Should Breastfeeding Be The Law?
Breastfeeding is now required by law in the United Arab Emirates. The Emirates’ Federal National Council passed a clause, which is part of their new Child Rights law, requiring new mothers to breastfeed their babies for two years. Men can even sue their wives if they do not breastfeed.
The Council had numerous debates over the legislation, and ultimately decided that every child has a right to be breastfed.
There is no argument about the benefits of breastfeeding. It provides basic nutrition and protection from illnesses for babies. It can lower stress levels for mothers and encourages bonding with baby.
Of course, there are some women who won’t be able to breastfeed. With this law in the UAE, if a woman can’t breastfeed for health or medical reasons, a wet nurse will be provided. This raises many questions about the exceptions. As Carrie Murphy at Mommyish puts it:
“Where do the wet nurses come from? Do they live with UAE women and their families? How and who determines if you need one? Who pays their salary? And on and on….these are questions that will cost the people and the government of the UAE time and money, as much as the policy might benefit infants.
“And what about formula? Will it be sold in the country? Will it be contraband? Will you need a prescription for it? Some babies actually need formula rather [than] breastmilk and some babies can’t digest anything with milk at all, either formula OR breastmilk.
This law, though well-intended, will probably create more problems than it solves. Women’s groups like Out of the Blues—a Dubai-based group created to support mothers suffering from postnatal illness—and the La Leche League have spoken out against the law.
I’m a huge supporter of breastfeeding and I have breastfed my children for varying lengths of time. With my oldest child, I had to stop when she was seven months old to start taking a powerful drug. The risks associated with passing along that particular medication to babies in breast milk had not been studied and I was unwilling to take any chances.
I can’t imagine having to explain to the government why I’m not breastfeeding to avoid being penalized. I can’t imagine actually being punished for not breastfeeding, whatever the reason. Once a law is passed, it stands to reason that there will be consequences for those who don’t follow it. It seems counterproductive and unhelpful to criminalize mothers who can’t or don’t want to breastfeed.
There has never been legislation in the United States that requires breastfeeding, although some politicians have intervened to increase the number of breastfed babies. Most notably, in 2012, Michael Bloomberg—then mayor of New York City—introduced a program to make it difficult for new mothers get formula “goodie bags” from the hospital after they give birth.
Certainly, the UAE is another country that has its own mores and social codes, but I’m concerned that a mandatory breastfeeding law will have unforeseen negative implications for mothers and babies.
What do you think of a mandatory breastfeeding law? Share your thoughts below.
Alexis Trass Walker lives in Gary, Indiana, with her husband and four children. She is managing editor of Good Enough Mother. Read more about Alexis on her blog www.lilliebelle.org or follow her on Twitter @LillieBelle5. You can email her at alexis [at] goodenoughmother [dot] com.