Running State Interference_Child Rights Law impact on mothers choice Ybreast

While we are quick to declare “breast is best” and what all babies deserve, in the United States we still debate whether a breastfeeding mother has superior rights in a custody battle and whether female prisoners deserve the right to breastfeed their newborn infants. Our legal system does not recognize the rights of the breastfed child and we offer no “first food” protections.

Under the United Arab Emirates’ new Child Rights Law, however, the Federal National Council has declared that every infant is entitled to be nursed and that all babies deserve the right to receive breastmilk. The new law affords babies federal protections that entitle them to receive breastmilk for two years. But hold your applause.

The new law makes it illegal for a mom NOT to breastfeed!

While objective data has clearly established that breastmilk is the ideal first food for optimal growth and development, breastfeeding itself is not easy. And, a law which legally obligates a woman to lactate and places her at penal risk for failing to do so successfully is simply ludicrous.

While I am a proponent of “first food” protections for a breastfeeding child in the case of divorce or during a mother’s incarceration, the Emirates’ new law goes overboard in its attempt to legislate for the welfare of its young. The new law strips the mother of her personal dignities and the freedom of maternal choice.

Assuming the new law is not a veiled attempt to set women back, but that the Federal National Council does have the best interest of babies in mind, I recommend the use of the carrot and not the stick.

In the UK, for instance, the government has recently rolled out a pilot program that pays moms to breastfeed. Finding that breastfeeding saves the National Health Service at least £40 million a year by preventing respiratory and gastrointestinal problems and reducing breast cancer, the government decided that it was financially prudent to pay moms to breastfeed, offering them up to £200 in shopping vouchers just for breastfeeding.

In Norway, the government took the organic route, launching an amazing breastfeeding campaign that inspired women to breastfeed by educating them about the powers of breastmilk, provided continuous assistance in the hospital and at home, and worked to change public opinion about breastfeeding. Today, the breastfeeding rate is 99%, women are encouraged to openly breastfeed anywhere, anytime, with both government and corporate maternity policies supporting the breastfeeding mom who is entitled to her choice of 12 months leave with 80% pay or 10 months leave with 100% pay.

While it is laudable for a nation to involve itself in social policy that has the potential of bringing benefits to all of society, policy must never trample upon the rights of some in order to advance the rights of others. No matter how perfect breastmilk may be for baby, it is never OK for anyone – not the state, not your doctor, and not your bossy sister-in-law – to compel you to breastfeed.

If the state wants to make a difference, I recommend the following action plan: (1) provide breastfeeding education that extends beyond the meaningless mantra “breast is best;” (2) implement hospital practices that protect, promote and support breastfeeding right from the start, providing competent assistance with skin-to skin and the first latch; (3) provide breastfeeding mothers with 24/7 ongoing support once they leave the hospital; (4) create social policies that encourage and protect breastfeeding; (5) create financial incentives for employers to implement corporate lactation programs; AND (6) create a federally subsidized national milk bank, providing open access to donor breastmilk that has been screened, cleaned, pasteurized, and certified safe. Breastfeeding does not work for everyone and a national milk bank would provide a far superior alternative to commercial infant formula.

Moms do not need the state regulating their bodily functions or policing their parenting decisions, what moms do need is more encouragement and more support. Maternal guilt, after all, is the mother of all punishments.