having a baby

Women’s Bodies Aren’t Legislated Enough So The United Arab Emirates Is Forcing Them To Breastfeed

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A proposed law in the United Arab Emirates would make mothers required to breastfeed their babies until the age of two. Yes, required.

According to Haaretz:

The breastfeeding clause was passed by the state’s Federal National Council last week. It will be part of a new Child Rights Law, the country’s first comprehensive child protection and rights legislation, which is currently being debated, The National newspaper reported.

FNC members argued that 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.

While I am totally in favor of breastfeeding for mothers who want to and are able to do it, the reality is that it’s often much more difficult than women expect. There are literally innumerable factors that can affect a breastfeeding relationship. It can be very difficult for some women and some babies. Mothers often struggle with supply. And some women, although the percentage is very small, simply cannot breastfeed due to insufficient glandular tissue.

The UAE’s new law is in line with the World Health Organization’s recommendations to breastfeed until age two, although women’s groups and La Leche League have rightfully spoken out against the law. Interestingly, the bill will allow for wet nurses to be provided to women who cannot breastfeed. That seems…great in theory, but incredibly difficult and ultimately problematic in practice. Where do the wet nurses come from? Do they live with UAE women and their families? How and who determines if you need one? Who pays their salary? And on and on….these are questions that will cost the people and the government of the UAE time and money, as much as the policy might benefit infants.

And what about formula? Will it be sold in the country? Will it be contraband? Will you need a prescription for it? Some babies actually need formula rather breastmilk and some babies can’t digest anything with milk at all, either formula OR breastmilk.

I’d argue that here in the United States, society doesn’t truly support breastfeeding, even with all the pro-lactation propaganda we’re seemingly bombarded with as women. So I’m slightly appreciative that the UAE wants to support breastfeeding on a state level. We could use more of that here, specifically in relation to our maternal leave policies. But a law? A law saying that you must feed your child from your breast until he or she is two years old? No. It’s ridiculous and restrictive.

Another notable thing about this? Haaretz says that:

The Minister of Social Affairs, Mariam Al Roumi told lawmakers that the law would enable men to sue their wives if they didn’t breastfeed.

I think breastfeeding is truly wonderful and amazing and I think women should do it (if they want to, if they can). But I don’t think it should be mandated by law.

NOTE: I want to make it clear that I’ve written about this law from a very specific point-of-view. As a blogger who writes for a parenting site, I am looking at it strictly as a law that affects mothers, babies and families, not as a law proposed by Islamic people in an Islamic country. While the UAE uses a combination of sharia (Islamic law) and civil law, I do not know enough about the ins and outs of the legal system (or about the UAE’s legal or social culture as a whole) to make pronouncements other than that any law that tells women what they should do with their bodies is, in my opinion, a restrictive law.

Photo: Julia Wheeler and Veronika Laws via Getty Images