Breastfeeding among Black women remains comparably low. In observance of Black Breastfeeding Week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), released a new study, documenting the statistics, and calling for a return among Black women to breastfeeding.
According to the CDC’s 2016 Breastfeeding Report Card, among infants born between 2010–2013, 64.3 percent of Black infants started breastfeeding, compared to 81.5 percent of White infants, a gap of 17.2 percentage points. Additionally, of the 34 states and the District of Columbia included in the study, breastfeeding initiation rates for Black infants registered consistently lower than for White infants.
Dr. Kristen Prescott, a South Dakota-based pediatrician who helps spearhead Breastfeeding Week (Aug.1-7) activities across the country, said in a statement that babies benefit from the special immunity properties of breast milk, making it a best practice with infant care. A separate week for Black women, dedicated to thwarting the racial disparity, is from Aug. 25-31.
“Breast milk has been shown to decrease the rate of ear infections, of respiratory illnesses, vomiting and diarrhea illnesses, and obviously, decrease the rate of hospitalizations due to these illnesses,” Prescott said. “We are doing a very good job here in the United States, because now there is an increase of new moms initiating breastfeeding after birth, and that is up from a decade ago. We have a long way to come, however, because at 6 months of age, fewer moms are still breastfeeding.”
The CDC currently works with more than 69 community health departments and organizations to provide peer and professional lactation support, specifically to Black mothers and infants, who, they document, face challenges in committing, long-term to breastfeeding. “Breastfeeding reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer for mothers later on in life, and also aids in less postpartum bleeding, so with Black mothers disproportionately less able to breastfeed their babies because of socio-economic factors and lack of postpartum support, is unconscionable,” said Jen McGuire, a lactation expert who writes a post for the parenting blog, “Romper.”
Addressing the racial disparity of breastfeeding, which in most cases show a double-digit rate (between 10-17 percent across the country) requires outside support that many advocates believe is hindered by mothers feeling awkward about asking for help. “Black women are generally employed and serve as either equal partners or heads of household, meaning their return to work after giving birth tends to preclude them from breastfeeding each meal for the first year,” Shayna Swift, a breastfeeding advocate and Ward 7 resident, told the AFRO. “So many people believe that a baby just latches onto a nipple and the feeding begins, but there can be a lot of frustration – the latching-on process, the discomfort of breastfeeding, including cracked nipples, and soreness – all of which require patience and outside support.”
To increase the rate of breastfeeding among Black infants, the CDC recommends interventions to address barriers, including “earlier return to work, inadequate receipt of breastfeeding information from providers, and lack of access to professional breastfeeding support” on a community level.
“It’s not rocket science and the mothers of the community used to help new mothers without having to be asked,” Swift said. “We simply need to return to helping out our young mothers so that they raise strong, healthy children.”