthma, and incidence of sudden death infant syndrome (SIDS)
- Children who were breastfed are more likely to gain weight in a more gradual way and have higher IQ scores than children who were not breastfed
In addition, there is ongoing research to determine whether anecdotal evidence concerning whether there is a connection between breastfeeding and reduced risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Mothers also benefit from breastfeeding. In addition to the bonding that occurs through the physical contact with infant children and the knowledge that breastfeeding provides the child with the best chance for a healthy life, breastfeeding helps the mother by lowering her risk for breast and ovarian cancer, assists in the lowering of weight following pregnancy, helps restore the uterus to its size before pregnancy, and saves the time and money that would otherwise be devoted to purchasing and preparing infant formula.
In spite of this evidence, mothers who attempt to breastfeed in public continue to be challenged. Consider these examples over the past 10 years:
- In 2006, Emily Gillette was taken off an airliner while it was still on the ground for refusing to adequately cover herself while breastfeeding her infant child. The case was only settled for an undisclosed sum in 2012, and there is no guarantee that the airline will not repeat this behavior in the future.
- In April 2007, Jessica Mayo-Swimeley brought her 17-month son Tobin in for brain tumor surgery and then a follow-up procedure. Afterward, she stayed at a Ronald McDonald House in Houston, Texas. When she tried to breastfeed Tobin in a public area, she was told that she could only do it in her private room (in spite of a Texas law permitting breastfeeding in public areas). When she complained, she was advised to seek accommodations elsewhere. Only after the story reached the Internet and there was a flood of protests did Ronald McDonald back off.
As of the writing of this article, today Laura Trickle has been charged with contempt of court for reporting for jury duty with her infant son instead of arranging for other childcare arrangements. The notice sent to her read that she had “willfully and contemptuously appeared for jury service with her child and no one to care for the child.” On Thursday, October 24, she will appear in court to challenge the citation, which entails possible jail time and up to a $500 fine. It is perverse to prevent a mother from engaging in a scientifically proven healthful practice and pay out of her own funds for childcare in order to perform jury service. Breastfeeding is healthful, and should not be a crime. If a mother has left the workface to care for a child, she should be granted a deferral from jury duty (even if she is not nursing). We must come together to promote best health practices, support for new mothers, and stronger parental rights.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Executive Director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century.” Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.”