x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Sharjah promotes breastfeeding rooms

Purpose-built rooms and nurseries to be installed in public places and workplaces across the emirate to try and help mothers.

SHARJAH // New mothers in Sharjah should find it easier to fit breastfeeding into their daily schedules as purpose-built rooms and nurseries are installed at workplaces and shopping malls around the emirate.

It is hoped that the rooms will increase the number of women who breastfeed their children and reduce reliance on formula milk, said doctors at the launch of the Baby Friendly Emirate Campaign yesterday.

"There is a dire need now to create these places," said Sultan Abdullah Al Mualla, the director general of Sharjah Municipality.

By 2015 all workplaces and public areas are expected to have the rooms. Breastfeeding rooms that are already operating will have to receive "Mother-Baby Friendly" accreditation from the campaign's organisers.

In addition, outdoor events such as the Sharjah Light Festival will have to provide mobile units for mothers that will be staffed by volunteers.

"We could see that we were missing something - we saw the need," said Khulood Al Nuaimi, the programme coordinator.

The campaign will encourage parents to see the benefits of breastfeeding, said Dr Hajar Al Hosani, the director of maternal and child health at the Ministry of Health (MoH).

"It is not just as a food for the child - it is also about contact and bonding. In addition, it improves the health of both the mother and baby, it increases the child's IQ, and it is cheaper than using formula."

Doctors in the UAE recommend that women feed their children only breast milk until the age of six months old.

Nonetheless, a 2008 study by Unicef, the Supreme Council of Motherhood and Childhood in the UAE and the General Woman's Union found that while 92.2 per cent of mothers breastfed their children shortly after birth, only 52.9 per cent continued to do so until the age of three months.

"We want to see the number increase by 10 to 20 per cent every year," Dr Al Hosani said.

It is also hoped that more companies will offer mothers a two-hour paid break in which to feed their child as a result of the campaign.

"We would like to include the private sector in allowing mothers two hours leave of absence each day to breastfeed. Many do not have this, and one hour is not enough," Mr Al Mualla said.

While the introduction of the rooms and nurseries comes too late for Dr Haifa Hamad, a family physician at the MoH and a mother of four, she believes it is high time woman are supported in their efforts to give children the best start in life.

"For those women who only have a one-hour break, it will be great. I know of one area, in a nearby mall, but it is for changing nappies - not breastfeeding. But the programme will need to be promoted properly, otherwise some women will never know about the rooms."

When Dr Fadila Sharif's oldest son was born in 1993, the nurses fed him formula milk almost straight away. For the health educator at the MoH, the campaign is the culmination of years of slowly improving the public's perception of breastfeeding.

"When I left hospital with my son 19 years ago, I was given baby formula to take with me. Nobody gave any importance to breastfeeding.

"Soon, women will be able to take their babies with them to the mall instead of leaving them at home with a maid and some formula."

In addition to directing women towards breastfeeding, the campaign is meant to bring the topic into the public eye.

"This is not just a tangible campaign, but a cultural one," said Abdul Rahman Al Owais, the acting minister of health.

"We want to promote a culture of breastfeeding. We need to understand that this is something constructive - not destructive."

zalhassani@thenational.ae