Commentary: Will Beyoncé's Breast-Feeding Incident Inspire Other Black Mothers?

African-American women are less likely to breast-feed.

Posted: 03/09/2012 11:23 AM EST
racial health disparities, pregnancy, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Health News, breast-feeding

Last week, the media went crazy over a report that R&B singer and new mom Beyoncé breast-fed her 7-week-old daughter, Blue Ivy, in public while having lunch with husband Jay-Z in New York City. Us Weekly reported:

Beyoncé nursed her little girl at the table, an observer tells
Us Weekly magazine. Two additional sources confirm to Us that the first-time mom has been breast-feeding her daughter.

For years, health experts have praised the benefits of breast milk. Babies who are breast-fed are more resistant to developing ear infections and other diseases during infancy. They are also less likely to develop juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and cancer before the age of 15. Even better, mothers benefit as well. Research suggests that mothers who breast-feed are less likely to develop osteoporosis (bone thinning) down the road, are able to lose weight gained during pregnancy more easily and have a lower risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.

Not to mention breast-feeding is free, formula is not.

So, it's clear that breast milk is best. But when it comes to doing it in public (or even doing it at all), people are divided on the issue. A lot of people call it "nasty," and it isn't something that everyone else should have to see, some say. Meanwhile, advocates for breast-feeding believe that it's "natural" and needs to be part of U.S. mainstream culture, as it is in so many other parts of the world.  

What's especially interesting about this particular incident is that for first time this national debate has been centered on a Black woman. And that's good given that we need more breast-feeding role models, given that African-American women are less likely to breast-feed than women of other races and ethnicities.


In a recent study, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 54 percent of Black mothers breast-fed their infants after giving birth, compared with 74 percent of white mothers and 80 percent of Latina mothers. And after six months, only 27 percent of African-American mothers continued to breast-feed, compared with 43 percent of white mothers and 45 percent of Latina mothers.

American Academy of Pediatrics recommends women exclusively nurse their babies for six months; some health experts believe up to a year is better.

So why don't we breast-feed as much?

Experts believe that cultural attitudes, the lack of community and family support, miseducation and myths around breast-feeding, and the fact that Black women are more likely to have low-paying jobs that don't allow them time to pump their milk all play into reasons why we lag behind in breast-feeding. But over the years, there has been a surge in public-funded programs and awareness trying to encourage more Black women, especially those who live below the poverty line.

And while it may be naïve to believe that Beyoncé is going to make our breast-feeding rates skyrocket, she can definitely get new and expectant Black mothers to at least start thinking about the option.
 
For more information on personal experiences with breast-feeding, go to Black Mothers Do Breast-Feed.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.


BET Health News - We go beyond the music and entertainment world to bring you important medical information and health-related tips of special relevance to Blacks in the U.S. and around the world.


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