Although breastfeeding is supported by Islam and is socially and culturally accepted as the normal way to feed your baby, only one in three babies in the UAE is exclusively breastfed at the age of six months, according to Unicef. This is despite the fact that 88 per cent of mums breastfeed their babies at birth. Figures show that breastfeeding is on the decline in the UAE and the 3rd Biennial Pan-Arab Regional Conference on Human Lactation, held in Dubai earlier this month, looked at ways to bring back the breastfeeding culture that was so prevalent a few decades ago.
Breastfeeding might be hard work at times, but it's worth the perseverance. Here's a guide to help you give your baby the healthiest possible start to life.
DO Feed in public if you want to. "It is absolutely fine to breastfeed your baby in public, as long as you are covered. Breastfeeding covers are readily available, or even a pashmina is fine. If anybody asks you to stop breastfeeding (provided your breasts are covered) you can say to them that you will contact the police for harassment," says Dru Campbell, the head midwife and lactation consultant at Health Bay Polyclinic in Dubai (www.healthbayclinic.com).
DON'T Forget that there are places you can feed in private. From women's prayer rooms to private breastfeeding rooms in malls and the changing rooms of large clothing stores, there are plenty of places to feed in peace. "There are often breastfeeding spaces in public toilets with a room separated for feeding," says Joyce Milne (doulababyabudhabi.com), a breastfeeding peer counsellor.
DO Try to avoid formula. "Many babies are routinely given formula in hospital unless the mother is particularly insistent about not wanting this," says Marie-Claire Bakker of La Leche League, Abu Dhabi (www.llli.org). "Myths about breastfeeding and breast milk abound, as does the notion that artificial formula is a healthy alternative. Supplementary bottles of artificial formula given by nannies or other family members impact heavily on the mother's ability to establish her milk supply."
DON'T Be swayed by advertising, especially since many adverts in the UAE fail to adhere to the World Health Organisation's recommendations for marketing formula milk. Remember that breastfeeding is a skill that needs to be learnt by both mother and child.
DO Know your rights. "The labour law states that breastfeeding mothers are to be provided with two 30-minute breaks during their working day in order to express their breast milk. This is in addition to any other breaks which should be legally provided by the company," says Campbell.
DON'T Leave things to the last minute. For mothers going back to work, expressing milk early is a good practice. "If you know you are going back to work, express milk and store it in the refrigerator or freezer so you have good supply. An industrial freezer at -20°C will keep the milk good for six months," says Dr Eeva Lisa Langille, the head paediatrician and neonatologist at Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi.
DO Seek help. Education and support, especially within the first few weeks of breastfeeding, are crucial. And if you simply can't do it, don't feel guilty: it's more important to your baby that you're a happy mum.
Where to get more info
The Breastfeeding Q&A group in Dubai provides information and education. Meetings are held in Dubai and Fujairah. Facebook: Breastfeeding Q&A Dubai UAE. email@example.com.
La Leche League offers mother-to-mother breastfeeding support through monthly meetings in Abu Dhabi. www.llli.org.
Health Bay Polyclinic in Dubai has a team of four community midwives who are able to visit you in your home and provide support, including breastfeeding advice. www.healthbayclinic.com
Breastfeeding Friends, in Sharjah, runs three support lines that operate seven days a week (10am to 10pm) in three languages: Arabic 050 567 9525, English 050 868 4417 and Urdu 050 981 9270
10 reasons to breastfeed
- Breastfeeding reduces your baby's risk of developing illnesses such as Crohn's disease, diabetes and asthma. It also reduces your baby's risk of developing allergies.
- Breastfeeding mums have a lower risk of pre- menopausal breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
- Breastfeeding enhances cognitive development. The lower IQs found in formula-fed babies are thought to be a result of insufficient nutrition.
- Breastfed babies are less likely to be obese as adults.
- The composition of breast milk changes to adapt to a growing baby's needs.
- Breastfed babies have a lower risk of gastroenteritis; respiratory, urinary tract and ear infections; eczema; and childhood diabetes.
- Breast milk is more easily digested, which results in less wind.
- Breast milk contains endorphins which suppress pain naturally.
- Breastfed babies have better speech development. Bottle-fed babies often attempt to slow the flow of milk, which can result in tongue-thrusting problems.
- Breastfeeding helps shrink the uterus back to pre-pregnancy size and helps mums lose pregnancy weight.