While we know that breast milk is best, that message of health and wellness may not be enough to encourage more Black mothers to breastfeed. A 2012 study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says African-American women are less likely to breastfeed than women of other races and ethnicities.
A mere 54 percent of Black mothers breastfed 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.
Babies who are breastfed 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. Mothers benefit, too. Research suggests that mothers who breastfeed 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.
So with all the pros, why are breastfeeding rates so low?
Experts say there are several reasons why African-Americans lag behind in breastfeeding including: cultural attitudes, the lack of community and family support, lack of education about and myths around breastfeeding, and the fact that Black women are more likely to have low paying jobs that don't allow them time to pump their milk.
Recently, Women E News’s Christina Caldwell wrote about the opposition she encountered when she told her family about her desire to breastfeed:
The opposition that was thrown at me was overwhelming after I told family members I was choosing to breastfeed. It was as if they couldn't tell me enough about how the baby wouldn't get full, that my milk wouldn't come in, that my milk would run out, that it would be painful. And my personal favorite: I was being too cheap to buy formula.
And while Caldwell’s experiences aren’t rare, she points out that there has been a surge in more Black spokeswomen and resources dedicated to encouraging us to breastfeed. Two of those women are Kiddada Green, of the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association, and Sojourner Marable Grimmett, of Table for Two. Caldwell wrote:
Since 2007, Green's Detroit-based organization has been promoting the importance of breastfeeding, as well as debunking the myths about Black women and breastfeeding. In June, the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association received a $100,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to boost the fight to eliminate breastfeeding disparities.
Grimmett's organization, Table for Two, is an online resource for breastfeeding mothers. She also recently launched a campaign to build more public accommodations for lactating mothers in Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.
Green emphasizes the importance and the power in Black women seeing other Black women breastfeed.
“I had never seen a Black woman breastfeeding before I had my child,” Green said. “Breastfeeding has to become more visible in the Black community. It should be so common that it's not a big deal anymore. Just imagine if there was actually a picture of Beyoncé nursing her daughter, the impact that would have on African-Americans would be so powerful."
Have you ever seen a Black woman breastfeed before? Learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding here.
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