Cecile de Scally, the co-founder of Baby Senses, leads a demonstration at its centre in Jumeirah Lakes Towers. Sarah Dea / The National
Cecile de Scally, the co-founder of Baby Senses, leads a demonstration at its centre in Jumeirah Lakes Towers. Sarah Dea / The National

Taking baby steps with the UAE’s new midwife service

Most mothers-to-be in Dubai will have come across the name Cecile de Scally at some point during their pregnancy.

The South African midwife has helped thousands of couples get to grips with becoming parents since she moved to the Middle East almost 20 years ago. Now, she’s laying the foundations of a lasting legacy in the hope that parents, especially those away from their own families, will always have somewhere to turn.

“Every woman needs her mum. Here, your mum can come for two or three weeks, but she can’t generally come for longer – it’s ­inevitable she will leave,” she says. “We ask our mothers the stupid questions, but if they’re not here? Who do we ask? A lot of my work is about the stupid questions being answered.”

Finally deciding to make her business official, De Scally has founded Baby Senses in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, which is hosting its official launch today. It’s a sort of midwifery clinic/­maternal and parental education centre, offering classes, private midwife appointments, drop-in clinics and social meetings.

For De Scally, who moved to Dubai in 1997 from South ­Africa to work as a midwife at the American Hospital, Baby Senses is about creating something that will outlive her once she leaves the UAE. “I remember the first head nurse saying: ‘Some days you will love Dubai, some days you will hate it.’ Well, I’ve loved it. I’ve grown so much more here than I would have if I’d stayed in South Africa.”

In 2004, she was part of a team that set up the city’s first maternity home-visit service. She continued working with the hospital until 2007, when she set out on her own, relying on her reputation and word of mouth to keep her working.

She worked privately with thousands of couples, helping them prepare themselves and their homes for their new arrivals. She was always on the other end of the phone, often getting calls at all hours of the day and night from mums or dads wanting last-minute advice or second opinions, even as their labour began.

“If I’ve seen an average of 20 ­ladies a month; that’s 240 ladies a year – it’s a lot of women in nearly 18 years.”

One of those ladies was Ila Kharbush, the co-founder of Baby Senses. She gave birth to her first child Zayn 18 months ago and relied on De Scally’s help to ­assist her and her husband Imad through the process. “We came across Cecile when we were looking for assistance when we had our first child. I was 20 weeks pregnant and didn’t feel prepared at all. Even when I was in labour, we called her.

“It was helpful knowing all the questions to ask the hospital and at my appointments.”

Kharbush is now pregnant with her second child, a girl, and is still using De Scally’s services.

Every Tuesday morning, Baby Senses hosts an informal weigh-in for new parents. Hosted by De Scally, it’s an opportunity for mums to ask the “stupid questions” about nappies, feeding, dummies, sleeping, bowel movements or whatever else is bothering them. It’s also a chance for them to socialise and make new friends.

Fiona Fuller is a British mother to three-month-old twins Henry and Thomas, who were born premature. She attends the Tuesday morning sessions.

“I heard about Cecile when I was looking for antenatal classes. When we met her, we both just felt we could relate to her ­really easily.”

The hardest thing about being pregnant in the UAE, Fuller says, is not knowing where to go for information, but informal meetings often provide a lot of the ­answers.

“Talking to other mums here does help – everyone is in the same boat. I find that people have friends here but not family, so they are more open to share their experiences in some way.”

There are two things De Scally is particularly passionate about; breastfeeding and prenatal education. The former is one area in which she is determined to make a difference. In some other developed countries, new mothers and fathers will receive home visits from government health workers in the first few days after leaving the hospital. They are able to help spot and fix any problems with breastfeeding before they get so bad that parents give up.

“Once you get breastfeeding right, it is so easy,” she says. “It’s about catching women before they get the sore, cracked breasts and infections, so they don’t get put off. Prenatally, you need to find that person who is going to support you and you must get ­early support.

“Go see them within the first 48 hours, and see them regularly. Don’t wait until the child has a problem.”

As well as breastfeeding issues, there are other support services and information parents can ­access without trekking to the doctor’s office. The weekly weigh-ins, advice about neck strength, tummy time, flat heads and nutrition are all important in the early days, but often parents feel they miss out because they don’t want to take their child to see a physician unless there’s a ­problem.

“My vision is to have a place where mothers and fathers can come where they are given sound, practical advice on their pregnancies, feeding, sleeping, everything. The advice isn’t biased and they aren’t under pressure to do something they don’t want to do.”

Annemarie Aagaard, from Denmark, sought help at Baby Senses when she struggled to breastfeed her daughter Elli, who is 4 weeks old.

“You can see midwives in clinics, but it’s not a nice environment,” she says. “I would’ve given up breastfeeding in the beginning if I hadn’t come for help. It is very encouraging and supportive. I’ve been texting Cecile at 11pm saying: ‘She won’t eat and she should eat.’ Sometimes you just need to know that you’re not doing anything wrong and ­other people go through the same things.”

As Baby Senses grows, De Scally and Kharbush hope to employ more midwives to take on some of the workload and look at hosting other informal meetings, ­including some just for dads.

De Scally estimates that only 35 per cent of women manage to access all the right prenatal education, be it in classes or one-on-one sessions with midwives. The advice the remaining women receive is predominantly from doctors and of a medical nature only.

“They sometimes think ignorance is bliss,” she says, “but that’s why caesarean-section rates are going up and all the intervention, parents don’t have the knowledge to question or ­understand.”

Aga Lababedi, 30, took antenatal classes at a hospital, but has sought help from Baby Senses since the birth of her first daughter Mia two months ago.

She was advised to visit De Scally by her doctor after experiencing problems breastfeeding, but like so many others, had already come across the midwife’s name when searching online for ­resources.

“I was struggling with breast feeding; my flow was too strong and she was choking, and Cecile helped us sort it out,” she says.

Lababedi, originally from ­Poland, has been coming to the Tuesday morning weigh-ins for the past two weeks and has signed up for a one-on-one help session on sleep.

“It’s great just to come here and be able to hear other mums talking and hear that other babies cry, too. You can’t just go to a park or a playground here – it’s just nannies. This is a great environment to get advice and know you’re not the only one going through things.”

• Prices start from Dh250 per session. For more information, visit www.babysenses.me.


Follow us @LifeNationalUAE

Follow us on Facebook for discussions, entertainment, reviews, wellness and news.


Director: Meshal Al Jaser

Starring: Adwa Bader, Yazeed Almajyul, Khalid Bin Shaddad

Rating: 4/5

Company Profile

Company name: Cargoz
Date started: January 2022
Founders: Premlal Pullisserry and Lijo Antony
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 30
Investment stage: Seed

Where to buy

Limited-edition art prints of The Sofa Series: Sultani can be acquired from Reem El Mutwalli at www.reemelmutwalli.com


Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5


Created by: Jim Mickle, Beth Schwartz

Stars: Nonso Anozie, Christian Convery, Adeel Akhtar, Stefania LaVie Owen

Rating: 3.5/5

Expert input

If you had all the money in the world, what’s the one sneaker you would buy or create?

“There are a few shoes that have ‘grail’ status for me. But the one I have always wanted is the Nike x Patta x Parra Air Max 1 - Cherrywood. To get a pair in my size brand new is would cost me between Dh8,000 and Dh 10,000.” Jack Brett

“If I had all the money, I would approach Nike and ask them to do my own Air Force 1, that’s one of my dreams.” Yaseen Benchouche

“There’s nothing out there yet that I’d pay an insane amount for, but I’d love to create my own shoe with Tinker Hatfield and Jordan.” Joshua Cox

“I think I’d buy a defunct footwear brand; I’d like the challenge of reinterpreting a brand’s history and changing options.” Kris Balerite

 “I’d stir up a creative collaboration with designers Martin Margiela of the mixed patchwork sneakers, and Yohji Yamamoto.” Hussain Moloobhoy

“If I had all the money in the world, I’d live somewhere where I’d never have to wear shoes again.” Raj Malhotra

Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices


Name: Haltia.ai
Started: 2023
Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends

Difference between fractional ownership and timeshare

Although similar in its appearance, the concept of a fractional title deed is unlike that of a timeshare, which usually involves multiple investors buying “time” in a property whereby the owner has the right to occupation for a specified period of time in any year, as opposed to the actual real estate, said John Peacock, Head of Indirect Tax and Conveyancing, BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates, a law firm.

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets

Director: Damian Szifron

Stars: Shailene Woodley, Ben Mendelsohn, Ralph Ineson

Rating: 2/5

Tips for used car buyers
  • Choose cars with GCC specifications
  • Get a service history for cars less than five years old
  • Don’t go cheap on the inspection
  • Check for oil leaks
  • Do a Google search on the standard problems for your car model
  • Do your due diligence. Get a transfer of ownership done at an official RTA centre
  • Check the vehicle’s condition. You don’t want to buy a car that’s a good deal but ends up costing you Dh10,000 in repairs every month
  • Validate warranty and service contracts with the relevant agency and and make sure they are valid when ownership is transferred
  • If you are planning to sell the car soon, buy one with a good resale value. The two most popular cars in the UAE are black or white in colour and other colours are harder to sell

Tarek Kabrit, chief executive of Seez, and Imad Hammad, chief executive and co-founder of CarSwitch.com


Director:Shakun Batra

Stars:Deepika Padukone, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Ananya Panday, Dhairya Karwa

Rating: 4/5

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
Blue Beetle

Director: Angel Manuel Soto
Stars: Xolo Mariduena, Adriana Barraza, Damian Alcazar, Raoul Max Trujillo, Susan Sarandon, George Lopez
Rating: 4/5 

Tips for job-seekers
  • Do not submit your application through the Easy Apply button on LinkedIn. Employers receive between 600 and 800 replies for each job advert on the platform. If you are the right fit for a job, connect to a relevant person in the company on LinkedIn and send them a direct message.
  • Make sure you are an exact fit for the job advertised. If you are an HR manager with five years’ experience in retail and the job requires a similar candidate with five years’ experience in consumer, you should apply. But if you have no experience in HR, do not apply for the job.

David Mackenzie, founder of recruitment agency Mackenzie Jones Middle East


Round 1: Beat Leolia Jeanjean 6-1, 6-2
Round 2: Beat Naomi Osaka 7-6, 1-6, 7-5
Round 3: Beat Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 6-2
Round 4: Beat Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-0
Quarter-final: Beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-0, 6-2
Semi-final: Beat Coco Gauff 6-2, 6-4
Final: Beat Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-2

Without Remorse

Directed by: Stefano Sollima

Starring: Michael B Jordan


Most Read
Top Videos