We all know a belly full of mum’s ‘house white’ is the ultimate healthy meal for babies. But while breast is most definitely best, it isn’t always the easiest or most convenient option for mothers.
The irony is that while nursing your baby is the most natural thing in the world, techniques and supplies, especially with first babies, can take about six weeks to establish – a very long time for a new mum who’s finding her feet with a screaming newborn. Add to this the fact that the UAE only allows mothers a maximum of 45 paid working days maternity leave (with the option of another 100 days unpaid) after birth, and this means many hot-foot it back to the office when their bubs are just six weeks old. So, lots of mums just don’t see the point of struggling to master breastfeeding at all.
But continuing to breastfeed once you’ve returned to the office is possible with the help of breast pumps – and a little ‘know your rights’ knowledge. In fact, due to a small and relatively unknown clause in the labour law, nursing mums in the UAE are allowed to take an extra paid hour off in the day up until their little ones are 18 months old.
Kinga Kawaa, a marketing manager, returned to work when her daughter was three months old. So far, she has continued to breastfeed exclusively, thanks to that additional hour. She says; ‘Admittedly, I am lucky because I live only five minutes away from my office, which means I can go home at lunchtime and feed my daughter. But, I also express at work during my extra hour, to make sure we don’t have to resort to formula.’
It’s a complicated routine that means Kinga must take time away from her desk to express at work. But, so far it seems to be working. However, she’s the first to admit that her company isn’t geared up to assist nursing mothers. ‘For a start, there’s nowhere for me to express my milk, so I have to do it in the ladies loo with a manual breast pump, which isn’t ideal,’ she says. ‘And I have to store it afterwards in the communal fridge, alongside colleagues’ tikka masala sandwiches and three-day-old biryani, so I’m always a bit concerned that someone may accidently use it in their coffee!’
But despite this, Kinga is certain that attitudes towards breastfeeding in the UAE have improved markedly over the past two decades. And, the second Philips Avent Breastfeeding Awareness and Health Forum which recently took place in Dubai, was, say its organisers, much busier than its predecessor. ‘Twenty years ago, breastfeeding wasn’t ever talked about,’ says Kinga.’ If you were going back to work, you turned to formula because there were no other options. Now, there are great breast pumps available, which makes life so much easier.’
And creating a routine is essential for the nursing/working mother, she explains; ‘I breastfeed my daughter first thing in the morning, express mid-morning at work, breast feed her again at lunchtime, and again when I get home from work. In the evenings, I express between feeds too, to ensure there is always enough milk to hand. It’s hard work – but worth it.’
Sharon Trotter, one of the UK’s leading breastfeeding experts, who was a primary speaker at the Breast Feeding Awareness Health Forum, agrees that while cultural sensitivities and working hours may mean many mothers in the UAE formula feed their babies, attitudes are changing. ‘Mothers here are very keen to be informed about breastfeeding, and that’s great,’ she says, adding that any working concession to help mothers prolong the nursing process – even beyond the WHO recommended 12 months, is welcome.
Sharon believes that post-delivery support is key to a mothers’ breastfeeding success. ‘There has been a whole generation of bottle-feeders and we’ve lost a lot of the skills we had years ago in terms of feeding our babies. But if women get the support they need in the form of visits from a midwife or health visitor in the first few weeks after birth, many more will breastfeed successfully – and will be able to continue to do so when they return to work.’
But, she adds, if you do resort to a bottle of formula in times of stress, don’t beat yourself up about it. ‘Any breastfeeding is better than nothing at all, so if you’re doing half and half, or you end up giving baby one bottle feed a day, you’re still doing well.’
For online help see Sharon Trotter’s breastfeeding and baby care website; www.tipslimited.com, and read breast pump reviews by mums at www.breastpumpdirect.com. For the UAE Labour law, click on www.zu.ac.ae/library/html/UAEInfo/documents/UAELabourLaw.pdf. The bit you need is on page 10. Happy reading!