Mothers angry over breastfeeding law

Mothers say breastfeeding should be a choice and not forced, following a clause passed in UAE's Child Rights Law last week making nursing mandatory.

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ABU DHABI // Mothers say breastfeeding should be a choice and not forced, following legislation making nursing mandatory.
The clause in the Child Rights Law was passed by the FNC last week.
Members argued breastfeeding was a "duty" and every infant should be entitled to be nursed as it was beneficial for health and built a strong bond between mother and child.
A few members said it was also laid out in the Quran.
Sultan Al Sammahi (Fujairah), who was on the committee that studied the Child Rights Law, said the clause aimed to encourage mothers.
He also said that nurseries were being rolled out in government and private organisations to help breastfeeding mothers be near their children.
But many mothers insist breastfeeding should be a choice and not a legal obligation.
Reem Al Falasi, a mother of two who breastfed both of her children, believes it should not be forced.
"It would be more of an advantage to the child if the mother was to implement the law, but it is the mother's choice and she knows what's best for her baby," she said.
Maitha Al Suwaidi, 28, a working mother of three, said that enforcing such a law would not help working parents.
"It is a good law and it could work for certain women but not everyone," she said. "They cannot force us to do it, every women has different circumstances.
"We need awareness and encouragement, not laws that oblige us. Many women have issues, like medical conditions that prevent them. Others are working and only have a one-hour break to get to their child. We have circumstances that hold us back and prevent us from breastfeeding."
Ms Al Suwaidi said the committee should have focused on having nurseries in workplaces, giving working mothers more time to attend to and feed their children, and creating the right environment for working mothers.
Marie-Claire Bakker, a member of the La Leche League and cultural ethnologist, an international breastfeeding support group, said breastfeeding was a deeply personal experience and "this relationship and bond cannot be legislated".
She said a comprehensive public information campaign about artificial milk and natural breast milk could encourage mothers to choose the natural way.
"Breast milk is the natural nutrition for the human infant and contains everything they need to grow and develop normally," Ms Bakker said. "Breastfeeding gives a child so much more than just food and drink - it is also about building their immune system and a healthy gut, and love, affection and bonding.
"A network of community support clinics and peer counsellors to assist women in reaching their breastfeeding goals is something that is needed in all areas of the country."
Ms Bakker warned the law would put more stress on new mothers and this would be detrimental to families.
"At this vulnerable time, to think of criminalising a new mother who, for whatever reason, is struggling with breastfeeding is not helpful," she said. "She needs informed support, not threats."
While FNC members said breastfeeding was embedded in Islam, an Islamic scholar, Sheikh Sediq Al Mansouri, said it was not mandatory.
A verse in Surat Al Baqarah in the Quran states: "Mothers may breastfeed their children two complete years for whoever wishes to complete the nursing [period]."
Mr Al Mansouri explained: "The reason Allah has stated two years in the verse is that it is the preferred period of time.
"If the child is breastfed less than two years he might be harmed, and if more the mother might be harmed.
"Allah's foresight is to seek the interest of the mother and the child, and the verse is clear - to whomever wishes."
He said it was beneficial and advisable but not obligatory.