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Breastfeeding in Public

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breastfeeding in public“I’m new to the UAE, and expecting a baby.  I was wondering what the rules are about breastfeeding in public.  Is it allowed?”

As a member of an online breastfeeding support group, I often see messages like the one above. The great news is that both Islam and UAE society are in favor of breastfeeding (the Qur’an in fact teaches that babies have the right to breastfeed for two years), and it is common for mums and babies to breastfeed in public places wherever you are in the country.  The Ministry of Health has publicly affirmed the right of a mother to feed her child wherever she is without being hassled, and the Department of Islamic Affairs confirms that this is perfectly acceptable, as long as the mother remains appropriately covered and follows normal dress etiquette if men are present.  In fact, many of our expatriate group members feel that it’s much easier to breastfeed in public here than in their home countries.

“Emirati culture is supportive and respectful of breastfeeding,” says Noura Khoori, Emirati national and one of the leaders of the Abu Dhabi chapter of breastfeeding support group La Leche League.  “Breastfeeding in public is acceptable as long as the mother does not expose the skin and flesh of her upper body. Although local mothers don’t often breastfeed in ‘public’, they do seek out private areas in public places where they can nurse more discreetly, like prayer rooms or fitting rooms or corner tables of restaurants. That said, mothers who nurse discreetly in public are not given second glances by passers-by, but are left alone to nurse in peace.”

So now that’s sorted, how does a mum make sure that she remains covered during a nursing session?  Many mums find that there’s no need for special covers; t-shirts or loose tops are sufficient to cover anything from above, with baby hiding the tummy area. Some mums suggest wearing two layers, and pulling up the top one while pulling down the one underneath. If you’re not sure exactly what will be visible, you could have a trial run in front of a mirror at home. If you’re worried, you could take a light cloth (muslin, for example) with you to just drape over any bits that may be showing. 

Another alternative is a nursing cover.  Some babies are not happy nursing under a cover, but some mums swear by them.  There are different kinds of these.  Some have a boned upper edge which sticks out, allowing mum to look down at her baby but affording total coverage for baby and breast to anyone else. Others are more like shawls or ponchos.  Still another possibility if you are carrying or wearing your baby in a sling or wrap is for baby to nurse in situ while you carry on whatever you are doing, with no-one any the wiser.

When you’re out and about you’ll usually find somewhere convenient to sit and feed whether it’s a coffee shop, a park bench, or even a seat on the metro. If you prefer more privacy or peace and quiet, most of the larger malls have comfortable nursing rooms. Another possibility is women’s prayer rooms, where mums are welcome to feed their babies. Changing rooms in clothes stores are also great places to sit and feed. And if you’re caught short while out shopping, don’t be afraid to ask if you can use a back room; staff are often more than happy to help. I once breastfed my son while sitting on an upturned box in the back of Choithram, and a shop assistant even brought me a glass of water!

Mothers of young babies know all too well that when a baby’s got to eat, a baby’s got to eat. Thankfully you can be confident in the knowledge that UAE society will support you, so when out and about feel free to just stop and breastfeed whenever you need or want to.  It’s your baby’s right.

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Contributed by Sian

Sian is a devoted mother of two children and a registered Breastfeeding Counselor with the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers. She is a founding member of Breastfeeding Q&A in the UAE, a peer support group for breastfeeding mothers. You can find her articles in the Gulf News and ABM:the magazine of the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers.

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