Statistics show that black women initiate breastfeeding less than white women do, and that even those who do breastfeed stop sooner due in large part to societal reasons. This trend is concerning especially with what we know about the significant short and long term health benefits to both mothers and their breastfed babies. Unfortunately the negative impact upon the black population of these reduced breastfeeding rates are actually quantifiable and need to be addressed by our medical profession as a whole, especially those doctors and nurses working in low income areas, predominantly black neighborhoods, and food deserts.
Why Black Breastfeeding Week Matters
- Black mothers initiate breastfeeding 64.3% of the time, as opposed to white mothers at 81.5%
- Black mothers exclusively breastfeed for 6 months 14% of the time, as opposed to the white mothers at 22.5%
- Black mothers were still breastfeeding at 1 year 17.1% of the time, as opposed to white mothers at 30.8%
- Infant mortality rates for black babies are staggering at 11.4%, whereas the rate for white babies is 4.9%
Black babies have a statistically higher infant mortality rate than white babies. Their deaths are mainly due to black babies being born prematurely, at a low birth weight and often sick because of their significantly early birth. Black mothers need to be encouraged to breastfeed because the nutritional value of breastmilk is significantly higher than that of formula, along with the immune system protection breastfeeding offers. According to the CDC, increased breastfeeding by black mothers could decrease the infant mortality rates by as much as 50%.
Read More: 8 Benefits of Breastfeeding You Need to Know
Breastmilk is beneficial in preventing many diseases such as asthma, allergies, diabetes, obesity, and other diet related illnesses which black children suffer from at higher rates than their white peers. The truth is that the black babies are not breastfed at the same rates as their white counterparts, but also tend to be fed less healthy foods as they age as well because of the food deserts and high cost of healthy food options in their neighborhoods. This is leading to an epidemic where black children are suffering from food/gut related diseases that may have been preventable but for their poor eating habits. The long term cost to society of such health problems is much greater than the support needed to encourage black breastfeeding and bring affordable, healthier food options to predominately black neighborhoods.
Additionally, the number of black breastfeeding support groups, lactation consultants and assistance is severely lacking in all areas. The CDC reports that hospitals and doctors offices in black neighborhoods were less likely to meet the indicators for supportive breastfeeding practices which include:
- Early initiation of breastfeeding
- Limited use of breastfeeding supplements
- Rooming-in at the hospital and at home
- Limited use of pacifiers
- Postpartum support
Further, black women tend to face disproportionate long term barriers to breastfeeding when compared to white mothers. Black mothers are less likely to encounter doctors and nurses who give adequate and correct information about breastfeeding, or especially promote breastfeeding, they tend to return to work earlier, working longer hours and in work environments that are not supportive of breastfeeding mothers. There is oftentimes less familial support at home, and there is a serious lack of access to professional breastfeeding support.
Additional factors that discourage black women from breastfeeding include:
- Lack of knowledge about the benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and baby
- Targeted information about breastfeeding rarely features or addresses black women
- Adequate information about the risks of not breastfeeding and the use of formula
- The cultural practice of adding cereal to the bottle to promote longer sleep and bigger babies
- The stigma associated with black women historically being used as wet nurses
- Fear of breastfeeding in public
Black breastfeeding week is meant to raise awareness of the lack of support and lack of breastfeeding in black communities. Recent breastfeeding movements have been led by white women seeking the ability to breastfeed in public, but do not truly address the factors that are negatively impacting black women and their babies in their very own neighborhoods, such as access to knowledgeable health professionals and breastfeeding support. As such, we need to spread the word and begin encouraging, inspiring and supporting these women on a journey that is not easy for anyone, but provides long term health and financial benefits for all.
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