Mother’s breast milk is scientifically proven to contain essential nutrients beneficial for the physical and mental development of infants for their growth (Rehman et al., 2017; Berlanga-Macias et al., 2020). Mother’s breast milk is also found to help strengthen the infant’s antibodies or immunity against dangerous diseases (Dennis, 2002; Gertosio et al., 2016; Harris et al., 2019). Due to awareness of the importance of mother’s milk for an infant’s healthy growth and intelligence, mothers are determined to breastfeed their infants even though they are working mothers. The technological invention of the sophisticated milking machine helps the process of feeding breast milk as expressed milk can be frozen and given to the infant later while the mother is working (Shinde, 2015; Hapsah et al., 2002; Syh. Noorul Madihah et al., 2018; Tanriverdi et al., 2019). In addition, the development of social networks such as whatsapp, twitter, and facebook have allowed online support group for mothers to be formed. Other than moral support from husband and family, online support groups also help to motivate mothers in feeding infants with breast milk exclusively for at least six months (Hapsah et al., 2002; Sandra & Ahmad Syafiq, 2010; Siti Mariam, 2013; Hagos & Tadesse, 2020; Baeza et al. 2016).
Increasing public knowledge about breast milk’s nutrients for infants causes mothers who are unable to breastfeed their infants by themselves to hire milk mothers or even buy breast milk from other women. This practice has given rise to the phenomenon of wet nursing. This phenomenon seems to be increasingly acceptable to the present Muslim society, especially to help sick infants to overcome health problems. However, women who become milk mothers need to understand the effects in Shariah law, especially if they have established milk kinship with the infants. The problem among the milk mothers is that they might not know the legal effects in terms of Shariah law. If this ignorance is not overcome, it is feared that there might be future marriages between milk siblings, which contradicts the objectives of Shariah (Maqasid al-Syari’iyyah), namely, to preserve a person’s lineage (Hifz al-Nasl).
The law on wet nursing is about mahram (unmarriageability). Along with some conditions, a child fed on another woman’s milk becomes her milk child permanently. The milk child is strictly forbidden to marry the milk mother or milk father and their offspring or descendants due to their blood ties. Their children are also mahram (unmarriageable), and their milk kinship does not nullify ablution as they are allowed to mix as milk siblings, subject to aurat limits (or hijab rules), just as the milk child would with his/her own biological siblings. The lineage of the milk mother whom the milk child is forbidden to marry are her siblings, her sons and daughters, his/her female grandchildren and the mother of the milk mother. Likewise, the lineage of the milk father to whom the milk child is mahram (unmarriageable) include the milk father’s siblings, his/her daughters even from another wife, his/her female grandchildren and his/her mother. This is the consensus of the four Sunni schools of law, Syafi’i, Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali (Sharbini, 1978; al-Sarkhasi, n.d.; al-Dusuqi, n.d.). In addition, the law describes the conditions for wet nursing which need to be understood to legally establish an infant’s status as a milk child. The conditions that are required to establish milk kinship are related to woman’s breast milk, amount of feeding, age of infant while feeding and mode of feeding (Mohammad Nidzam & Mohd Daud, 2018). All stated above included that she is a woman who has reached puberty.
According to Hanafi and Maliki school of law, the number of feeding or the amount of milk fed to an infant does not affect the status of milk kinship. On the other hand, according to Shafi’i and Hanbali school of law, infants need to be satiated five or more times to establish milk kinship between the woman and the infant (al-Syirazi, 1983, Ibn Qudamah,1983). In terms of age of infant, the majority of jurists agree that the milk child shall not be more than two years old for the law on mahram (unmarriageability) based on milk kinship to apply to both parties. (Al-Mawardi, 1996; Al-Kasani, 2000; Ibn Qudamah, 1983). In addition, the mode of feeding also needs to be examined in order to determine the legal status of milk kinship. Scholars agree by consensus that an infant becomes a milk child if the infant is fed breast milk for five or more times by the milk mother, whether directly from the breast or from a bottle, spoon, tube or syringe. The Muslim society too needs to know the law on feeding breast milk to someone else’s child in matters of guardianship, lineage and inheritance. In terms of lineage (nasab), a milk child does not take the milk father’s lineage. Likewise, the milk father is not its legal guardian (Zilal, 2014). In terms of inheritance, the milk child does not inherit from the milk mother, nor she from him (Zanariah et al., 2018). This discussion clearly shows that the legal status of milk kinship is an important matter which needs to be thoroughly understood by all parties involved, including the milk mother, the milk child and their respective families.
Generally, countless research studies on milk children have been done previously by many researchers, including studies by Mathur & Dhingra (2013), Hapsah et al. (2002), Anna (2001), Ayu Aima (2002), Ahluwalia (2005), Dennis (2002), Normadiah & Zuliza (2014), Normadiah et al. (2012), Radzniwan et al. (2009), Tengku Alina et al. (2012), Normadiah et al. (2015) and many others. Previous research mostly studied mothers’ understanding on the concept of wet nursing, their knowledge on breastfeeding exclusively, the attitude of milk mothers and their practice, the duration of their practice, the rights and duties in feeding, the challenges underwent by career mothers and the factors for the discontinuation of breast feeding by some mothers.
Some previous research studies also focused on the benefits of breast milk to an infant’s growth and health, such as by Norita et al. (2019), Normadiah & Siti Fatimah (2009), Ward et al. (2013), Rehman et al. (2017), Berlanga-Macias et al. (2020), Del Ciampo & Del Ciampo (2018), Spiro (2017), Gertosio et al. (2016), Harris et al. (2019) and many more who empirically proved that mother’s milk is the best for infants. In addition, research on breastfeeding someone else’s infant were also conducted by Flores-Antón et al. (2017); Lommen & Brown (2015); Zilal (2015), Azizah (2011) and Zilal & Farahwahida (2015) but these research are more toward breastfeeding others’ infants as adopted or foster children. Research on breastfeeding adopted or foster children was also conducted in the West by Gribble (2006), who explained that breastfeeding is beneficial to mothers and children in terms of bonding and calming effect.
Meanwhile, there were also some research studies that focused on the laws on wet nursing, including the research done by Zanariah et al. (2018) on the Muslim society’s awareness of the laws relating to wet nursing. They selected Muslim respondents from both genders to participate in their study. Contrarily, this research paper focused only on milk mothers who are still practicing it during the study. In short, past research did not study wet nursing, especially, milk mothers’ understanding of the legal implications of feeding someone else’s infant and the factors which encourage their willingness to feed them. Hence, this research is for the purpose of analysing Muslim milk mothers’ understanding of the law on feeding breast milk to someone else’s infant and identifying the motivating factors for their willingness to do so.