When it comes to breastfeeding, it isn’t talked about enough. The importance of it cannot be overstated. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until a child reaches 2 years of age (in many other cultures kids nurse until they are 4 years of age!). The good news is at least 80% of babies start off breastfeeding in the United States.
The hard truth is in the U.S. for Black mothers face some of the greatest challenges when it comes to breastfeeding. Only 64% start out breastfeeding and most stop after a few weeks. Black mothers tend to go back to work a lot sooner after birth for various reasons including receiving less education and support from healthcare providers.
Let’s be real. The breastfeeding journey is not the same for everyone but it can be especially difficult for Black mothers and their babies. That’s why we highlight Black Breastfeeding Week. The goal is to inform, educate, and champion Black mothers breastfeeding their children, and not just for this week but for as long as they so desire.
Here are some of our favorite reasons why breastfeeding is important in the Black community:
Studies show that women who have opted to breastfeed their babies can reduce their risk for health conditions like obesity, ovarian cancer and other diseases. Breastfeeding also burns calories and helps shrink the uterus, so nursing moms may be able to return to their pre-pregnancy shape and weight faster according to Nemour KidsHealth.
Breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from ear infections, vomiting, diarrhea, and other diseases. This is because breastfeeding can help protect babies against short and & long term illness & disease. One cold hard fact is that a few days after birth the breasts produce colostrum, a nutrient-rich milk that is full of calcium, proteins, minerals and antibodies that babies will need in their first few days of life.
You can breastfeed your baby almost anywhere and at any time. You don’t have to worry about the hassle of making bottles or the cost of formula. Of course, you can bottle your breast milk if you are busier or want to keep track of how much milk your baby is drinking.
Despite all the supporting facts in favor of breastfeeding the barriers still remain.
A major barrier is the high Black infant AND mother mortality rate. The high infant mortality rate among Black infants is mostly due to these babies being born too small, too sick or too soon. The maternal mortality rate among Black women was about three times that of White and Hispanic women in 2020. When Black mothers are heard and supported by their health care providers they build a different level of trust that can help address a lot of issues that contribute to these alarming stats.
Let’s also talk about how bottle feeding is still considered the “normal” way to feed your babies. A lot of nursing mothers lack the knowledge to choose what’s best for their child. Black moms are often uncertain about the expectations of breastfeeding and how to go about initiating the process. Certain things can and may need to be taught, like how to hold the baby and how to achieve an effective latch. By promoting diversity in birth workers like doulas, midwives, and lactation specialists, we create space for Black moms to be educated by professionals who look like them, can speak to their struggles and help navigate difficult times.
Another barrier against breastfeeding is not having enough family and social support. Women who have friends that have breastfed are more likely to breastfeed as well. In many families fathers play a strong role in deciding if their children will be breastfed or not. Not to mention, the cultural stereotypes and dialogue surrounding breastfeeding in the Black community that need to be addressed. Studies of African American families within which the fathers were being educated on breastfeeding showed an increase in breastfeeding rates, emphasizing how important education is for the entire family.
If you ever work with me as your doula, you’ll get exclusive access to my list of client resources and partners! In the meantime, here is a short list of resources and pages we believe can help you become more informed and educated in your journey:
IMMA Lacation (lactation consultants are certified health professionals who specialize in breastfeeding issues)