For many first-time mothers, breastfeeding is overwhelming. Raging hormones, sleep deprivation and lack of family support can leave women feeling like failed mothers if breastfeeding doesn't come naturally.
This can be especially difficult in the UAE, where many new mothers don't have close family nearby - or if they do, the family isn't supportive of breastfeeding.
Hundreds of area mothers have found help through La Leche League, an international breastfeeding support group with an active branch in Abu Dhabi. A team of volunteers answers phone calls and emails, visits homes and leads meetings to help women who have difficulties breastfeeding, or who just need to talk to someone with a similar experience.
The Abu Dhabi group is led by three women: Rochelle Williams, 46, a South African mother of two; Marie-Claire Bakker, 43, a mother of three; and the Emirati Noura Al Khoori, 31, also a mother of three. Al Khoori was the first Arab La Leche Leader in the world - out of more that 7,000 leaders in 65 countries.
Bakker has been an expatriate for most of her life and has found support networks in each new country through La Leche League.
"In European countries, there's a lot more follow-up care after the mother has left hospital," Bakker says. "In the UAE, when expat mothers are back out in the community, often they feel quite isolated, especially if they've been working full time and suddenly they're at home alone with a new baby."
La Leche League meetings, Bakker says, are "an opportunity to meet other mothers with babies the same age or who are expecting at the same time and create a new network of support. I think that's really vital here because most expatriate mothers are very far away from their families".
Claire Limpkin, a British mother of four, has been attending La Leche League meetings in Abu Dhabi for the past four years, during which time she has breastfed two of her sons. Limpkin was first helped by a La Leche League leader when her second child was five days old: "The La Leche League leader watched me feed her, moved her position by about an inch and it was like a miracle. It felt so much better after that."
Chadia Abbas attended a Le Leche League seminar when her son was three weeks old and realised she was having problems. Al Khoori offered to visit her at home. "It was a big problem for me because it was my first child and I felt that I couldn't breastfeed. I was crying all the time. Now that I look back, I realise I had postnatal depression. Noura just made me feel so much better."
Abbas sought Al Khoori's support again recently, when she was agonising over whether to take her breastfeeding son with her on a four-day trip to Mecca. "Her advice was to follow my gut feelings, to trust my motherly instincts. So my son came with me."
Al Khoori, who juggles La Leche League duties with a career writing children's books, also runs the working mothers La Leche League meetings and has translated La Leche League information sheets into Arabic. She says she left her previous job as an environmentalist a week after she returned from maternity leave because she struggled to keep up her milk supply while working.
Jessica Goldman, who attends La Leche League's working mothers group, has a five-month-old and is back at work as a teacher. "I didn't have much help with breastfeeding at the hospital," Goldman says. "The help I did get I had to ask for. I was in a lot of pain from incorrect latch. When I called La Leche League I spoke to Noura, who came to my house. I felt very comfortable with Noura. She really helped me to feel better and I am still breastfeeding now. It was good to go to the meeting and find other working mums."
Bakker says she is always impressed by how many mothers try to carry on breastfeeding when they are back at work. "It shows enormous dedication," she says. "I meet mothers who have walked over hot coals to breastfeed their kids, despite many obstacles. Their determination has been humbling to witness; that's what makes my job worthwhile."
• Meetings for Abu Dhabi's La Leche League are held at Brighton College from 10am to noon on the third Sunday of each month. Contact Noura Al Khoori at email@example.com for details on the next working mothers group. Information can also be found on the La Leche League UAE Facebook page. La Leche League is training leaders to run groups around the UAE, but as yet meetings are only held in Abu Dhabi.
• In Dubai, Breastfeeding Q&A runs a Facebook page and drop-in meetings. The group is run by Farangis Bakhtiar.
• Brooke Bauer co-ordinates the Al Ain Nursing Mamas group.
• In Sharjah, Breastfeeding Friends hires out breast pumps and supports breastfeeding mothers.
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