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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Qatar mom starts campaign to try to ‘normalize’ breastfeeding


All photos by Carmen Inkpen

Doha resident Carmen Inkpen wants moms to know that it’s OK to breastfeed their babies in public in Qatar.

In the past, the Canadian expat said she has resorted to feeding her daughter Grace in toilet cubicles or in her car.

But she wants to stop other moms from feeling that they have to hide in this way.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Speaking to Doha News, she said no one has ever given her a hard time for breastfeeding in public in Qatar. But she added she would often worry about offending someone.

“There are campaigns here about dressing modestly, so having to get my boob out discreetly without anybody seeing, that was the hardest,” she said.

Photo sessions

Inkpen said that her experiences have inspired her to use her profession – photography – to help change attitudes and challenge beliefs.

In this vein, she has launched a new project on Facebook, sharing candid photos of moms nursing their children while out and about in Qatar.

The aim, she said, is to show other women that it is acceptable to breastfeed their babies in public.

Carmen Inkpen and her daughter Grace

As part of the campaign, Inkpen put a call out to women on Facebook. Some 40 women responded, and she photographed them in two sessions at the Intercontinental Doha hotel and the Pearl-Qatar.

During each, moms fed their babies openly in a cafe setting “with no cover, and that was their own choice,” Inkpen said. She added:

“Nobody said anything, the waiters said nothing. In my time (in Qatar), I’ve never seen a woman openly feed like that.”

Cultural concerns

Inkpen said she is aware that some Qatar residents might be offended by photos showing partially uncovered breasts, so she has decided to feature photos where there is no skin on display.

“It still gets the point across – you can’t see any skin but you know the baby’s feeding,” she said.

A fear of offending people had also been a major concern of most moms she had spoken to, Inkpen said.

Inkpen hopes her images will help to change preconceptions

One of the moms who took part in the photo shoots was Qatar expat Clare Flores.

She used to hesitate about feeding her son in public, but told Doha News that a chance encounter soon changed her mind.

During a visit to the Cuban Hospital for a check-up, she found no designated breastfeeding room, so took her baby to the women’s waiting room to feed.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

A few minutes into the feed, a lady sitting next to her began speaking to her in Arabic.

“I only speak English and at first I thought she was telling me not to breastfeed so I took my son off my breast,” Flores recalled, continuing:

“Then one of the younger ladies translated to me that the Arabic speaking lady was telling me that I should hold my baby in another more comfortable position!

Soon all ladies in the waiting room were chatting to me and offering me advice. It was a warming experience,” she said.

Poor breastfeeding rates

A 2012 government survey found that only 29 percent of mothers exclusively breastfeed in Qatar during the first six months of a baby’s life. Globally, the average is 37 percent.

To help improve this, a new law to help promote breastfeeding in currently being discussed.

It would ban advertising of formula milk in Qatar, and also forbid doctors from participating in conferences sponsored by infant milk companies.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

However, the reasons for low breastfeeding rates in Qatar are many and complex, and include short maternity leave, an absence of workplace nurseries and a lack of post-natal support.

Inkpen believes that worries about offending people, coupled with a lack of breastfeeding rooms in public spaces in Qatar, could also be putting women off.

“We (in Qatar) want people to breastfeed, but we don’t provide breastfeeding facilities. One of the moms (at the photo shoots) recently went to the Mall of Qatar, a newly-opened mall, and there were no breastfeeding rooms there.”

Have you felt embarrassed or concerned about breastfeeding in public in Qatar? Thoughts?

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