Each year thousands of mothers leave for Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. Many go for up to 3 weeks. Some choose to tote their young children but many forgo this option as it can add stress to an experience that usually only comes once in a lifetime. Going for hajj takes years to months of preparation. Careful planning is also key to leaving your nursing child. Ideally, we all would have a wet-nurse or nanny. But most people have to leave their child with someone outside the home.
First, have a loving, trustworthy, adult caregiver who your child has a good relationship with like their grandparents or a very, very, VERY close friend. You want someone who will be patient with them at times of separation anxiety. Young children may cry at bedtime or run to the door seeking you out. Clever distractions and lots of hugs may be necessary to keep them calm. Make sure their home is child-proof. As a reminder write down your child’s daily routine, medications, food preferences and favorite activities.
Secondly, tell your child about your exciting trip. They will learn best from picture books, crafts and active play. Point out airplanes, show them the Kaba, and tell them that you will be leaving and coming back inshAllah. An older toddler may be able to understand more than a baby. Ask them if there are any special dua that they want you to do while at Hajj.
In case communication is limited or reception is bad during the trip, record videos of yourself. There are also recordable storybooks and stuffed animals available. Make a calendar counting down to when you comeback. A small gift can be given for each day. Plan play dates or small outings for each week you are gone. Buy and wrap Eid gifts before you leave.
It will be important to decide if you will continue nursing or wean. If you will continue nursing:
- Express milk in advance and store in the freezer. To warm, place in a bowl of warm water- never microwave or cook on stovetop. Have someone else give a bottle at least twice a day. If your child has never had bottles they may refuse it. Using a cup or spoon will be much easier.
- Have your caregiver mix breastmilk in their food. If you do not have stored breastmilk, use donor milk from a foster mother or choose a halal formula.
- Learn hand expression. You will need to remove your milk every few hours to maintain your supply. Though it may sound tedious, hand expression will be easier and requires no electricity like a pump. Pack a good hand pump as backup. Unfortunately, you may not be able to properly store or travel back home with the milk. If you meet another mother with her child present in Mecca, consider milk-sharing. In a warm room that is 80+ degrees F, the milk will be good for about 4 hours. Review milk storage here.
- Pack breast pads and a few empty bottles/bags.
- Lastly, make sure you stay hydrated. Carry a water bottle, pace yourself and take naps.
If you choose to wean avoid the cold turkey method because it can be very painful and can cause mastitis. Gently lessen nursing sessions in the weeks before you leave. There may be some sleepless nights but it will be worth an easier transition for everyone involved. Know how to keep yourself comfortable in case you get engorged. The less your child nurses, the sooner your milk will dry up. But, it usually takes longer (a few weeks) for women who have been nursing longer to stop producing milk. So, you may still need to pack breast pads.
Most importantly make dua and ask Allah to make it easy for you. May Allah accept your Hajj and make it a source of blessing for your family. Please make dua for me sisters.
sources: www.kellymom.com and http://www.virtualmosque.com “8 Ideas for Little Children Left at Home while Mother Performs Hajj” by Umm Ameen 8/28/15