Qatar, which is home to the one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the region, must devise a national strategy to support and educate mothers, experts gathered at a symposium at Sidra Medical and Research Center have said.
The meeting, attending by international experts in the field, discussed the possible implementation of Unicef’s “Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative,” which aims to improve the likelihood of babies being exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives, a key recommendation for infant health.
Dr. Joachim Dudenhausen, Sidra’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said, as quoted by the Peninsula:
“We need to raise awareness of the critical role healthcare professionals play in promoting breastfeeding and issues we experience in Qatar, by failing to create an environment where women and families are able to breastfeed or find help and support with breastfeeding.”
Breastfeeding is one of the pillars of Qatar’s National Health Strategy, which commits Qatar to “an integrated national program for maternal and newborn health.”
Unicef figures from 2005 (the most recent data available) state that only 12 percent of mothers exclusively breastfeed their children in Qatar, compared to 37 percent globally – far below the Unicef world target of 50 percent.
Qatari nationals in particular are often reluctant to breastfeed, a recent study by Sidra found, due to traditional practices such as the giving of herbal tea to newborns, not drinking enough water and the belief that breastfeeding adversely affects a woman’s body.
Many women also say they find it difficult to breastfeed for a long period in Qatar due to the relatively short maternity leave offered – two months.
To improve this, working mothers should be given six months to a year of fully paid maternity leave from their employers, Dr. Ahmad Al Hammad, HMC’s head of general pediatrics, has argued.
Qatar’s labor law gives women up to 15 days of paid leave before delivery, and 35 days of paid leave after birth, provided the employee has worked at a company for a full year.
New mothers are also allowed one hour each workday of “nursing time” for the first year of the baby’s life.
Credit: Image by Rob