Judaism has always valued children, the next generation.
There is nothing more precious to any Jewish home than its children. It is a mitzvah for every Jewish man to father at least one son and one daughter, in fulfillment of the first command given to Adam, "be fruitful and multiply."1 Additional children fulfill God's command to "inhabit the world."2
For those who are unable to have children, adoption is another way to bring the joy of children into one's home.3 It is one of the noblest acts of charity to extend care and love to children whose natural parents were either unwilling or unable to discharge their parental obligations. The Talmud declares: "He who raises someone else's child is regarded as if he had actually brought him into the world physically."4
In appreciating the preciousness of life, the use of birth control is often forbidden by Jewish law. It is important that every couple seek the counsel of a reliable rabbi before using birth control.
Abortion is strictly forbidden in Jewish law except when necessary to preserve the life of the mother.5 In cases of extreme circumstances, one must consult with a rabbi who is experienced in these areas. See more on abortion at Aish.com.
Imagine what would happen if babies were delivered by the stork. Parents would not be emotionally prepared to take care of the new baby. Instead, God gives a woman nine months to gradually become accustomed to motherhood. She feels every movement and observes every kick. For nine months, she is lovingly protecting, nurturing and fostering an unbreakable bond between mother and baby.
Doctors and nutritionists are very strict about the diet of expectant women, since everything the mother is exposed to affects the embryo. Jewish sources take this a step further. Even the behavior that a pregnant woman exhibits will affect her unborn baby. Thus, it is important that she try to stay calm and relaxed, and that there is peace in the home during this time.6
On Yom Kippur, a pregnant woman must fast as long as it will not endanger the fetus or herself.7 Most pregnant women who do not exert themselves excessively find that they are able to fast on Yom Kippur without a problem. However, women with high-risk pregnancies and those with serious medical conditions should seek rabbinical guidance in this matter. Even if one must drink or eat, it should be as little as necessary to alleviate the danger.8
The laws of pregnant women on Tisha B'Av are more lenient than those of Yom Kippur.9 The other minor fasts need not be observed by pregnant women.10 Since there are different opinions on the details, rabbinical guidance should be sought.
It is preferable (but not forbidden) for a woman who is pregnant to refrain from entering a cemetery.11 This is in order to keep the fetus from being harmed by negative spiritual forces.12
Perhaps the best opportunity of pregnancy is to pray for the wellbeing of your child, while it is still being formed. Pray for its health; pray for its success in life; pray for its sustenance. The Almighty is listening, and such prayers are one of the best gifts you can ever give your child.
From the kabbalistic literature, it is clear that there is a predestined moment for a baby to be born.13 Therefore, one should not induce labor unless out of medical necessity.14
A woman in labor is considered in danger. It is therefore imperative to get her to the hospital as soon as possible, even if it means violating Shabbat or other laws.15
Therefore, when deemed necessary, an ambulance (or doctor) should be called on behalf of a woman who is in labor. It is permitted for anyone to drive the woman to the hospital on Shabbat. Regarding all these activities, it is ideal for them to be performed by a non-Jew if available. But if her needs are imminent, time should not be wasted to seek a non-Jew. The overriding rule is: In all cases of imminent potential danger to life of the mother or the fetus, no consideration should be made for Shabbat observance.16
Since a woman will be more at ease if she is escorted to the hospital, her husband or birth coach may travel with her, even on Shabbat.17
Although we may violate Shabbat for any needs of the woman giving birth, we may not desecrate Shabbat for extraneous matters, like filling out hospital forms that can be dealt with after Shabbat.18
Once a pregnant woman has begun her ninth month, it is a prudent to have a bag prepared, should she need to go to the hospital on Shabbat.19 This bag should contain only items of absolute necessity.
A husband may be present at the birth, but for reasons of modesty he should not view the actual birth.20
If the baby is a boy, the new mother should be brought some water with which to wash her hands. Then both parents recite the blessing:21
If the couple was blessed with a girl, the new father recites this blessing upon first seeing the infant:22
After giving birth, a woman is still considered in a state of danger. Consequently, within 72 hours after the delivery, a woman does not fast. If Yom Kippur falls out within a week after birth (but after 72 hours), she may consume small amounts of food and drink23 if she feels the need.
The ancient Jewish practice was to breastfeed a baby until it reached age two.25 Today, most women do not do so for practical reasons. Yet all agree that nursing is the healthiest thing for the infant nutritionally and emotionally, for whatever amount of time possible.
A nursing mother should be particularly careful about what she eats, as this greatly impacts the nutrition of the infant. In a metaphysical sense as well, the quality of the food affects the soul of the baby.26 Therefore, the mother must be very scrupulous about the kashrut of the food that she consumes.27
Although mother's milk is technically not considered dairy, it should not be warmed in a "meat" pot so that onlookers will not make any mistaken conclusion.28
On Shabbat, a baby may only be nursed directly from the breast. The mother may not express milk into a utensil even to feed the child immediately thereafter.29 A woman who needs to express excess milk may not do so into a clean utensil, but rather should do so directly into the sink or into a vessel that contains liquid soap or something else that will make the milk unusable.30 However, if an infant's primary sustenance is breast milk, and for some reason he cannot be fed directly, the milk may be expressed directly into a clean utensil.31
For further reading:
- Nine Wonderful Months (B'Sha'ah Tovah) by Rabbi Baruch Finkelstein and Michal Finkelstein (Feldheim.com)
- Genesis 1:28
- Talmud – Yevamot 62a; based on Isaiah 45:18; Ohr Zarua (Beit HaKnesset 385); Mishnah Berurah 153:24; Shu”t Igros Moshe (Even Ha’ezer 4:73).
- It is important to ascertain the religious background of any adopted child. If the child is not Jewish, he or she must go through a proper conversion. For details, speak with a rabbi.
- Sanhedrin 19b
- Rambam (Rotze’ach 1:9)
- Shevet Mussar (ch. 24)
- Orach Chaim 617:1-2
- Orach Chaim 617:1-2. The amount they may eat is as follows:
- Ground solids with a volume of 45-50 grams, ideally every nine minutes or, at worst, every two minutes.
- Liquids less than the individual's cheek-full (for average adult, 2 oz. or 40-45 grams), ideally every nine minutes or, at worst, a very slow spoonful after spoonful. (heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits)
- Orach Chaim 550:1
- Orach Chaim 550:1
- Shu”t Minchat Yitzchak 10:42
- Shemirat HaGuf ViHanefesh (ch. 142, footnote #4)
- Torat HaYoledet 1:1
- Shu”t Igros Moshe (Yoreh De’ah 2:74 and Orach Chaim 4:105:6)
- Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato 36:8
- Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato 36:2-5
- Shu”t Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim 1:132)
- Shu”t Be’er Moshe (vol. 6, Electricity #48)
- Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato 36:6
- Shu”t Igros Moshe (Yoreh De’ah 2:75)
- Orach Chaim 223:1
- Mishnah Berurah 223:2
- For amount that may be eaten, see footnote 8.
- More information on this subject can be found in Straight from the Heart by Tehilla Abramov [Targum Press 1990].
- Chochmat Adam (37:3)
- Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh De’ah 81:34)
- Rema (Yoreh De’ah 81:7)
- Yoreh De’ah (81:7)
- Orach Chaim (328:34)
- Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato (36:20)
- Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato (36:21)