UAE Cabinet has banned the advertising of products such as infant formula, follow-up formula, complementary food, feeding bottle and teats, and pacifiers.
Marketing of products related to infant and child nutrition, including formula milk and complementary food, has been regulated in the UAE to promote breastfeeding.
Through a law passed in April 2018, the UAE Cabinet has banned the advertising of products such as infant formula, follow-up formula, complementary food, feeding bottle and teats, and pacifiers.
Dr Esmat Mohammed Al Qassim, head of mother and child health section of the primary healthcare department at the Ministry of Health and Prevention, told Khaleej Times: “The purpose of this resolution is to contribute effectively to the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding through the regulation of marketing and promotion activities for the products related to infant and young child nutrition (age 0-2 years) and to provide appropriate information.”
Promoting the products covered by the resolution is prohibited as these affect breastfeeding and undermine mothers’ confidence, she said.
Dr Esmat said that according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Unicef recommendations, mothers are advised to exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months.
“They can then introduce complementary food with the continuation of breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond,” she said.
“Breastfeeding is the best and mother’s milk is the ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants and young children. It protects them from diseases,” Dr Esmat said.
“Mothers should be given informed choices after receiving proper breastfeeding education and support during the antenatal and postnatal periods,” she added.
Other steps that the UAE has taken to support breastfeeding include encouraging hospitals and health centres to become baby-friendly facilities according to WHO and Unicef guidelines.
Health workers have taken up WHO-Unicef’s 20-hour course on breastfeeding promotion, along with a 90-hour lactation consultant course. Breastfeeding assessment guidelines have also been developed.
The country further raises awareness by yearly celebrating International Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7) and National Breastfeeding Week (second week of November) and educating mothers before and after giving birth.
Badriyyah Riad, breastfeeding counsellor and supervisor at BreastFeeding Friends (BFF) in Sharjah, said the packaging of formula and complementary food should be done in a way that there is no “idolisation”.
“Whatever nutrients these companies claim to have added to the formula are not research-based, and false advertising is there,” she said.
Often, the first choice even suggested by doctors is formula, she said. “Some babies need formula and we are not stopping that, but the first choice shouldn’t be formula.”
While Badriyyah welcomed the law and initiatives that were implemented, including the UAE’s adherence to the International Marketing Code of Breastfeeding, she said it is the enforcement of policies that would make a difference.
“Company representatives often approach mothers and doctors with samples and gifts, and this is not allowed,” Badriyyah said.
She also advised parents to thoroughly read the information and ingredients’ list on the packaging of formula milk or other supplementary food for their child.
Despite extensive campaigns advocating breastfeeding, she said some mothers still shift to formula mainly because they often don’t get the proper support.
“At BFF, we train peer counsellors under a 40-hour course with practicals to learn what problems mothers face,” she said.
A lot of mothers complained of “not having enough milk”, Badriyyah added. “It’s a matter of simple adjustments and that is what we teach.”
BFF also prepares women for returning to work.
“We teach them what to expect and prepare for their return to their jobs,” said Badriyyah. She added that it is important for women to know their rights with regard to maternity leave and breastfeeding hours.
“All volunteers visit hospitals in Sharjah and attend mother meetings regularly to raise awareness,” she added.
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