Why the Mandatory Breastfeeding Law has Nothing to do with Babies.

The passage by the United Arab Emirates' Federal National Council of a clause in their Child Rights Law requiring new moms to breastfeed their babies for two full years has gone viral. Comments are flying left and right about what's best for babies and about the pros and cons of breastfeeding.

This law is, at best, a case of "Good Intentions, Bad Execution," and, at worst, yet another attempt to control women and strip them of their capacity, right, and responsibility for making choices regarding their families and their bodies.

This Isn't About Babies

If you want women to breastfeed because that is what is best for babies, you offer education, you offer support, and you offer positive examples. You don't criminalize the inability or failure to do so. If you want people to eat healthier, you teach them about nutrition, you provide them access to fresh vegetables and fruits, you put images in the media of people eating kale. You don't outlaw cheeseburgers (though I would actually probably be in support of that for other reasons, ha).

If this were about nutrition for babies, there would be some discussion of milk banks, regulation of formula companies, and the health and nutrition of nursing mothers (though I see another dangerous rabbit hole there). But it isn't about babies, it is about women. It is about control.

This law looks women right in the eye and says, "We don't trust you to make the right decision for your families and yourselves, so we're taking that choice away."

Decisions about whether to breastfeed, how long to breastfeed, and even where to breastfeed are complex and difficult choices that plague women here in the US. I don't really know about the situation in the UAE, but based on this law I might hazard a guess that there are some similarities.  People are so freaking obsessed with women's breasts and what we choose to do with them that something that wasn't even a question 100 years ago (and for thousands of years before that), is now a gut-wrenching choice that affects the way women feel about themselves as human beings.

I have known women wracked with guilt over the inability to breastfeed and women who were disparaged and even verbally attacked by their own family members for breastfeeding for "too long," or in public. I personally suffered the indignity of being asked to conceal my breastmilk at the U.S. Army's Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School because, "no one wants to see that." The speaker was a woman, the milk was in a sealed cup, and she and I were both there in a professional capacity (not that it would matter if we weren't).

When it comes to breastfeeding, there's no right answer. No matter what choice women make, someone will judge them as wrong. And that is the true wrong.

If You Really Want to Increase Breastfeeding

One hundred years ago, a law requiring breastfeeding would be seen as essentially the same as a law requiring that you feed your baby - a bit obvious and silly. So what has changed? Babies haven't changed. Breasts haven't changed. Society has changed. Between the obsessive sexualization of breasts and the aggressive and intentional attacks on breastfeeding by formula companies, we as a society have been reprogrammed. Breasts are for sex and bottles are for babies. '

Except now we know (or re-know?) that "breast is best." So every mother should breastfeed. Except not in public, because that would interfere with our sexual notions about breasts. And not for "too long" because that's just "weird," even if it's anthropologically correct. But not for "too short," either, because that's just selfish. And not if it hurts, or you don't like it, or it's inconvenient. But that's not right, because it's best for your baby. And what about if you eat too much fast food or your breasts are too big or too small or your aunt's sister had mastitis?

If you really want to increase breastfeeding:

  • Normalize
  • Inform
  • Trust
  • Support


Stop obsessing. Stop staring. Stop making such a big deal about it (educating people is not 'making a big deal'). Show women nursing in the media - without making it a focal point. Show it as casually as you would show someone eating lunch (indeed, nursing IS someone eating lunch). Show people in the media accepting and not making a fuss about it.

People are walking through the park. They walk past a woman who is nursing. She nurses, they walk, it's normal. Just like if they walked past someone eating a sandwich. Normal.


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