Should the government mandate breastfeeding?
By Michelle Maltais
9:25 AM PST, February 1, 2014
When it comes to infant nutrition, the experts agree that breast is best. But should government be legislating lactation?
That's what is happening in the United Arab Emirates. Last week, the Federal National Council’s Health, Labor and Social Affairs committee passed a clause in its broad Child Rights law making breastfeeding a "duty, not an option, for able mothers."
Members of the committee ultimately declared, after what was described as "a marathon debate" that every infant has the right to be breastfed for the first two years of life, according to a report in the National.
Under the law, a wet nurse would be provided for women unable to breastfeed for health reasons.
Still, the minister of social affairs voiced concerns about the enforcement of such a law. "If the law forced women to breastfeed, this could lead to new court cases," said Mariam Al Roumi, according to the National's report.
Among the concerns was the type of repercussions that could come from a mother's neglecting to nurse: Would a husband be permitted to sue his wife? How else might a mother be punished?
Many in the U.S. have been reacting to the notion of legislating what a woman should do with both her own body and her own child.
My position? My baby, my breasts, my call.
Frankly, managing day-to-day familial expectations of being a good parent are enough without adding the weight of a government mandate to my shoulders -- or my breasts.
Members of that UAE committee have said the mandatory breastfeeding clause is designed to help "nurture a strong relationship between a mother and child." And that's truly admirable.
A growing and vibrant effort to encourage and support nursing as a first choice for feeding continues to gain momentum in the United States. And here in California, there are numerous measures in place to facilitate nursing moms, including protecting the right to breastfeed in public.
But no matter how forceful the push by government, medical community and advocacy groups, the key is choice.
Being a new mom is stressful enough, and actually breastfeeding can be challenging enough, without the added pressure of possible repercussions for neglecting or falling short of a government-enforced maternal obligation.
Besides, there are numerous reasons a mother might choose not to nurse.
As Arabian ethnographer and La Leche League member Marie-Claire Bakker said, breast-feeding is a deeply personal and intimate experience, and the mother-child "relationship and bond cannot be legislated."