From folklore to scientific evidence: breast-feeding and wet-nursing in islam and the case of non-puerperal lactation. Academic Article uri icon


  • Breast-feeding practice has an important medical and socio-cultural role. It has many anthropological aspects concerning the "power structures" that find their expression in breast-feeding and the practices that formed around it, both socially, scientifically, and legally-speaking. Breast-feeding has been given much attention by religions and taboos, folklore, and misconception abound around it making it a topic of genuine curiosity. This paper aims at expanding the spectrum of folklore associated with breast-feeding. The paper deals with historical, religious, and folkloristic aspects of breast-feeding, especially wet-nursing, in Islam and focuses on an intriguing Islamic tale on breast-feeding - lactation by non-pregnant women (or non-puerperal lactation). Apparently, accounts of non-puerperal lactation are not restricted to Islam but have been documented in various societies and religions throughout centuries. Two medical situations - hyperprolactinemia and induced lactation, appear as possible explanations for this phenomenon. This serves as an excellent example for the value of utilizing contemporary scientific knowledge in order to elucidate the origin, anthropology and evolvement of ancient myth and superstition.

publication date

  • January 1, 2007