Do Children Have the Right To Be Breastfed?

do children have the right to be breastfed“Breastfeeding should be a duty and not an option for able mothers.”

That’s the sentiment behind a clause to the Child Rights law that was passed yesterday by the Federal National Council of the United Arab Emirates. The clause makes breastfeeding mandatory in the country under the premise that it is the right of all children to be breastfed.

If you’re a mom, you’re certainly familiar with the raging breast versus bottle feeding debate.

You’ve heard “breast is best” more times than you can count, and you’ve seen moms on both sides criticize, judge, and even attack one another based on whether or not they’ve ever purchased formula.

Having exclusively breastfed my son for the first year, I am deeply familiar with both the benefits and challenges of nursing.

I’ve felt both the pain of a shallow latch and the freedom of leaving the house without bottles. I’ve experienced both the frustration of breastfeeding a distracted baby in public and the peace of breastfeeding him in the dim quiet of the nursery.

So my reaction to the news of this clause—one that will likely punish moms who don’t (can’t?) breastfeed their babies—is based in the reality of my own experience only a few short months ago.

I agree that children have rights that need to be protected.

I agree that in many cases breastfeeding provides benefits, both physical and emotional, that cannot be replicated elsewhere.

But—and this is a really important but—I believe that when we take away a mom’s right to decide what is best for her baby and her family, we ultimately harm both mother and child.

What about moms who physically cannot breastfeed? What about babies who simply will not latch? And what about moms who are so stressed out from the “breast is best” message that they can’t be the kind of mothers they want to be and breastfeed at the same time?

Here’s what I say: Give moms the facts they need to make informed decisions. Provide them with all the resources and support available. Answer their questions with honesty and gentleness. And then step back and actually let them care for their infants. Let them be mothers.

Do children have the right to be breastfed? I say children have the right to have happy and well-supported moms, end of story.

What do you think of the UAE’s mandatory breastfeeding clause?

image via milan6 on

25 responses to “Do Children Have the Right To Be Breastfed?”

  1. I would have to agree that on a very basic level, I think all babies have the right to breastmilk. But then, my personal belief is that breastfeeding is THE key to most of our country’s health care crisis, as well as many budget issues.

    The key to the entire discussion, really, is education. The number of moms who truly can’t breastfeed due to medical reasons is remarkably low, but the number of moms who get bad information, no support, and end up thinking that they couldn’t breastfeed is remarkably high. Much of this incorrect info is coming from the medical field and professionals that these moms trust, which is just sad and terribly disappointing.

    No mom should be forced to breastfeed against her will, of course, but I think education and widespread support within communities would go far to normalize breastfeeding, empower our new mothers, and increase rates of moms who want to breastfeed full term. (And it’s important to remember that donor milk is an option!)

  2. I was one of the moms who couldn’t make it work long-term, due to low supply. It was our lactation consultant who handed us the first bottle of formula, with DJ was 4 days old and had lost almost a pound of his birth weight (and he started small, at 6 pounds, 9 ounces). I started off using a supplemental nursing system, what I called the “boob tube”—the formula went into a tube that was taped to my breast, so I’d have to get him to latch to both my nipple and the thin tube.

    We saw our LC weekly for the first month and a half, doing weighed feeds (weighing him upon arrival, nursing on one side and weighing again, nursing on the other side and weighing again), and I was never able to produce more than 1/4 to 1/3 of his total need—and I tried most of the supplements and tricks. Fenugreek, check. Blessed thistle, check. Brewer’s yeast, check. Bowls and bowls of oatmeal, check. Gallons and gallons of water, check. (I did opt out of the domperidone, which costs about $16/day and has to be imported because it’s not FDA approved).

    Still for the first 3.5 months, DJ thrived on a combo of breast milk and formula. When I went back to work, I had the luxury of being able to shut the door twice a day to pump my meager amounts (it took two days of pumping to fill a 5-ounce bottle). Once I got of the initial physical discomfort, and the emotional pain of having to supplement with formula, I loved nursing.

    But then … DJ started getting frustrated with my low supply. I’d offer the breast, he’d latch and nurse for a few minutes, then he’d cry until I gave him a bottle. I cannot, cannot tell you how much it broke my heart when he started rejecting the breast. Still, I muddled through for another month and a half, because I didn’t want to lose my identity as a mom who breastfed, even if not exclusively. I could’ve pumped exclusively, but I decided that DJ needed my time at home more than he needed my breast milk. So we nursed for the last time in the wee hours of Easter morning last year, right after he turned 5 months old.

    So please, maybe the number of mothers who truly can’t breastfeed is “remarkably low” (it’s estimated to be anywhere from 3 to 5%), but as one of them, I still feel grief, pain, and shame (not guilt, because I feel like I did everything that I reasonably could to make it work, but shame) over having to give him formula. I hated having to give him bottles in public for fear of some lactivst lecturing me (that never happened). I counted down until his first birthday when I could switch him to milk and stop the stigma of having to buy formula (not the cost, though; half-gallons of organic milk add up and we’re probably spending about the same!). Please do not dismiss my experience!

    I’ve been morbidly obese; I eventually lost the weight and have been maintaining at the middle to high end of my healthy range for over 4 years (not counting pregnancy). I went through infertility; I eventually conceived. Both of those experience damaged my “body image,” but nothing had the impact of not being able to nurse my son. I always hated the shape of my breasts, but I assumed they would work when I needed them to. It turned out that the very shape I hated was also a red flag for a condition that would, in fact, make it impossible for me to produce enough milk.

    Also, about donor milk—official donor milk is very expensive, and accepting milk through informal networks is risky. We did have an option to accept some donated breast milk when DJ was about 10 weeks old, but we decided that formula was safer.

    • I really appreciate you sharing your very emotional story, Laura. It truly shows why there is no one-size-fits-all solution; what’s best for every mom and baby is different. You obviously worked very hard to give your son the very best, and in the end that required making some difficult decisions, all with his best interest in mind.

      I don’t want to speak for Wendy, but I don’t think she meant to be dismissive of experiences like yours. I do think it’s important for people to keep speaking up about their breastfeeding experiences – the good and the bad, the successes and the challenges – so that we moms can learn from and empower each other.

      • Thanks, Katie. I absolutely don’t mean to make light of any mother’s experience. The fact is that there ARE mothers who simply can’t produce as much as they need, but many, many of those mothers end up in that position because of misinformation or the advice to supplement too early. (It can only help to empower women so they know that trend going in!) And, as with all parenting-related conversations, it’s important to remember that advocating for education for ALL mothers and passing judgement on one individual are vastly different things.

        No matter how they end up there, my heart goes out to any mother who wants to breastfeed and has trouble. I was quickly advised to supplement as my daughter dropped weight, too (in my case, I believe it was dependence on the wrong weight chart, which is all too common.) The worry is very real, and we all only want to do what is best.

        As for donor milk, there is most definitely a divide there. I’m just glad that we have organizations like Eats on Feets where moms can establish long-term relationships and set personal safety standards that make them feel the most comfortable.

        Thanks for raising such an important question, Katie!

    • Hi Laura,
      It makes me so sad that you feel shame over something you tried so hard to achieve and really had little control over. I’m not a mother so perhaps I’m weighing into territory I can’t possibly comprehend here but, having watched two friends go through similar experiences, I have to say that the pressure put on mothers over breastfeeding is just plain ridiculous. We all know the health benefits – and yes, they are not to be sniffed at – but at the same time a stressed mother does not a healthy baby make. And to make a law that ups that pressure? Seems crazy to me!

  3. Hi Laura, I agree with much of you have to say and have asked myself many of these same questions. Yes, this law seems a little crazy to me and I think it will ultimately cause more harm than good. I, too, breastfed both of my sons for the first year and was so glad I did, but it can be very frustrating. I think what bothers me most is moms who CAN breastfeed, but chose NOT to because the government will pay for formula. Our government could save millions of dollars each year if moms would just make the simple choice to do whats best for their child. However, I do realize that not all moms can, there are difficulties, etc. And ultimately, it is not my job to judge how another mom chooses to care for her child. Many moms are simply doing the best the can, and we should encourage and support each other.

  4. I was stunned reading your post. I breastfed all three of my kids for 10 months to a year…they stopped when they were ready to stop. I do think its the best thing for the child if the mother can and is willing to breastfeed, but there are women who cannot because they don’t produce enough milk and others who just aren’t comfortable. I feel like it should be every woman’s choice to do what is right for their own situation. I had very serious problems with my first child latching and I was not able to get the help I needed because the lactation consultant wasn’t on during much of the time I was in the hospital and then when I brought my child home, they sent me to a closer hospital and that consultant was only available certain hours. I almost gave up but in the end it worked out. I can’t imagine being told I had to breastfeed though.

    • To me, you are spot on. I think we can acknowledge the amazing benefits of breastfeeding while still recognizing that in some instances it just doesn’t work or isn’t what’s best for mom. Making it a requirement takes away a woman’s autonomy and ability to direct her own child’s care, and that’s not ok.

  5. I think George Kent has done a wonderful job of addressing the question, “Do children have the right to breastfeed?” He says that they do. He goes on to say that the child needs to be seen, not as an idividual, but as half of the mother-child dyad. The mother-child dyad has a right to breastfeed without interference from outside influence. We as a society should stand up against those who want to interfere with the right to breastfeed, for example, providing formula but not breastfeeding support, or fighting against the International Code of Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes which is framed to protect the mother-child dyad from undue influence. Of course, “Should mothers be forced to breastfeed?, is a different question with a different answer, “No.”

  6. Just curious as to what the UAE plans to do to support moms, spouses, and families with the law.

    My hope was to breastfeed our daughter for one year. At 13.5 months we’re still going. Here’s the deal though…

    I work from home, my hub works from home, my hub is fully supportive of breastfeeding, our daughter latched on well, and minus a few painful months it’s been a joy.

    I know that that isn’t the norm and bodies are bodies. Fwiw, I had hopes for a vaginal birth but after 34 hours of unmedicated labor, I called a C-section.

  7. I definitely think it should be acknowledged that despite some women’s best efforts it is not always possible. My first child had tongue thrust issues and was never able to properly latch. I pumped for 3 months and she was breastfed by bottle with formula supplemented. My second child had no issues, and we successfully nursed for 6 months. You just never know, right?!-Ashley

  8. I had a really hard time breastfeeding. Jack didn’t latch very well and I can distinctly remember my second day home with him when I, hysterically crying, called my mom begging for her to come over and help. The only thing I could think was “I am this child’s only source of nourishment, if he won’t latch how will he eat?” Luckily the hospital had pumps that we could rent, and then I purchased a smaller pump that I could carry around with my (everywhere) and I was able to do it that way. But it was seriously no picnic. I pumped all the time! I pumped during gigs, at work, sometimes in the middle of the night. Breastfeeding is a hardcore commitment and although it was the right one for me, it’s not for everyone.

    Before I had a kid, I’ll admit (and not proudly), I thought that people who didn’t breastfeed were not doing the right thing. Since I’ve had a kid, I have made myself very vocal about how that was the wrong way to think. I know a lot of women who decided not to breastfeed, or couldn’t breastfeed, and I literally apologized to them for having the viewpoint I had (even though they didn’t know I had it).

    You are right though, we need to have the right to choose.

    • I’m very similar to you in that I’ve had to re-think a lot of my views since becoming a mom. It gives you a whole new perspective on – and respect for – what other moms are going through.

  9. I am an avid breast feeder – my husband even calls me militant – but I am only that way towards MYSELF. I am a firm believer that each and every mom out there only wants what she believes is best for her baby. I DO wish more moms would at least try to breastfeed, and that could probably be achieved with better education and awareness – but forcing mothers to do it will be counter productive and cause greater divide in the mommy war. I have now been breastfeeding our babies for over five years (all added together) and I wouldn’t want it any other way – FOR MY KIDS. I have several friends who never even attempted to nurse – I felt sorry that they would never have the experience I have had, but I would never in a million years endorse something that would force them to breastfeed. There are other issues in this world that deserve attention – let’s just leave mothers to mothering their babies from the heart.

    • I’m right there with you. There’s a big difference between increasing awareness and education about the benefits of breastfeeding and forcing moms to do it.

  10. This should absolutely be a family’s choice. I breastfed my first for her first year, but we are expecting our second, and I am well aware that as a working mom of a toddler and an infant it is going to be much more challenging this time around. We tend to forget that formula (in one variety or another) has been used for generations, and that generations of babies have grown up happy and healthy. Do I think that, all other things being equal, breast milk is probably the best nutrition for a newborn – yes. However, all things are not equal. Formula fed babies get to share more bonding time with dad, and a better rested mom who is more able to cope with the demands of motherhood. Moms get to put in a full day of work in order to support their families, without the time consuming business of pumping. Older children get to enjoy more time with Mom instead of Mom always being busy with baby. There are lots of factors that go into making the best decision for each family. We should carefully consider what is best for our own family and allow others the freedom to make those decisions for their own families.

  11. I absolutely agree there are a number of reasons to formula feed a baby and parents that are coins with any of those reasons should not be shamed or made to feel bad. However, despite all the breast is best messaging there continues to be social stigma against breast feeding within wider society. This comes in the form of the continued battle against sexualizing a breastfeeding breast, shaming mothers who choose to breastfeed as the child gets older, especially past 1 year, and even just people giving moms dirty looks when breastfeeding in public. In Canada, according to statscan, 89% of new mothers breastfeed, but only 23% exclusively breastfeed for 6 months (with is the recommendation from just about everyone) see: Given formula was only invented in the last century I find it hard to believe only 23% are capable of breastfeeding exclusively given at that prior to formula those babies would have died and the human race could not have survived at that high a rate of infant mortality.

    Furthermore, according to statscan “In 2011–2012, mothers who breastfed exclusively for six months (or more) tended to be in their thirties or older, and to have postsecondary qualifications.” This compounded with the fact that it is cheaper, healthier, helps mom lose pregnancy weight, and saves you from having to deal with bringing bottles and formula every time you leave the house, further confirms there are significant social reasons to use formula.

    As a result if there was a law requiring mothers who are physically capable of breastfeeding (so no punishment for adoptive parents, low milk supply, child won’t latch, mother health concerns, etc) to breastfeed than maybe that would help normalize breastfeeding beyond older educated mothers and remove many of the social barriers that exist currently. After the law could be repealed so woman can do what they feel is best for them and their families without anyone telling them breastfeeding is gross, something I’ve personally heard more than one non-breastfeeding mom say).

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