Dubai: Dedicated lactation rooms should be set up across offices in the UAE so breastfeeding mums can express milk in a clean and secure environment, health care experts and support groups have urged.
As breastfeeding advocacy campaigns raise their pitch globally ahead of the World Breastfeeding Week beginning August 1, experts closer home said there is an urgent need to reduce the barriers for breastfeeding mothers.
Noora Al Khoori, leader of La Leche League UAE, an Abu Dhabi-based support group, said such facilities are not yet common in the UAE but are necessary to enable new mums to breastfeed their little ones or pump expressed milk for later use once they return to work.
She said, “New mothers return to work anywhere between 45-60 days, when they should be nursing their babies at least 10-12 times a day. But if they are at work, they have to express milk with the help of a breast pump every two-three hours. Each pumping session takes 20 minutes and calls for a dedicated space and privacy.”
A typical lactation room is equipped with a comfortable chair, a small table and an electrical outlet. They also have lockers to keep pumps on-site and refrigerators to store expressed milk.
Dr Kamini Naik, well-known gynaecologist and president of the Emirates Medical Association Lactation Consultant Society, said, “It is not enough for offices to set up lactation rooms. Antenatal care should also be given due emphasis with working women being educated about the importance of breastfeeding during the pregnancy stage itself, so they can be fully prepared. Post-delivery, employers should also consider part-time options and flexible timings for these women.”
A young mother, who did not want to be named, said she often has to run into her office’s store room to express milk for her son who is six months old. “It’s such a pain every time I have to do it, because the place is crammed. I have to request a colleague to stand guard outside the room as the door cannot be locked.”
Donna Kaschula, manager and midwife at the postnatal ward of Mediclinic City Hospital, said, “It is extremely important that offices accommodate such facilities because breast milk is imperative for the growth, cognitive development and overall health of the child. From a mother’s point of view too, it is very helpful.”
She said the hospital has dedicated nursing rooms for its staff and lactating mothers are granted extra breaks spanning 30-45 minutes so they can take care of their child’s nutritional needs.
Just last week, Emirates NBD announced a pilot initiative to set up a nursing room for women who are breastfeeding at its head office in Deira. To ensure privacy, access will be granted via an access card. The bank will also launch nine dedicated parking spaces for expectant mothers.
Lubna Qassim, executive vice-president, group general counsel and company secretary of Emirates NBD, said, “Through these initiatives, we hope to not only support our female employees, but also be role models and encourage our partners and others to address the specific needs of working mothers and to extend support and facilitate women to return to work post-delivery.”