Lack of breastfeeding linked to diabetes risk

Women are not encouraged to breastfeed in the UAE, which could contribute to increasing diabetes cases.

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AL AIN // Women are not encouraged to breastfeed in the UAE, a situation that could contribute to the nation's increasing incidence of diabetes, two lactation consultants said yesterday. Most women add other liquids and animal milk when they feed their babies, but they are not appropriate for infants because they interfere with cells that produce insulin, which regulate the level of sugar in the blood, said Rosie Edmonds, an international board-certified lactation consultant with Tawam Hospital.

"This is what is causing public health issues like diabetes," she said. "When a baby gets the wrong sort of food it changes the cellular structure in their eyelet cells. Everything that goes in a newborn baby's mouth has an effect." At a breastfeeding awareness lecture at Tawam Hospital, Ms Edmonds said studies of adults who were breastfed as children revealed significantly lower risk for many health problems besides diabetes, including Crohn's disease, asthma and allergies.

But a lack of places to breastfeed and government support for new mothers leaves many with little alternative but to feed their babies formula and other supplements. The UAE is well below the world average in rates for exclusive breastfeeding: 28 per cent, compared with the global average of 40 per cent, Ms Edmonds said. The UAE presents special challenges to new mothers because maternity leave is so short, said Evelyne Ruf, the head of the lactation clinic at the Sharjah Maternal and Child Health Centre.

Maternity leave for Emiratis has shrunk from six months to 60 days, and to 45 days for expatriates, she said, "less than the International Labour Organisation standard". Doctors and nurses working at hospitals are no longer allowed to take breaks to feed their babies or express milk, while medical students are required to return to classes within seven days of having a child. In addition to barriers imposed by employment, many women find it difficult to breastfeed in public. Most malls lack breastfeeding rooms.

"It's disgusting that women are obliged to breastfeed in a bathroom," said Ms Ruf. "It's not normal."