The law that forces mothers to breastfeed

A new law passed last week requires all “able women” to breastfeed their babies, and they will be punished if they fail

The pressure on mums to breastfeed is high enough as it is.  But regardless of where you fall on the breast versus bottle debate, few would disagree that the decision over how a baby is fed ultimately lies with their mother.

However, new legislation in the United Arab Emirates has eliminated that choice, by making breastfeeding mandatory.

Women in the UAE will be legally required to breastfeed their babies up to the age of two under the new Child Rights Law, which was passed last week. During a review in December, members of the country’s Federal National Council (FNC) added a clause to the law that stipulates breastfeeding is a duty, rather than an option, for “able mothers”.

Although it’s not yet clear how the law will be enforced, it was suggested women found to be neglecting their breastfeeding duties could be subject to punishment. During the debate over the legislation, Social Affairs Minister Mariam Al Roumi cautioned that the law will enable men to sue their wives if they don’t breastfeed.

Sultan Al Sammahi, a member of the FNC’s Health, Labour and Social Affairs Committee declared breastfeeding to be “the right of every child for two years”, as stated in the Quran. He added that this includes abandoned and orphaned children, who should have access to wet nurses.

“Breast feeding is not just giving a child milk, it is a relationship between a mother and a child. Some families leave their children to maids and don’t breast feed. This is part of raising a child, though, this is mandatory,” another committee member, Ahmed Al Shamsi, said.

Although members attempted to have rights for working mothers added to the law – such as the inclusion of nurseries in all workplaces – these suggestions were rejected by Minister Al Roumi. She said a separate law on nurseries would be discussed in the future.

Ultimately, the Council hopes the legislation will encourage breastfeeding and spread awareness of its benefits.

Although it is in line with the World Health Organisation’s recommendations to breastfeed until age two, women’s groups, including La Leche League, have raised concerns about the law and how it will be executed.

Out of the Blues, a Dubai-based support group for women suffering from post-natal depression, outlined their reaction in a column for Emirates newspaper The National. They questioned how the law will determine which mothers are and aren’t able to breastfeed; and how women in circumstances that can impact on their breastfeeding behaviour, such as working or being in neonatal intensive care units, will be supported.

“It is our opinion that, while encouraging women to breastfeed is a laudable aim, it is by supporting those who can and want to breastfeed, and not by punishing those who can’t, that we will reap the benefits we all want to see in our society,” they wrote.

Do you think our Government should do more to promote breastfeeding? Or should it be an entirely private decision?