I’ve been reading up on breastfeeding here in Saudi Arabia and I’ve learned that most people over here give their babies formula. I am a little surprised because the Koran actually states that women should breastfeed their children until they are 2 years old. I suppose it also has to do with supply issues. I feel lucky because even though I had breastfeeding problems in the beginning and had to supplement with formula, I never “dried up”.
Here in KAUST breastfeeding is highly encouraged. The Kaust Medical Center (KMC) has prenatal and postnatal classes that extol the virtues of breastfeeding. There’s even a lactation consultant. It’s safe to say that every medical professional there is pro-breastfeeding. They even encourage breastfeeding in public (in KAUST). I wasn’t sure if I should at first but when I saw other moms doing it in the restaurants or wherever I felt a bit more confident (I usually use my breastfeeding cover though).
Outside KAUST is a different story. We needed to buy supplies for the baby so we went to the Red Sea Mall. It was the first time we’d gone outside since having the baby. I fed her at home before we left so that was no problem. However, shortly after we arrived at the mall she started to get hungry. I couldn’t find a breastfeeding room (there are NONE) so I went to the restroom and breastfed while sitting on the toilet. It was so uncomfortable and kind of depressing. A few hours later she was hungry again. This time I found out that there was a diaper changing room and it was possible to breastfeed there. However, I went in there right after prayers and there were a ton of women changing their babies’ diapers. There was a table and two chairs occupied by a girl and a boy who looked around 12. My god, why would these mothers bring their almost-teenage sons into the ladies’ areas?! With the chairs occupied and a ton of moms in line to change their babies’ diapers, I couldn’t find a place to breastfeed my then-hysterically crying baby. I decided to just lift my abaya and stand there to feed and all the while facing a wall. “Stressful” doesn’t begin to describe that entire day at the mall.
Yesterday we went to the Mall of Arabia. After what happened at the Red Sea Mall I considered just bringing several bottles with me but then changed my mind because I didn’t want to be engorged for 6 hours. I just prepared myself mentally and tried to be relaxed about it. When we arrived at the parking lot I covered the car windows with blankets and fed Jasmine. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that the bathrooms in this particular mall have adjoining sections that contain private rooms with a full length mirror, a bench and a trash can inside. I guess they are breastfeeding/diaper changing/fitting rooms (since the stores here don’t have fitting rooms!) It felt to great to remove the damn abaya and feed my baby in a (kind of) clean environment.
A friend once told me that breastfeeding in public can be done in this country. She told me that she’d seen a mom do that in the mall but she herself always brings bottles whenever she goes to Jeddah! I prefer to be on the safe side though. I mean, this is a country where only the face and hands of a woman are allowed to be seen in public (most of the time you just see eyes and hands). If I lifted my abaya and possibly exposed my boob who knows what would happen! I can just imagine going to jail for public indecency or something. Needless to say, Saudi Arabia is not a very breastfeeding-friendly place.
I can’t wait to go to Taiwan (maybe this month or next) and then Spain in December. It will be such a relief to just whip my boob out to feed my baby without having to worry about the religious police.
UPDATE: I’ve now become familiar with WOMEN PRAYER ROOMS! It’s true that women go there to pray but I’ve discovered that there’s a whole lot more going on in that dark room. Women actually nap, eat, let their kids play there, and BREASTFEED! I am usually the only Asian/non-Muslim every time I enter but no one protests when I go in. I can even take my abaya off and breastfeed in peace. I’m so happy with this discovery! This is something you will only learn as you spend more time in the country. I’m so glad I don’t have to breastfeed in the bathroom anymore!!!