Mandatory Breastfeeding In The UAE Will NOT Foster Maternal Bonding

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Getty images

It’s no secret that I am a huge believer in breastfeeding if you can (emotionally and physically). But I’m an even bigger believer in a woman’s right to do what she wants with her body so this news coming out of the United Arab Emirates is disturbing. According to The National, the UAE recently made breastfeeding compulsory for the first two years of a child’s life, citing the child’s right to nurse as stated in Islam. According to the Minister of Social Affairs, Mariam Al Roumi:

“This part of the law can be a burden. If the law forced women to breastfeed, this could lead to new court cases.”

According to The National, exactly how the new law will be enforced is still up in the air. One Federal National Council member, Al Samahi, suggested that if there were complications thought to be caused by a woman “neglecting her duties,” then she could be punished. It’s also been suggested that husbands could sue their wives if she refuses or fails to breastfeed to his liking.

Here’s the thing that really bothers me about this law. According to various FNC members, it’s meant to “nurture a strong relationship between a mother and her child.” But breastfeeding, even under the best of circumstances, can be arduous and exhausting. The last thing that is going to foster maternal bonding is the fear of legal troubles every time you try to nurse, or fail to live up to your spouse’s expectations for nursing. Between the pain of childbirth, cracked nipples and no sleep, the last thing a new mom needs is another thing to worry about.


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  • Alicia Kiner

    I don’t like the bit about husbands being able to sue the wives if breastfeeding doesn’t live up to his standards. I by no means understand the culture in the UAE, so I’m trying not to judge that… BUT, how can a man, who is 100% incapable of breastfeeding, be allowed to judge whether or not a woman is doing her best to breastfeed. I also am afraid of what happens to women who physically are unable to breastfeed. I don’t like that women are not being allowed to choose what is right for themselves. But again, this is another country, and I try very hard not to judge when I don’t know most of the way the culture works. I’ve learned through my husband’s family that just because it’s what I know, doesn’t mean it’s best. It’s just different. Is there any statistic available as far as the percentage of women there who breastfeed vs formula feed?

    • Véronique Houde

      Well, actually, men ARE capable of breastfeeding! With enough stimulation to the mammary glands, they can start producing milk too ;). Perhaps they should amend the law to say that if the woman is incapable of breastfeeding her child, the man will be forced to do it!

    • Alicia Kiner

      Heh. you learn something every day.

    • Teleute

      True, but not nearly enough to sustain a baby. And they have to be Swedish.

    • AugustW

      The drug Reglan causes men to lactate.

  • AP

    The problems with laws like these is that a lot of these governments don’t actually make exceptions for individuals who truly can’t fulfill the requirement. Instead, they blame the victim for everything from “wanting to fail” or “being a witch” or some such nonsense, and use it as a means of persecuting people they don’t like or agree with.

    This is not for the babies. This is a way for the UAE’s government to have another way to go after women they want to oppress.

  • Mimiko

    I kind of like the value they put on breastfeeding. But if this is for the child, shouldn’t the govt check every family instead of asking husbands to report, only if they want to? Why does it matter what the dad wants if the law is meant to help/protect all babies…? I would be very upset if I couldn’t bf and another woman bf my baby. Like crazy mad. So I hope the wetnurses are just pumping.
    Go ahead and hate me but if you’re a mom and don’t want to bf your own baby there is probably something wrong with your head/ Hormones.And maybe if you breast feed your hormones will go back to normal, or you’ll start to understand the world more. If its a work convenience /logistical necessity reason, sure, but what’s this about an “emotional” reason? Nurturing your baby is the purest emotion in the world, just try it!

    • Justme
    • Heather

      There are plenty of emotional reasons a woman might not want to breastfeed. Former sexual abuse, post-partum anxiety or depression, feeling unsupported because you’re the only one who can feed your child, and on and on.

      It is a really cool thing to be able to do, if that is what you want, but to say there is “something wrong” with a woman who doesn’t want to is judgmental and does NOTHING to help to women who DO choose to breastfeed. Change your perspective from persecuting women who choose not to breast feed to supporting those who do and more women will likely choose to breastfeed.

    • effingplates

      As a sexual abuse survivor whose abuser repeatedly focused on my breasts during assaults, fuck off. My PTSD and my breasts don’t want your goddamn uninformed opinion on how I raise and love my children.

    • Alicia Kiner

      Breastfeeding is by no means the only way to bond with or nurture your baby. If it were, then you’d have a point on there being something wrong with women who don’t want to breastfeed having something wrong with them. Because I feel like there is something wrong with a woman who has children, but wants no part of being a mother. Who spends all her time away from them, leaving them with strangers or alone, while she does as she pleases. Casey Anthony would be a good example. Breastfeeding does not make a mother. But choosing to not breastfeed your child doesn’t make you less of one either.

    • Véronique Houde

      There is so much wrong with this. Just so much wrong…
      1- It is clinically proven that breastfeeding does NOT decrease PPD. It does not help your “hormones” adjust.
      2- A woman who bottle feeds does not nurture her child less than a mother who feeds straight from her breast.
      3- Some people don’t feel comfortable being touched on their breasts. Some people don’t feel comfortable navigating breastfeeding in a society that has not 100% embraced it yet – and don’t want to breastfeed in public.
      4- 5 years from now, you will never be able to tell the BF babies from the bottle fed babies. It really isn’t that big of a deal. You should just let it go.
      YAY for you if you BFd and felt awesome about it! And yay for the women who were able to NOT neglect their children and make sure that they were receiving their daily nutrition in the form of milk (powdered or not). A well-fed baby is a happy baby.

    • K.

      Let me get this straight.

      1. You not only find it acceptable for the government to mandate breastfeeding, but you find it acceptable for the government to go around enforcing such a law, door to door.

      2. You are pro breastfeeding, but anti-wetnurses breastfeeding.

      3. You think that breastfeeding leads to enlightenment (‘understanding the world more’).

      I can’t wrap myself around this comment. Maybe I should go and breastfeed something.

    • Teleute

      Alpha Parent much?

    • doodlebug2

      You’re a psycho (and I’m VERY glad you’re not my mom). Do actually believe the crap you just wrote, or are you just trying to stir the pot? Either way, there’s clearly something wrong with YOUR head. I didn’t breastfeed my first because I had to be on medication that’s not safe for breastfeeding. For my second I probably won’t need to be on that medication but I’m still not going to breastfeed. Do you want to know why? Because I DON’T WANT TO. That’s right! I just don’t fucking want to. That’s not an emotional reason, it’s an “I-don’t-fucking-want-to” reason.

    • AugustW

      “Just try it!”

      Go fuck yourself, honestly.

    • jendra_berri

      I can’t help but get the impression you are the worst sort of person to talk to about deeply personal matters: No empathy, compassion, nuance of understanding or fact-based opinions. Nuts to you and what you stand for.

    • Mikster

      Eff you. Srsly. Worry about your own children and breasts and don’t doubt I’d probably seriously disagree with more than one of your very own parenting choices.

    • Surfaces

      Wow. You actually need to fuck right off.

  • Kat

    According to Wikipedia, UAE women account for 59% of the workforce population. Will the government pay the salaries of women for two years and guarantee their jobs will still be there when they return? Will the government provide a double electric pump for women who work outside the home? Will the government mandate employers to provide paid time for women to pump? And how will they enforce it? Randomly burst into homes and demand you put your child to the breast? What about babies who self-wean?

    Did anyone think this through?

    • Victoria

      Is pumping even an option under the law or must the child be fed directly from the breast?

      And no, they didn’t think it through.

    • ChopChick

      Oh come on–you know they thought it through. They thought through how best to continue subjugating women and keep women in the home (aka in their rightful place).

    • K.

      No kidding.

      And what happens if the baby demands more milk than the mother is able to supply? Does the mother have to wait for the government to sanction formula while the baby starves? Have any of the people who support this law had to nurse with mastitis or a nipple bleb or anything else that makes it feel like the infant has a mouth full of broken glass, for 40 minutes a session, every 2 hours?
      Why the hell would it be “to the husband’s liking” (as opposed to say, the pediatrician’s, if we’re entertaining this nonsense). And while we’re on that, what exactly constitutes “to the husband’s liking”? Every 3 hours? Every 4? The cross-cradle or the football hold? While performing a blow job at the same time?

      This, along with so many other ‘women’s issues’ has nothing to do with “caring for babies” and everything to do with controlling women’s bodies.

  • Victoria

    I’m going to take it a step further and say that in addition to NOT supporting bonding, this law could lead to women resenting their children because of the fact that they have no choice in the matter.

  • K.

    “Gee, how can we make sure women don’t actively participate in public society? I know! We’ll chain them up by their boobs!”

    Sometimes, I’m really glad I live where I do.

  • jendra_berri

    This is the most absurd law surrounding breastfeeding that is even possible. All those long-term health benefits surrounding BF are reported by studies that don’t control for socioeconomic factors. They are not double-blind studies, which are the gold standard of research. Therefore, breastfeeding is correlated with good health outcomes. It has not been definitely proven to cause good health outcomes. Media who report on these studies are not scientists or researchers. They just discern what they can and write a headline and it gets consumed by us in the public.

    To put it this way, children who grow up in houses full of books are very likely to be readers. But you cannot dump a pile of books in a house and expect the books to cause the reading. It’s the parents who cause the reading. It’s they who provide the books, read the books to the kids and model reading, themselves, which generates the child’s interest in reading.

    Breast milk has good stuff in it. So do books. But you can’t throw these things at children and expect– boom– good results. There’s overall lifestyle considerations at play.

    The UAE is fucking up, simple as that. And never mind the outrageous violation of women’s autonomy.

  • Am I?

    I follow this site quite a bit. it is my first time chiming in because I think I can add value to the conversation rather than agreement. I am an American expat who spends a significant amount of time in the UAE. While this law seems so foreign, maybe I can help wrap your head around it using some things that I’ve learned from my time in the country.

    First, the Middle East has a different kind of logic. Western people see this law as a burden to the mother. Their mentality is as a benefit to the children. A long time ago, kids didnt have to go to school, then we made it mandatory until age 16. But what about the farming work to be done!? Yes, it was difficult to get past, but it was best for the child. We got past it and it was for the best. Frame your thinking this way and you will understand their starting point.

    In my belief this is likely to be a law of encouragement rather than enforcement. Homosexuality is against the law as is cohabitation… And it is widely ignored without consequences to practitioners. It is a bit like DADT, which was on our books until very recently.

    The everyday woman will probably be fine though I know that this will be a problematic circumstance for some, likely for women from more traditional families who may already be suffering abuse at the hands of their husbands.
    I imagine the law will not become involved unless it is brought to their attention. Most people mind their own business when it comes to matters like this. No random home invasions, no citations at the sight of a bottle, and no ban on formula can be expected.

    At the end of the day, the UAE is actually a great place and supports women and its citizens very much. This may be an overstep of boundaries and it may cause more harm than good for some, but it is really well intentioned and hopefully what I believe is the true intent, which is encouraging breastfeeding and more time together for mother and baby, will be the ultimate result.

    • K.

      This is not a case of a different kind of logic. It’s not just a “Western” mindset that sees this as a burden on the woman, unless you are conceding that the “Western” mindset is that women have the right to full subjectivity and autonomy as people.

      First of all, it IS a burden on women. Breastfeeding–the act of it alone–is burden on the woman. Biologically, it places intense demands on the woman’s energy reserves. It disrupts sleep. It makes her less mobile. It affects when and where she can do things. And that’s not even including all the secondary burdens–whether or not she can hold down a job, whether or not she is prone to repeat infections, whether or not she can take certain medications. So don’t kid yourself about it being some kind of Western mindset that would see breastfeeding as a burden. It. Is.

      Western women do not disagree on the point that breastfeeding benefits children; however, there are many things about the UAE’s position that demonstrates this law doesn’t have much to do with benefitting children. It doesn’t benefit a child if its own mother resents it (and that happens far more frequently than you realize) because her own autonomy and freedom is crippled by the breastfeeding demands. It doesn’t benefit a child if it cannot digest its mother’s milk, which also happens. It doesn’t benefit a child if its mother cannot produce enough for it. It doesn’t benefit a child if its mother loses her job because she has to stay home and breastfeed (or is the UAE planning on passing a law requiring companies to pay a full 2 years full-salary, plus benefits, and guarantee a woman’s work position when she returns? Didn’t hear about that, but I supposed it’s possible).

      There are a lot of other issues that make me suspicious of the law as a benefit to children. For one, why is it “to the husband’s liking”? Why would the husband matter in this scenario at all? If it’s truly the child’s welfare that the government is so concerned about, then the law should demand deference to the child’s pediatrician or some other medical professional. Why is the requirement 2 years? In the U.S., the recommendation is to get to 1 year; the World Health Organization recommends 7. So frankly, 2 seems relatively arbitrary. What about the individual needs of each baby? Some wean early by themselves–is it really the government’s place to mandate that every baby has the same health needs as the next? And how is suing a child’s mother doing anything to benefit the child?

      Furthermore, while breastmilk is acknowledged as superior to formula, healthy children are raised on formula all the time and there is no evidence to support that formula is detrimental–so why would the government put their energy into this issue when there are all kinds of viable alternatives that enable women to make their own choices as far as what’s best for them and their babies, versus say requiring all children receive early-childhood education (before 5 years old), which has been shown to have a dramatic correlation to future success? In other words, there are far more potent ways of benefitting the health of children (combating poverty, addressing hunger, providing medical care, access to education, fighting child abuse) than breastfeeding. It’s just that all those other things don’t *happen* to involve control over women’s bodies and don’t *happen* to make extraordinary demands on a woman’s physical health, emotional well-being, and possible career aspirations and don’t *happen* to presume that a mother has no rights to autonomy and is therefore incapable of deciding what is best for her, her children, and her family, herself.

      And finally, if the law isn’t intended to be actually enforced as you say (i.e. more “ceremonial”)…then why have it? If it’s the UAE’s custom to pass laws in lieu of public service announcements, then that seems like a huge waste of government resources at the very least. But the law, even if it were never actually enforced, is far from benign. It appears that the “law of encouragement” comes with an indirect, yet very clear message to UAE women: that their purpose and value are to be dictated by the government, their needs are secondary to their children, and they have no rights of authority within their own home and in response to their own husbands.

      I certainly understand that cultures have their differences, but I don’t agree with your suggestion that sexism and patriarchy is a matter of “cultural perspective.”

    • Am I?

      I’m not arguing for or against the law – it’s not my place to. But there is more than one perspective on it.

      It is hard to address your points because they go for the worst case scenario – a mother will not have a bond because she will resent the child as a result of the law, she will lose her job because of the time commitment, mothers who have health issues will be thrown in jail for not producing enough milk. If I were a mother in the UAE, none of these would be my concerns. (As a note, the UAE guarantees either 45 or 60 calendar days of maternity plus five days of paternity and employers must allow one hour a day to express milk at work for the first 18 months currently – which would need to change to 24 months in accordance with this law.)

      The part about the husband’s liking – it’s a part of their culture. I can’t argue if it is right or wrong any more than I can argue going to church on Sunday. There is great loyalty to the father – women do not take their husband’s name and children cannot be adopted legally (only guardianship is granted) because it means taking a new name. Citizenship is passed from the father – it is the way it is because of religious values that are hundreds of years old. In regards to this law, most couples try to come to an understanding when they disagree on parenting devisions. The
      same will be here. Just like in the west, some husbands are miserable
      and will take severe actions on their wives for disobeying. Other
      reasonable men are understanding of a women’s perspective and work
      together to reach parenting decisions. On breastfeeding, some husbands will want a say and others will leave it completely to his wife, as can be found anywhere in the world.

      I believe that everyone in the world has full autonomy as a person but
      there are laws on what we can and cannot do. Whether we abide by them or
      accept that consequences may exist if if fail to is a decision we make.
      Even whether or not you feed your child is a choice… and maybe a
      burden for some people (you know, having to cook or order delivery and
      all). There are consequences ranging from a cranky kid to jail time for
      people who fail to do so properly.

      You disagree with my perspective because you don’t have the same understanding that I do. You will continue to disagree until there is an experience which reframes your thinking. But my experience is the time I’ve spent in the country so I thought to share it. Perspective and experience is what makes us human so I am by no means upset that we disagree.

      Laws are essentially meaningless – laws can’t act on or enforce themselves. People can. And because I believe that the law is ceremonial and that reasonable people will remain and that unreasonable people are not a product of laws but of their own devices, I am taking an “innocent until proven guilty” approach until there is more evidence that this is as bad as everyone here suggests.

    • Surfaces

      So what would happen if a woman was incapable of breast feeding her child and needed formula, but the child was under the cut-off point?

    • Am I?

      My guess is she would see her doctor and once medically cleared she would be exempted from the law. Same for babies who self wean, or for mothers who are stressed, etc. Hopefully she has a trusted gyn or pedi to support her.

      But this would only become an issue if raised to the authorities. So she or her family would need to greatly upset someone for this to be the case as many people mind their own business for such matters.

  • SA

    My decision to move from trying to breastfeed to a combination of pumping and formula was the BEST decision for my bond with my daughter. Quitting pumping all together at 6 months even more so. When the act of breastfeeding is a stressful situation it is not good for the mother or the child. I would have loved to have the sunshine and rainbows version of nursing, but it was pretty much my own version of hell. Believe me, breastfeeding is not the only way to bond with your child – nor do I believe it is the best way.

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