The Importance of Breastfeeding: a Traditional Yoruba POV

In planning my childbirth education classes, I’ve been reading every book that I can get my hands on.  One of the few books I’m reading at the moment is Ikunle Abiyamo by Ṣ. Ṣolagbade Popoọla and Fakunle Oyesanya.

When it comes to traditional African practices, we often get the “what” but not the “why.”  The what, in this instance, is breastfeeding.  We know that many African mothers breastfeed until their children are toddlers.  We know that the research and recommendations tell us to exclusively breastfeed our babies for their first six months of life, and to continue to at least their first birthday when possible.  We know about the developmental and nutritional benefits to babies who are breastfed.  What better arguments could be made?

…Ifá says that a child who fails to suck the mother’s breastmilk will find it extremely difficult, if not totally impossible, to have the type of spiritual elevations comparable to those of his/her colleagues who had the benefit of sucking their mothers’ breastmilk – 172

This is written negatively, so let’s flip it and make it plain and simple: Ifá says that a child who is fed breast milk will find spiritual elevation with ease.  I think that’s amazing!

So what?  For starters, families raising their children following Yoruba traditional religion (and variants, Lukumi, Candomble, etc…) take the spiritual lives of their children very seriously from the moment they are born.  Mothers may undergo rituals to ensure the well being of the baby while still in the womb.  Some families will whisper prayers into the baby’s ear welcoming her into the world for having traversed a safe passage (from Orun to Aye, Heaven to Earth).  Some families will consult with a priest through divination to have a better understanding of the child’s destiny and to choose a name that befits the child.  We want the best for our children, and that includes what’s best for them spiritually.

It’s no mistake that sexual intercourse is discouraged in Yorubaland (and probably elsewhere) for as long as a mother nurses; we don’t engage in sexual activity when we’re involved in spiritual work.  Our vital life force energy (aṣè) changes, it shifts and divides when we share intimacy, so the aṣè must be preserved and enhanced to be effective.

Yoruba traditionalists (and variants) have quite the challenge maintaining an ancient lifestyle in our modern world.  After all, Yoruba traditional religion isn’t just “what you do on Sunday,” it’s how we live everyday.  Sometimes we forget that our bodies truly are our temples, and how important our spiritual energy is in everything we say and do.

Now what? Formula boasts of being able to be nutritionally just as good as mother’s milk.  Until they can figure out the chemical makeup of spiritual enhancement, I’m not convinced.


2 responses to “The Importance of Breastfeeding: a Traditional Yoruba POV

  1. Amazing! Thanks for posting!

  2. Interesting article and necessary. Check out the National Beastfeeding Day that is celebrated nationwide in Brasil where women walk down the streets in parade form breastfeeding their children.

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