Breastfeeding is like skydiving. No matter how much advice you get beforehand, when push comes to shove, you’re pretty much on your own. Unlike throwing yourself from a plane, however, breastfeeding is the most natural thing a mother can do for her baby.
Breastfed babies are less likely to have ear infections, diarrhoea, rashes, allergies, and other medical problems than bottle-fed babies. In fact, a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition went as far as to suggest breastfed babies were more likely to have higher IQs than formula-fed infants.
So, with a seemingly endless procession of experts practically promising a race of genius superkids to any mother willing to make a sacrifice, why is it that many parents are opting for the bottle?
Dru Campbell, a lactation consultant at the Health Bay Polyclinic in Dubai, believes new mums need to be supported, advised and educated. It is vital to provide the right support from day one to ensure mothers can nurse stress free, something that does not always happen here in Dubai.
‘Unfortunately the concern is that many hospitals in Dubai do not have a breastfeeding policy or even guidelines. Quite often, therefore, staff give conflicting advice, which is confusing for parents and the information given is not according to up-to-date research,’ says Dru.
It is not all doom and gloom, however. Dru tells: ‘I have known midwives in hospitals in Dubai to be fantastic at providing support and sitting with women for over half an hour, just to make sure the baby has fed.’
The most significant development, according to Dru, is the fact that mothers are encouraged to experience skin-to-skin contact with their child immediately.
‘This close contact between mother and child can develop an instant emotional and physical bond and is one of UNICEF’s (the United Nations Children’s Fund) 10 steps to successful breastfeeding.
‘Many midwives and doctors here will support this practice, which is vital in encouraging babies to have their first breastfeed within the first hour of life.’
Skin-to-skin contact is also a practice being encouraged in a campaign organised by the UAE Ministry of Health and the Johnson’s Baby Group.
The campaign will hold educational activities throughout the UAE and is aiming to reach 200,000 mothers with newborns, hopefully raising the rate of breastfeeding.
‘Awareness is the key factor in expanding the number of infants who are breastfed, and educating mothers is, and always has been, our main goal at Johnson’s Baby,’ says Dr Nahed Sabry, a spokesperson for the campaign.
‘Many women simply do not know that breastfed babies have fewer illnesses because human milk transfers a mother’s antibodies to the infant. The health benefits of nursing when possible, as opposed to giving formula, are well documented.
‘The best way to make sure more and more women choose to breastfeed rather than turn to formula is to install breastfeeding support policies in all maternity units in the area. We offer education through events and community activities in addition to our in-hospital training for new mothers,’ Dr Sabry added.
But what happens once mum and bub have left the security of the hospital ward? Where many countries have health visitors and midwives regularly visiting new mums in their homes, community visits are pretty much unheard of in Dubai. Novice parents have to rely on asking all the questions they can when they visit their paediatrician or baby clinic visits.
Support from local community groups can therefore be a vital lifeline. Women like Farangis Bakhtiar, founder of Breastfeeding Q&A based in Dubai, knows only too well how important community groups can be.
‘Research has shown that community support is a major factor in enabling women to breastfeed,’ says Farangis. ‘The majority of women are physically capable of breastfeeding and wish to do so, but find that there is not sufficient support to enable them to be successful,’ she said.
The mother-of-three has lived in Dubai for 10 years and set up the support group in August 2006 after seeking online breastfeeding help herself.
‘I received some brilliant support from an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) that enabled me to successfully breastfeed my daughter. Setting up the group was my way of paying it forward.’
Since then the group has gone from strength to strength helping many women in the UAE overcome their problems and share their experiences.
‘We now have over 200 members and we provide encouragement and evidence-based information, predominantly online, but also during our regular get togethers,’ she says. So if you have your heart set on breastfeeding, but are rapidly approaching the end of your tether, don’t suffer in silence.
‘If you are having breastfeeding problems, get help,’ says Dru. ‘Contact a well-baby clinic where support can be given, or contact a lactation consultant who will be able to give specialist advice. The key to breastfeeding is perseverance. It is worth it if you can. It is more convenient, healthy and of course free!’
Approach it with confidence and resolve and it could be an experience you might actually enjoy, which is a lot more than can be said than jumping out of a plane.
For more information about Breastfeeding Q&A email the group moderator email@example.com or sign up at www.groups.yahoo.com/group/breastfeedingqa/. Breastfeeding Q&A is a free not-for-profit group. For details of Dru’s services contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org