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Breastfeeding USA vs. Iran: Legal Rights, Social behaviors, and Support of Nursing Mothers

*These issues, as I have learned, will not be touched by some Muslims who have adopted the ideology that breastfeeding is somehow “taboo”; although, Quran mentions breastfeeding, prolonged practice of it, and has nothing negative to say on it.

Most well educated human scientists, mothers, and medical doctors agree that breast milk is the best form of nourishment for mother and child. However, social norms, interference by government or laws—more specifically in the USA–work against a mother’s gift to nourish her child. On the other hand, it is well promoted and accepted in some countries like Iran. This article compares the ideologies held by two nations and their societies–USA and Iran–towards breast feeding. The purpose of this comparative analysis is to exhibit how practical and understanding an Islamic nation, like Iran, can be towards women and children; meanwhile, how another country, that prides itself on being “One nation under God”, “Democratic” and “free” suppresses the most innate inclinations of a woman, having little respect in regards to women; therefore, weakening her natural most humane abilities to nourish and nurture.

Working and Breastfeeding: Legalities of the United States vs. the Islamic Republic of Iran

Iran has unique laws, like no other, that help a mother achieve her goals in child nurturing. The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has exhibited distinct acknowledgment and acceptance towards the God/Allah given right of women to nourish their children; further, the nation promotes bonding sessions and activities between mother and child, it is in fact written and moral law. This sort of feminine liberty and freedom, which Iran bestows upon mothers, is often overlooked and taken for granted by groups, states, and organizations hell bent on promoting an exclusively negative outlook towards the IRI (Iran). When looking at the actual laws, in regards to maternal activities and behaviors of women in the USA and Iran, the USA looks very small as well as hypocritical. Many writers, scientists, and journalists are becoming more aware of the fact that when it comes down to rights of women in Iran, compared to that of USA, USA lags far behind Iran–in some cases. This section will prove how obscene the reality actually is for the country (USA) who prides itself on being ‘on top of Iran’ when it comes to the human rights factor: namely, the rights of women.

Let’s begin with this known fact: “The Iranian government successfully started promoting breastfeeding through a policy change by establishing the National Committee of Breastfeeding Promotion at the Ministry of Health in 1991  (Forugh, et al. 2015).

Through policy change and increased acknowledgment of women’s natural rights, Iran gives employed women a longer duration of maternity leave, which often correlates with the duration of Quranic Sunnah–in regards to nursing a baby.

And the mothers are to suckle their infants for two years, for those who wish to complete the suckling” (Surah Baqarah 2:233) and also; “We have enjoined upon the human being to treat his parents kindly. His mother bore him with strain upon strain, and his weaning is in two years.”(Quran: Surah Luqman 31:14) ”

In the Islamic Republic, mothers get longer time off with pay to nourish and nurture their children than most women do in USA: twelve weeks is the standard for all women, no matter where they work, government or non-government establishments.  Iran recognizes the importance of mother and child bonding; henceforth, women, especially those who have government jobs, are given full pay for up to nine months, and granted early time off or shortened work periods: mostly, to keep up with the Prophet’s Sunnah, extended to all new and breast feeding mothers. All in all, the time frame from the mother’s maternity leave, from start to finish, can be up to three years–in some cases. As for USA…what is their approach towards new or breastfeeding mothers? USA has little set or written laws to protect extended leave for mothers, this goes for most places of business, especially those with contracts that differ from federal laws; not to mention, government work doesn’t always allow extensive maternity leave. A 2014 article on Time Magazine’s website discloses that the USA is lagging far behind most developed countries–including Iran, Georgia, and Mongolia–on paid maternity leave:

“In America, mothers are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave—but only if they work for a company that has more than 50 employees, per the Family and Medical Leave Act. And, for some context, more than 21 million Americans work for businesses that employ 20 people or fewer, per the U.S. Census Bureau. “(Tepper 2014)

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Figure 1: Source: “Children’s Chances: How Countries Can Move From Surviving to Thriving” by Jody Heymann With Kristen McNeill

In the USA, ordinarily, a working mother and her child’s bond ends rather quickly: as mom takes very little time away from work, or else she is at risk of losing her job, her home, her shelter–her overall comfort zone. Today, women in USA fight for their most basic and natural rights to nurture and nourish their own children. They have many obstacles working against them, for example:

“The United States ranks last on the Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard. It is the only economically advanced country – and one of just a handful of countries worldwide – where employers are not required to provide any paid maternity leave after a woman gives birth. There is also no paid parental leave required by U.S. law. Mothers may take breaks from work to nurse, but employers are not required to pay them for this time.”  (Dell’Antonia 2012)

US states, especially in states like Texas, will often defy federal and state laws, finding legal loopholes to implement all forms of discrimination against pregnant women and mothers. Texas offers very weak and vague descriptions of laws in regards to pregnant women, in the first place: their treatment in the labor force, rights of pregnant women, and maternity leave. Women are often compared or stated as disabled while being pregnant, which makes actual rights and protection of women very vague and unestablished. (Perez n.d.) You can also see (Figure 2) that places with less than fifteen employees in states like Texas are not permitted to follow state regulations. It is also apparent that there laws have little to no recognition concerning the rights of a breastfeeding mother.  (Perez n.d.) In other states, women who breastfeed are outright restricted from using any to all public facilities for nursing and tending to their infants. (Figure 2)

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Figure 2

Work place issues are not the only problem for these restricted US mothers:

“The perceived inconvenience of breastfeeding is also an issue; in a national public opinion survey, 45 percent of U.S. adults indicated that they believed a breastfeeding mother has to give up too many habits of her lifestyle. In addition, the commitment required by breastfeeding and difficulties in establishing breastfeeding are sometimes seen as threats to mothers’ freedom and independence.”  (Services 2011)

There is an obvious concept of “inconvenience” among US society, in fact, much greater than the one that is almost non-existent in Iranian society.

Social Norms and Breastfeeding: US vs. Iran

If you are familiar with USA, in terms of public breastfeeding, it is a controversial issue–even among women who are opposed to other women feeding their infants in public. Many people ban and shame mothers for public nursing. (I myself have undergone this experience in USA, and I have seen other mother’s face scrutiny for it.) While several mothers agree, breast feeding is their right in USA and important for the survival of an infant, they have little support as opposed to women in Iran. You will find that the ‘One Nation Under God’ (USA) that often calls the other nation under Allah (IRI) “oppressive” has socially undermined and disregarded some of the most basic rights of a woman to nourish and nurture her child, especially when it is key to the child’s development.

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Figure 3 Muslim woman nursing her child: source WHO and ChildInfo image

Overall, Iranians have more acceptable attitudes towards breastfeeding mothers: often mothers bring their babies to mosque, parks, and other public venues for nursing; moreover, no one offers piercing gazes, humiliates, or approaches them over their right to nourish their babies. Breastfeeding in Iran is justly viewed as normal, natural, and beautiful. Also, Iran is a nation that has gone out of the way to accommodate the mother and her needs of privacy, if she prefers: this is because, Iran is an Islamic nation with a very different set of laws than many other countries. Respecting women and their privacy is embedded in the traditions of a Muslim society–traditions they receive from Quranic guidance. Many places are available for the specific needs and for the privacy of women and children: this is a norm and a non-controversial issue for Iranians, opposite of the reality for American mothers nursing in USA. Most places in the US demand mixed gender facilities: meaning the privacy of a natural woman/mother is no longer respected in USA. (Oddly enough, while men are being allowed into women’s facilities, where sometimes people appear nude, an obscene amount of Americans find breastfeeding in public more appalling.) Sexual humiliation of nursing women in USA is a common and overlooked form of collective social abuse: their privacy is often disrespected or not regarded as an important feminine and child right. There is little respect for both mother and child in terms of these issues. I found some breastfeeding mothers working online, in USA, to show the reality and bias towards them in certain US states where women’s breast are exhibited everywhere–Las Vegas, New York, California–however, only as a form of sexual pleasure, humiliation, and really nothing else. (Check out article titled Fear and Breastfeeding in Las Vegas, look at the negative rebuttals one mother receives for choosing to breastfeed her children.) One reason for the difference in attitude between USA and Iran may be…that the perverse views of men and women in US society compared to that of Iranian men have also interfered with the right of women to feed freely in USA. Let’s ponder on the relevance of that statement now…

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Figure 4. Source: Baby Centre – Breastfeeding and fasting

In an predominately Muslim country like Iran, where breastfeeding is normal and more common than in USA, men are required to look away and not directly at or in a bad “lustful” manner towards women: heavy gazes can make a woman feel uncomfortable. Therefore, in Iranian society most men do not as so much even stare into the eyes of another woman, and will much less keep their eyes fixed on a mother nursing. A collective moral sense is in play that requires respect and privacy for a mother to adequately tend to the hungry, needy child. Because of shari’a, Islamic law which most Iranians abide by, Iran has totally set the pace for high moral standards on this issue.

The Quran says: “Tell the believing men to cast down their looks and guard their private parts; that is purer for them; surely Allah is Aware of what they do. (Quran, 24:30-31) (Arsalan 2009)

However, in places like USA, where men are taught almost no self-control over perverse behavior or sexual desire, the meaning and value of health for the baby is superseded by the males’ ego. Meaning men have turned the idea of a nursing mother into a pornographic playground of self-gratification, rather than respect the value and beauty in a mother’s effort and will practice a healthy habit of breastfeeding. Because of male behavior and attitudes towards breastfeeding women in USA, many women themselves will shy away from giving their children the best of God’s given natural milk. US government researchers have stated, in one study:

“For many women, the feeling of embarrassment restricts their activities and is cited as a reason for choosing to feed supplementary formula or to give up breastfeeding altogether. In American culture, breasts have often been regarded primarily as sexual objects, while their nurturing function has been downplayed. Although focusing on the sexuality of female breasts is common in the mass media, visual images of breastfeeding are rare, and a mother may never have seen a woman breastfeeding. As shown in both quantitative and qualitative studies, the perception of breasts as sexual objects may lead women to feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public. As a result, women may feel the need to conceal breastfeeding, but they have difficulty finding comfortable and accessible breastfeeding facilities in public places.” (Services 2011)

Americans are so socially conditioned to view breastfeeding as “nasty”, because of this spread of perverseness and the downplayed ability of women to nurse children; furthermore, an overwhelming amount of Americans (over 50%, possibly more) are convinced it is obscene for a woman to breastfeed her child in public. The study further states:

“A study that analyzed data from a national public opinion survey conducted in 2001 found that only 43 percent of U.S. adults believed that women should have the right to breastfeed in public places. Restaurant and shopping center managers have reported that they would either discourage breastfeeding anywhere in their facilities or would suggest that breastfeeding mothers move to an area that was more secluded. When they have breastfed in public places, many mothers have been asked to stop breastfeeding or to leave. Such situations make women feel embarrassed and fearful of being stigmatized by people around them when they breastfeed. Embarrassment remains a formidable barrier to breastfeeding in the United States and is closely related to disapproval of breastfeeding in public. Embarrassment about breastfeeding is not limited to public settings, however. Women may find themselves excluded from social interactions when they are breastfeeding because others are reluctant to be in the same room while they breastfeed.”(Services 2011)

This has stripped the natural God given practice of its ultimate and miraculous beauty. Social practices in USA against breastfeeding mothers interfere with the health of both mother and child, it is a form of abuse, as breastfeeding is the healthiest remedy for coping with the traumatic after effects of childbirth, weight gain, and the milk–especially the colostrum–reinforces the newborn’s immune system, something artificial or non-human milk cannot do. In Iran, where the value of mother’s milk is appreciated, arguments against a mother’s right to nurse is simply odd, it’s viewed abnormal to interfere with a mom’s right to feed a starving baby. Mother’s are free to nurse in public places, restaurants, shrines, and mosque—as discussed; however, it is not recommended to feed in toilet areas because it is insanitary. It is not uncommon for one to see a mother pull a chador (long draping black cloak) around her to nurse a crying baby on a bus, public bench, or street: important is the child and his health. When a mom has gotta’ nurse, a moms gotta’ nurse! No wonder more women feel less humiliated and more at ease to nurse in Iran than women in USA.

Iran VS US: the numbers, capitalism, and breastfeeding  

Are the social norms, moral codes, and laws the only thing impacting and preventing US mothers from breast feeding? Certainly, there is some impact when you look at the numbers. USA falls behind Iran on statistical rates involving breastfeeding research and data. Iran happened to make the top 10 list of countries with the highest breastfeeding rates, over 53% of Iranian newborns are exclusively breastfed, they are tied 8th with Egypt; meanwhile, USA and many other Euro countries did not make this list (The list consisted mostly of Islamic nations.) (Lorena 2014) However, much of these significant statistical differences have to do with support and the influence of capitalists.

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Figure 5. Breastfeeding art, veiled mother nursing her child by Gouache 1950

Iran supports longer term breastfeeding than USA–where most breastfeeding mothers stop feeding when the child is at 6 months. We ask, “Why?”… again, in Iran it is considered Sunnah, and of course there are all the other previously discussed variables that lead to outstanding breastfeeding rates and longevity in the country. Islamic tradition calls for a woman to learn the importance of breast feeding her child for up to two years, this is of importance everywhere and anywhere in the Islamic country. The support for mothers in Iran is there, so the positive statistical data is there:

“The integrated monitoring evaluation system in the Family Health Office of the Ministry of Health in Iran conducted a retrospective study in 2007 on 63071 infants less than 24 months of age in all the 30 urban and rural provinces of Iran. The results of the study indicated that the rate of breastfeeding in the country at one and two years of age were 90% and 57%, respectively. (Forugh, et al. 2015).

You will find long term breastfeeding is more common in Iran, with little push or coercion for women to accept formula, which brings to mind the next issue which has also contributes to the downfall of breastfeeding women in USA. A final issue I would like to touch on–that is nearly non-existent in Iran–is one of putting capitalist agendas before the mother and child. Capitalists are working against mothers pursuing rights over their bodies and rights to breastfed their children in USA. Nursing mothers threaten the capitalists banking off of fake and unhealthy milk, so pushing formula and artificial milk on mothers is a very common practice in USA.

“In the United States, bottle feeding is viewed by many as the “normal” way to feed infants. Moreover, studies of mothers who are immigrants that examine the effects of acculturation have found that rates of breastfeeding decrease with each generation in the United States and that mothers perceive bottle feeding as more acceptable here than in their home countries.79–86 Widespread exposure to substitutes for human milk, typically fed to infants via bottles, is largely responsible for the development of this social norm. After reviewing data from market research and studies conducted during 1980–2005, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that advertising of formula is widespread and increasing in the United States. Furthermore, the strong inverse association between the marketing of human milk substitutes and breastfeeding rates was the basis of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (the Code). The Code has been reaffirmed in several subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions. However, its provisions are not legally binding in the United States.”

US women often end up on limited government supplies of formula that tend to push capitalist agendas, which outweighs the importance of breastfeeding. Both welfare establishments and doctors’ offices in USA promote misleading ideals and beliefs in USA, often for companies that produce formula, like Nestle.

“Only 2 percent of hospitals in the United States have been certified as “baby-friendly” and none of the provisions of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes has been enacted into law. While 75 percent of American babies are initially breast-fed, only 35 percent are being breast-fed exclusively at 3 months.”

Women in USA are kept in the dark about the breastfeeding facts, while their doctors and nurses are handing over the the fake stuff.

“Most women in the United States are aware that breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for most infants, but they seem to lack knowledge about its specific benefits and are unable to cite the risks associated with not breastfeeding. 61-63 For example, a recent study of a national sample of women enrolled in WIC reported that only 36 percent of participants thought that breastfeeding would protect the baby against diarrhea.61 Another national survey found that only a quarter of the U.S. public agreed that feeding a baby with infant formula instead of breast milk increases the chances the baby will get sick.62 In addition, qualitative research with mothers has revealed that information about breastfeeding and infant formula is rarely provided by women’s obstetricians during their prenatal visits.64 Moreover, many people, including health professionals, believe that because commercially prepared formula has been enhanced in recent years, infant formula is equivalent to breast milk in terms of its health benefits;62,63 however, this belief is incorrect.”

In retrospect, although women in Iran are recognized as ‘top mommas’, for keeping traditions on proper child nourishment alive, this does not mean they are immune from falling behind, adopting the same behavioral patterns as Americans towards breastfeeding. More and more Iranian women are working, turning towards the habit of pushing bottles on babies: they do it for convenience, rather than offering them the good stuff that so many research scientists have labeled as the best, most natural, and purest substance for the baby…mothers milk. Consider this message as my loving and heartfelt plea to all women, who really want to be the best at motherhood, do not fall into this web of western ideals and capitalist agendas that take away from the sweetness and beauty of our milk, milk that no man can recreate and is truly a gift from Allah.

Resources:

Aadam, Amatullah Bint. 2009. The benifets of breasfeeding. Edited by prophetic-medicine.blogspot.co.uk. prophetic-medicine.blogspot.co.uk. July Monday 13. http://prophetic-medicine.blogspot.com/2009/07/benefits-of-breastfeeding.html.

Arsalan, Rizvi. 2009. The Hijab of Men. religion, uknown: http://www.islamicinsights.com.

Dell’Antonia, Kj. 2012. United States Ranks Last on Breast-Feeding Support. New York : NY Times.

Forugh, Mortazavi, Mousavi, Chaman, and Janke. 2015. “Cross Cultural Adaptation, Validity, and Reliability of the Farsi Breastfeeding Attrition Prediction Tools in Iranian Pregnant Women.” Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal (Kowsar) 17 (3). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4441781/.

Gholamreza Veghari, Azadreza Mansourian, and Aliakbar Abdollahi. 2011. “Breast Feeding and Some Related factors in Northern Iran.” Oman Medical Journal (Golestan University of Medical Sciences) 26 (5): 342-348. doi:10.5001/omj.2011.84.

Lorena. 2014. 10 Countries With The Highest Breastfeeding Rates. Statistical, Uknown : TheRichest.com.

Perez, Thomas E. (Secretary of Labor). n.d. “Employment Protections For Women who are Pregnant or Nursing.” United States Dept. Of Labor. Accessed 2016. https://www.dol.gov/wb/maps/#Texas.

Prince, Rosa. 2008. “Mothers could win right to breastfeed in public.” The Telegraph, June 15.

Services, U.S. Department of Public Health and Human. 2011. “Barriers to Breastfeeding in the United States.” In The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Rockville Pike: Office of the Surgeon General (US); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US); Office on Women’s Health (US).

Tepper, Taylor. 2014. These Are the Countries with the Best Maternity Leaves. Article , Chicago: Time.com.

Yarrow, Allison. 2014. “Pumped up: Breast Feeding Mothers Fight for Rights at Work.” NBC News, January 10. http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2014/01/10/22257760-pumped-up-breastfeeding-mothers-fight-for-rights-at-work?lite.

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