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


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

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  • Alexandra

    This is nothing more than giving middle eastern men more power over women. Sorry, there’s nothing “bonding or beautiful” about mandatory breastfeeding until age FREAKING TWO! If you want to do it great, but yea, I’m thinking formula will be contraband and things will become awful.
    Read A Thousand Splendid Suns (by author of the Kite Runner) if you want to literally cringe and thank whatever god you believe in for not living in the Middle East.

    • Seriously?

      Yes, because all men in the Middle East are terrible monsters hell bent on controlling women. All the while men in the US do the same thing. I always fear articles like this because it easily goes down the racist omg how can the middle east be so barbaric trope and once again, not all cultures in that region are the same and given the fact it’s blatantly obvious the poster has no idea about government, politics, let alone demographics of the UAE.

      And for shock, wet nurses are pretty damn common and guess what?

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      i agree, very easy to play the race card.
      it’s not the race, it’s a PROPOSED LAW.
      it’s not the religion, it’s a PROPOSED LAW.

      Sick of people blaming the Muslim religion/races for POLITICAL issues.

    • AKR

      LOL! how barbaric breast feeding has become. Even animals breast feed their little ones they don’t whinge about it.

    • Kay_Sue

      I don’t know where you are exactly, but as an American, I don’t feel comfortable personally talking about another country’s attempts to legislate the female body in such general and negative terms with what our own politicians have had and currently have in store for legislative pushes.

      For instance:

      - “the Alabama Senate is set to consider a cruel bill that would permit the hospital staff, including any doctor, nurse, counselor, or lab technician, to refuse to participate in any phase of patient medical care related to ending a pregnancy, even if that is what a patient like this woman needs to protect her own health and future fertility.” That means every medical staff member, at every hospital in the state of Alabama, could possibly be given the right to refuse to care for you if you are miscarrying.

      -H.R. 7 is up for debate again. “In an effort to impose one narrow ideology on every woman’s life, these lawmakers hope to rewrite long-standing tax laws to penalize a single, legal medical procedure: abortion. The bill denies tax credits to small businesses and middle-class families if their health plans include abortion coverage, and imposes a tax increase on women who need abortion care.” So yeah, fuck all that “paying for what healthcare coverage you want” jazz.

      -Michigan passed what amounts to “rape insurance”–requiring a separate rider for women to purchase if they want abortion covered. More than 160 restrictions on a woman’s constitutionally protected right to this medical procedure have passed since 2010.

      -SNAP benefits cuts that affect all recipients–when 60% of the working-age adults receiving benefits are women.

      -Politicians continually attack the TANF program, which provides support for many families, especially those headed by women.

      -Birth control coverage is continually threatened, despite the fact that it has been shown that increased reproductive control for women means a better quality of life for them.

      -26 separate states restrict the rights of pregnant women to decide to be removed from life support should you be in a vegetative state, coma, etc, even if you have a DNR or other form of wishes on file that expressly states that you wish for the orders to be carried out even in the event of pregnancy.

      - 2012 saw opposition to the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act.

      And really, I could go *on and on* about this subject all day. I really could. Another country’s citizen, looking at these instances, could say the *exact same* things about the US and our citizens that you are saying about the UAE.

      I don’t agree with legislating *anyone’s body* but it’s not tied to any race, religion, or region. It knows no bounds.

    • Kay_Sue

      Oh, the quoted areas come from the ACLU’s webpage. I forgot to attribute. Blah.

    • Sarah

      I don’t see her saying anything about race or religion. It is a comment on a region that DOES have an awful track record when it comes to women’s rights. It is what it is.

    • Kay_Sue

      “Middle Eastern” is typically used to indicate a person of Middle Eastern, or Arabic descent, so I would argue that race is implied. You’re right, she didn’t mention religion. That was merely the wrap up to my point that, when your shit stinks like ours does, you don’t really have room to be pointing fingers at other regions. But I notice that, while you picked race and religion out of that comment, you didn’t mention “region”, which was also stated.

      There’s also the (still valid) point that these claims could be made by others, based on the evidence cited, of my own good ol’ US of A.

      And the other (valid but not mentioned) point that posts like these, that imply, “Just be glad you don’t live THERE!” also devalue our own fight for equal rights in our country. I am glad to live where I do, to have the opportunities that I do, but I also recognize that everywhere has its own battle for the rights of people, and women are usually among those most easily wronged.

      Glass houses, and all of that.

    • Kelly

      If you can’t recognize that women in the United States have it a hell of a lot better than women in many other parts of the world…

      Well then, I guess you’re just a victim of the American educational system. Or simply mind numbingly ignorant.

    • Kay_Sue

      Mmmmhm. You are totally right, that was the entire point of my posts. You summed it up so succinctly. *applauds*

    • JustaGuest

      I agree with most of what you have said. However, I do think I can reasonably say that, for instance, I am very glad to live here and not somewhere like Saudia Arabia where women are not permitted to drive (or travel in general without a male guardian.) I think looking at specific examples of problematic governments and being glad you are not there is fine. There is more of a problem when you lump a bunch of countries together (all of Africa, all of the middle east, all of the far east, etc.) and act as if they are a monolith.

    • CMJ

      A Thousand Splendid Suns is set in Afganistan – which is not the Middle East.

    • R Zhao

      I was thinking that as well, not to nit-pick, but I think that qualifies as Central Asia. Furthermore, his novels are fiction and just because you have read one of them doesn’t mean you know anything about the Middle East-–just as a Chinese person who has read “The Grapes of Wrath” wouldn’t be gaining much knowledge about, oh, say, Mexico.

    • anon87

      I’m not really sure why you got downvoted so much for this. There are countries all over the world that oppress women, and who are run by a bunch of men that think they know best. However, it is blatantly obvious that several Middle Eastern countries are absolutely horrendous places for women to be in. I read a lot of news/articles/books about the Middle East, and it really does make me thank my lucky stars. The United States, and many other countries have a long way to go, but they are leaps and bounds better than a lot of other places in the world. And you are right, being forced to breastfeed would make a lot of women resentful, depressed, and several other negative words I’m sure, I don’t think they would be in a “bonding” place.
      P.S. Khaled Housseini books are awesome

    • rrlo

      Down-votes because it is offensive in it’s generalization of the Middle East. I know Americans have a tenuous relationship with the middle east now but just replace every reference to “Middle East” with “Chinese” or “Black” or “Jewish”- and see how racist/prejudiced it sounds.
      Sometimes we are not aware of our own biases.
      Americans enjoy a good set of personal freedoms. Some countries have a lot more – and some have a lot less. You may have read books about it – I actually lived in the Middle East (one of the “horrendous” ones). And as Kay said, they all have their own plights. There is no need for us to sit on our high horse and judge them.
      Topic at hand – mandatory breastfeeding – is a stupid law. And I frankly fail to see how it can be enforced. Also, sounds like a proposed law – so it might not even pan out.

    • carmar

      As an American Expat who actually lives in the UAE, it is NOTHING like A Thousand Splendid Suns….which as someone else pointed out is not set in the Middle East either.

      In terms of the law, we are all at a wait and see aspect. This JUST happened, so while it has been passed by one council it hasn’t gone to for approval and enactment yet. I don’t think the law is perfect, nor do I support the requirement of breastfeeding, but overall this country does do a pretty good job of supporting mothers and breastfeeding. Every mall has areas for babies and breastfeeding mommas, which are clean, and no one has ever batted an eye at me feeding in public with a nursing cover. However in the US, even with a cover, I had people shoot me dirty looks and even tell me I had to use the bathroom.

      While we are on the subject of breastfeeding/babies, as a new mother in the UAE I can say at least I had the opportunity for up to 145 days of a combination of paid/unpaid leave, which is more than I can say for the US. Now that I am back at work, I am given time in order to pump for my son, which is protected by law. Are things in the UAE perfect? No. There are many downsides, just like there are in many countries.

      Making broad accusations of what life is like when you clearly don’t have experience in the matter is not helpful.

    • Alicia Kiner

      Thank you for commenting. I have not had the opportunity to travel outside the US, and I admit, I’m woefully ignorant to what life is like outside our borders. I’m intelligent enough to realize that what is depicted on tv and in books is fiction, and that there is bias present in the media. It’s great to get an honest insight that has no agenda. :)

  • aCongaLine

    Ugh. Talk about pressure. Like new moms don’t put enough pressure on themselves (especially those of us that tried, and struggled, and had to give up on BFing). That’s insane.


    Oh, Middle East. Sigh.

    • AKR

      Oh! US. Even animals breast feed. More importantly the don’t abort their little ones. These disgusting US moms (not all) are even below to that level. No wonder we hear about a school shooting in US every week. Babies are not given to you to kill or neglect. Pathetic! So pathetic!!

    • aCongaLine

      WHoa. No one said anything about aborting, or about school shootings in this article. No one mentioned killing or neglecting their kids. I’m sorry that you think I’m a pathetic mom, or that the US is full of pathetic moms. Everyone’s story is different. No need to be nasty. I was just eluding to the fact that breastfeeding is a stressful, messy, sometimes unpleasant thing- and the fact that there is legislation requiring women to breastfeed would, if I were in the UAE, only add to the stress and pressure. If that makes me pathetic, then so be it. I guess I’m pathetic. My happy, healthy kids must also be pathetic. THere. Feel better? STFU.

    • AKR

      If you don’t want to breast feed don’t have children. It is not that complicated. Control your sexual urges. Keep your legs shut and intact that’s it. See that much simple. There are so many moms in US alone loves their children and do not find it a big issue or a stress to breast feed their children. NO NEED OF YOU, SERIOUSLY!

    • aCongaLine

      please stop. no one wants to hear your bullshit nonsense.

    • AKR

      Truth is bitter.

    • MommyGem

      Dont matter what a mother chooses breast or not…You cant label someone terrible on the fact they cant or choose not to breast feed I think my child should be raised christian does that mean I right away assume any one of a different religion should not procreate give your head a shake….I know this is an old comment but I hate to see it by the way from a mother who solely breastfed my little angel.

    • AKR47

      It matters because mothers are biologically designed to breast feed their children and babies need breast milk to survive. Babies don’t need a religion to survive they need breast milk. We are not biologically designed to follow Christianity or any other religion. I hope you see what’s wrong with your comparison.

      And also if a father choose not to pay the child support what you think about him? Is he a terrible father or not? Somehow government think they are terrible and lock them up. Sometimes child is not biologically related to the father still he ends up in jail. So why not lock mothers who choose not to breast feed.

      Simple fix apart from less 2% mothers who are unable to breast feed if you don’t want to breast feed please stop having a child. if you have a child it is your(mother + father) responsibility to raise him/her correctly and give them their rights. Every child has a right to their mother’s milk.

  • Sara610

    Nope. Nope, nope, nope. Nothing about this is even remotely okay.

  • EmmaFromÉire

    You just know there are nipple Nazis secretly all for this.

    • Victoria

      I’m sure the Alpha Parent is celebrating this as a “victory” for breastfeeding. That is if the Alpha Parent didn’t help author this legislation.

  • Rachel Sea

    Emiratis have a blend of progressiveness and oppression which baffles me. I don’t understand allowing women to hold high level ministerial positions and also expecting women to be subjugated by their husbands.

  • Aimee Beff

    Hopefully more countries will jump on this train, as well as legislating more forms of morality. For example, men are at a higher risk of heart disease, so I propose that we ban them from eating foods high in cholesterol and fat. I just care about men’s health too much to let them hurt themselves this way and they certainly can’t be trusted to make good decisions for themselves!

    • ted3553

      We also need to legislate that they can only drink 1 beer a night because anything more in binge drinking. It’s only because it’s good for their health after all. More laws! yay!

    • AKR

      It is lovely to see if man refuses to pay child support labeled “child neglect” but when it comes to mom not breast feeding it’s her choice and infact she is celebrated heroine. YOU GO GIRLS!!!

  • Teleute


  • Momma425

    Didn’t Gisele suggest this?

  • rrlo

    How would you even enforce this law? Arrest someone with a bottle?

  • Jayamama

    I have to admit, I sometimes questioned a mom’s claims that she can’t breastfeed. I don’t think it’s necessarily the mother’s fault, because I believe that every mom will do her darndest to provide the best for her child. Rather, she hasn’t gotten the support or information she needs to make breastfeeding succeed. I had a terrible first two weeks with my first daughter trying to make nursing work, and I thought about quitting, but we pushed through and made it work. I ignorantly thought that others should do the same.

    That is, until I had my second daughter. She took to nursing like a champ after a few days, and she’s now two months old. However, recently she’s started to act hungry every hour or so and I feared my supply might be dwindling. After doing thorough research online about this weird clicking noise she makes when she eats, I found info about lip and tongue ties. Sure enough, after checking, she has a fourth degree upper lip tie, which can cause a drop in supply due to insufficient stimulation, and has probably also attributed to her slow weight gain. We now have an appointment to get it snipped, but I’m not sure if my supply can recover or how much work it’s going to take. I really don’t want to have to supplement with formula, but I certainly don’t want to be judged by other moms for it considering it was circumstances beyond my control.

    • rrlo

      Aww poor baby. I hope it all works out for you. Good luck!

    • footnotegirl

      I had to take my baby to the emergency room on the fourth day after her birth (first full day home from the hospital) because she was becoming dehydrated. I got a LOT of support and information. I had multiple meetings with lactations consultants in the hospital. I had a nurse come out to our house the first morning we had her home. I had several visits to the lactation consultants and doctors in the first couple of weeks after having my baby.
      My daughter had a perfect latch. My lactations consultants and doctor were wonderful, caring, informative, and involved.
      The first week I had my daughter home, my prescribed rotation was nursing her for 30 minutes on each breast, then pumping 15 minutes on each breast, and then nursing her 10 minutes on each breast again, and then starting ALL OVER 20 minutes later. I ate every damn galactogogue out there. Oatmeal, mothers teas, etc. etc. I even tried Guinness at the suggestion of my third LC and I HATE beer with a passion.
      And I never produced more than a few drops of milk.
      We had to start supplementing in the first week, first with a little cup she had to lap formula out of while I pumped, then with eye droppers, then a contraption I wore around my neck with a tube taped to my nipple so she could nurse to stimulate me and still get something to keep her alive.
      Even after weeks, with a very supportive work environment (fully furnished comfortable nursing room! take breaks whenever you need or want to! hey, we sterilized this shelf in the office fridge for you to keep your milk!) my production hit its apex at 8 weeks when i managed A FULL HALF OUNCE of milk after an hour of pumping.
      Sometimes, really and truly, no matter HOW MUCH you try, no matter what you go through, no matter what information and support you are given, no matter how important it is to you, breast feeding just isn’t in the cards. Breast hypoplasia is a real thing, as are many other issues. And it is INCREDIBLY INSULTING and, by the way, not supportive, to be told that breast feeding is something any mom can do if she just tries hard enough. Would you say to a woman who was desperately trying to conceive through IVF that fertility is ‘something any woman can do if she just tries hard enough’?
      Formula is not a damn poison, and it will not hurt your child one little bit to be fed formula. My now 2 year old daughter, who was supplemented with formula and then flatly refused my breast at 3 months in and went all formula? Is still at 88th percentile for height, perfectly appropriate weight for her height, She has hit every milestone, surpassing most of the ones for communication and fine motor skills by far. She is bright, loving, independent, and certainly just as bonded to me as the children of my friends who were able to EBF.
      Moms shouldn’t judge other moms who are doing perfectly healthy things for their child. Even if it weren’t beyond your control, even if formula feeding instead of breast feeding was a personal choice, no one should judge a mom who is raising their child in a loving, healthy way. Her boobs, her choice!

    • Jayamama

      Maybe you misunderstood me. I said I USED to think that. And I never EVER said it was the mother’s fault. What I used to think (and I stress USED) was that, in many cases (not all), the breastfeeding relationship fails because the mother was mis- or uninformed about how it works, or failed to receive the help or support she needed. I was making a commentary about the failures of society, not the mothers’. Back decades ago, when formula was being pushed as even better for babies than breastmilk and people that breastfeeding was disgusting and demeaning to the women, they succeeded, in only one generation, in killing all the collective knowledge our society had about the process. We’re still trying to recover from that. And it’s certainly not the fault of the mothers.

      I really don’t judge mothers who formula feed. I am a formula baby myself, actually. My mom tried for weeks despite bleeding nipples and excruciating pain to make it work, but in the end had to stop. I don’t fault her for it, and I don’t feel like I’ve suffered as a result. I understand the pain and frustration of trying to get breastfeeding established because of the trials with my first daughter. It hurt so badly that I would cry the entire feeding and dread the next. There was one night that, if we’d had formula in the house, I would have just given up. And now, with my second daughter’s lip tie, I’m dealing with a problem with low supply. I get it. I haven’t had to supplement yet, but my point was that, if it comes to that, I wouldn’t want to be judged either.

      It sounds like your experience was exhausting for you, and I’ll assume that’s why you’re a bit defensive. I really didn’t mean to insult you or any other mom. I’m sorry for all you’ve been through. Obviously you were well-informed, but it just didn’t work out. I’ve talked to moms, though, whose experience could have been different and their breastfeeding relationship salvaged had they had the right information at the crucial time. The regret in their voices makes me sad.

      The whole point of my post, which you might have missed, was that I used to think the issue was easy, black and white, like those who proposed this bogus law seem to do. Now, I see that sometimes there’s more to the story and things can be complicated. Lip and tongue ties are very common, but often undiagnosed. I was fortunate to discover my daughter’s problem before my supply drop became irreversible. My mom was not so lucky. After finding out about the condition, I checked myself, and sure enough, I have both upper and lower lip ties. This is probably what made nursing so excruciating for my mom, but people back then weren’t familiar with it enough to help her. In cases such as these, this law would be devastating. I completely agree with you. The choice lies with the mother, and in the end, what matters most is a loving relationship, not the method of feeding.

    • Alicia Kiner

      Just curious, did you get the colostrum? With both of my kids, I never even produced that, let alone milk. My boobs literally made nothing. My LC told me, sometimes, there’s just nothing to do. As it turned out, my daughter ended up being allergic to milk, so she wouldn’t have been able to breastfeed even if I HAD produced it.

    • footnotegirl

      A few drops when I squeezed, but that’s all they ever asked me to do to test if I had any coming in, and that wasn’t until just after the birth. Nothing before the birth.

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  • MaebykittyRN

    I LOL’d at the thought of my husband trying to sue me for not breastfeeding. But seriously, this law sucks.

    • AKR

      But you can cheat on him and make a baby not biologically related to him and force him to pay the child support. Anyway if he found out and refuses to pay just lock him up. You might get a chance to grab his house entirely for you. LOL!

  • Joy

    Today I was telling my husband I appreciate that he doesn’t try to tell me what I should do for the birth of our coming baby, feeding, etc, (because our friends are also expecting and the father is pretty opinionated about everything) and he shrugged and told me “I don’t have a vagina and boobs, so I should probably not tell you what to do with yours.” It’s a pity more men don’t feel that way. Maybe it’s not eloquent but I thought that was a wise philosophy for him to have formed.

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  • AKR

    Great job UAE! Every mother must breast feed their children. Full stop. If you can’t produce enough milk well then that’s unfortunate and you may get an excuse. But majority can. If you don’t want to breast feed just don’t have children. Keep your legs shut & intact. See that’s really easy to do.

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