Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

Breastfeeding is many things, but let’s make sure it’s normal again

Arts editor and mother-of-three Samia Badih shares what it takes to make the conversation around nursing normal again

Samia with her baby, Omar, in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy of Quince Photography
Samia with her baby, Omar, in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy of Quince Photography

I’m a working mother of three boys, including an eight-month-old baby whom I still nurse. And with this being World Breastfeeding Week, that is an achievement I celebrate proudly today. I say achievement because breastfeeding is hard work and so, if anything, it should be applauded and encouraged by societies around the world and especially across the Middle East.

After three babies, I can confidently say that it takes more than just the desire to nurse to make breastfeeding possible for a new mum. It is a support system – internal and external – that you need to surround yourself with in order for it to progress smoothly. Here are some things to keep in mind, beneficial and otherwise.

Breastfeeding is healthy and breast milk is the best source of nutrition you can give your baby during the first six months of their life, which is why all doctors encourage new mums to at least try to do it. The health benefits for infants who are breastfed and mothers who breastfeed are endless. Recent research published by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health has thrown light on both the short and long-term benefits of breastfeeding. These include improved cognitive development and lower rates of obesity; reduction in chronic diseases such as diabetes (both type 1 and type 2), hypertension, cardiovascular disease, hyperlipidemia and some types of cancer. Breastfeeding also helps new mums start the process of getting back into shape; it is through the act that a woman’s uterus starts to contract and shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size.

Breastfeeding is natural, of course, but you also want to surround yourself with friends and family who will lend you unconditional support and understanding. There’s no denying that the first months are tough, so you want to be around people who will make sure you are drinking a lot of fluids, eating nutritious food and getting enough sleep. It’s all about establishing and sustaining those breastfeeding habits and practices at the very start, so you can keep going.

Breastfeeding requires time. I have worked full-time throughout all of my pregnancies, only nursing longer when I had extended maternity leave. While many working mothers may not be able to negotiate the four months I got, it remains one of the most important elements to make breastfeeding possible for a longer time. The reason a maternity period is so important is because breastfeeding is about being available; it’s like the concept of supply and demand – the more you feed, the more milk you will produce. So, although policies differ from company to company and country to country, don’t feel guilty for requesting more time off. If the law allows you an hour of feeding time during the working day (as it does in the UAE), take it. If you can negotiate working one or two days a week from home instead of the office, do that, too. You’ll be amazed at the difference the little details make.

There’s no denying that more needs to be done to make sure women are not discriminated against for having children. In an ideal world, workplaces would have nurseries, so working mums don’t have to worry about how far away they are from the baby and how to juggle distance with feeding times. Until that happens, though, women have to push their benefits to the limit and demand more action be taken.

Breastfeeding is universal and it connects us not only to other mothers of our own generation, but to legions of others, past and present, from all over the world. Women, regardless of where they are from, have the same needs. Clean and tidy breastfeeding rooms need to become the new normal – and I don’t mean antechambers within restrooms. The bathroom is not where you eat and it is not where your baby should be fed, either.

On a recent visit to Warner Bros World in Abu Dhabi, I accidentally walked into a room with comfortable-looking chairs in private booths with curtains. It was clean, nicely designed and well-lit, and turned out to be a dedicated breastfeeding area for mothers completely separate from the restrooms at the theme park. It was a pleasant surprise that’s all too rare to come by.

Breastfeeding has been one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. It’s going to be difficult to give it up when the time comes, not just because it’s healthy, natural and universal, but because it’s my right and the right of my children.

Updated: August 5, 2019 03:31 PM

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