Mandated breastfeeding? It's now law in a part of the world known for a disproportionate application of freedoms for their male and female citizens. As part of their new Child Rights Law the Federal National Council in the United Arab Emirites has added a clause requiring new mothers to breastfeed their babies for two full years. Under this legislation, men can now sue their wives if they do not breastfeed.
While the benefits of breastfeeding are widely understood—strong antibodies, mother and child bonding, reduced risk of obesity, improved language development—this new legislation is threatening to women who don't or are unable to nurse their newborns. Breastfeeding is widely regarded as the healthiest option for both moms and babies, but in most of the world it is also the woman's personal choice. And this new law ignores some practical issues.
Not every new mother is able to nurse her baby. In cases where the woman cannot breastfeed for health reasons, the Emirites council has proposed using a wet nurse. This raises the question of who pays for that service and where the wet nurse will live in order to be available for the feedings.
What is also unclear is how a mother's ability to breastfeed or not will be determined under this new regulation. There are some cases where babies actually need formula rather than breast milk, and other instances when babies can't digest any form of milk—including breast milk.
A spokesperson for the U.S. based La Leche League, a well-known breastfeeding support group, feels this legislation has gone too far. Marie-Claire Bakker says "at this vulnerable time, to think of criminalizing a new mother, who for whatever reason is struggling with breastfeeding, is not helpful."
Supporting women and encouraging and educating them is surely a far better approach than threatening them. And while there was a lengthy debate before this regulation was passed, in the end the all-male council decided that every child deserves to be breastfed and made it the law of the land.