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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Confusion reigns over breastfeeding

Despite breastfeeding being encouraged by health experts, many women in the UAE say they have been forced to cover up, or even leave a venue when trying to feed their child.

Mother of a three-month-old, Chandni Rogers-Goonewardena, said she was asked to stop breastfeeding and told to move to a private room while dining at the Chinese restaurant, Long Yin in Le Meridien Dubai hotel on Airport Road. Courtesy Chandni Rogers-Goonewardena
Mother of a three-month-old, Chandni Rogers-Goonewardena, said she was asked to stop breastfeeding and told to move to a private room while dining at the Chinese restaurant, Long Yin in Le Meridien Dubai hotel on Airport Road. Courtesy Chandni Rogers-Goonewardena

DUBAI// New mothers should be free to breastfeed their children in public and not be made to nurse them in the women’s toilets or in other private rooms when visiting malls, restaurants and hotels.

Despite breastfeeding being encouraged by health experts, many women say they have been forced to cover up, or even leave a venue when trying to feed their child.

Lactation consultants and experts said UAE law did not prevent women from nursing in public and the Government should roll out awareness campaigns to educate the public.

“If the UAE is trying to bring in a law to encourage women to breastfeed then women nursing in public should be encouraged,” said Cecile de Scally, a midwife. “We don’t go to the toilets to have a cup of coffee, so why should mum go to the toilet to feed, even if it’s a nice room. It should be a woman’s choice rather than being forced to go anywhere.

“The Government should educate healthcare staff, people in shopping malls and make public awareness campaigns.”

Mother of a three-month-old, Chandni Rogers-Goonewardena, said she was asked to stop breastfeeding and told to move to a private room while dining at the Chinese restaurant, Long Yin in Le Meridien Dubai hotel on Airport Road.

Ms Rogers-Goonewardena said she was left upset after the manager forced her to leave her table, telling her breastfeeding was not allowed inside the venue.

“We met our relatives for lunch at the hotel’s Chinese restaurant,” said Ms Rogers-Goonewardena, who recently moved to the UAE.

“We were seated in a booth when the baby started crying. As soon as I went to put the baby under my nursing cover, the restaurant manager said ‘This is not allowed here. Please go into a private room’.

“I was shocked and embarrassed because we were in a booth and I was being very discreet, being a conservative person myself.

“The more I thought about it, I got really angry because he made me feel like I had done something wrong. I didn’t make a fuss because my relatives were staying in the hotel.”

Hotel bosses said the incident on Tuesday could have been a misunderstanding.

“What we were trying to communicate is that if she was uncomfortable, she could use a private room,” said Vikas Choudhery, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing.

“We don’t have any policy that prevents women from breastfeeding in a public space if she is comfortable and is covered.”

Sian Baldwin Khoury, the co-moderator of the community group Breastfeeding Q&A on Facebook, said despite breastfeeding being a common practice, many women are regularly made to feel uncomfortable or upset after being told to go to the toilets to feed their child, or even to stop.

“There is no law saying she can’t feed in public. The Emirati culture is supportive of nursing. In light of the Government’s draft law, all sections of society should be on board with this.”

Australian expatriat Vicki Dempsey said she had been asked to go to a doctor’s room when she was nursing her six-month-old at the Mediclinic Ibn Battuta last month.

“I was waiting to meet my daughter’s paediatrician and had a cover over me while feeding. But a member of staff approached me and asked if I could go to a private room. I thought she was worried I may be uncomfortable and I told her I was fine. But she told me I might make others uncomfortable and showed me into a doctor’s room,” Ms Dempsey said.

“I have breastfed at the mall, at food courts and even while walking around furniture shops. I was shocked that it happened at a clinic.”

The clinic management said it was keen to encourage breastfeeding.

“Mediclinic Middle East actively encourages breastfeeding and it is our intention that all breastfeeding mothers feel welcome to nurse their babies anywhere in our hospitals and clinics where it is safe to do so,” said Dr Pietie Loubser, the chief clinical officer.

“Because this isolated incident was not highlighted to us when it occurred, we were unable to take action at the time, but all staff have been reminded of our commitment to breastfeeding.”

pkannan@thenational.ae