Oh baby! The numbers of African American mothers breastfeeding is on the rise and more black mothers are forgoing formula for the breast for longer periods—a push that is narrowing gaps in breastfeeding rates between black women and other ethnicities.
A report released yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control says the proportion of black mothers who started breastfeeding jumped from 47.7 percent in 2000 to 58.9 in 2008. Similarly, the proportion of black moms who were still breastfeeding after six months rose almost 15 percent—up to 30.1 percent in 2008 from 16.9 percent in 2000.
And though black breastfeeding rates continue to lag behind white and Hispanic moms—they reported breastfeeding their infants 75 percent and 80 percent respectively—the gap in breastfeeding rates between black women and white women narrowed from 24 percentage points in 2000 to 16 percentage points in 2008.
Even as we celebrate the rising numbers of black moms choosing to breastfeed, CDC officials rightfully are cautioning that all-too-many mothers who want to breastfeed still are not getting the support they need from hospitals, doctors and employers—particularly African American moms. The numbers highlight “the need for targeted interventions in this population to promote and support breastfeeding,” wrote the authors of the report, from the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities and National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “We must redouble our efforts to support mothers who want to breastfeed,” added CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.
To increase breastfeeding support for African American mothers, the CDC currently is funding Best-Fed Beginnings, a project that provides support to 89 hospitals, many serving minority and low income populations, to improve hospital practices that support breastfeeding mothers. CDC also recently awarded funds to six state health departments to develop community breastfeeding support systems in communities of color.
The CDC’s efforts come two years after First Lady Michelle Obama trained Let’s Move, her anti-childhood obesity campaign, on early intervention, including making it easier for mothers to breastfeed, a practice the American Academy of Pediatrics says reduces the risk of serious colds, respiratory tract infections, pneumonia, ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome, Type 1 diabetes, obesity, gastrointestinal tract infections and other health problems. A centerpiece of the FLOTUS plan was to help put mothers on the good foot of breastfeeding from the moment they push out their babies—by working with hospitals to stop pushing formula and quit separating newborns from their moms, two practices that make it harder for mothers to start, practice and sustain breastfeeding.
Mrs. Obama’s plan was designed to go hand-in-hand with government measures designed to give breastfeeding moms support, including: new IRS rules that make breastfeeding supplies deductible and reimbursable under flex spending plans; a new child nutrition law that provides more breastfeeding counseling and supplies to eligible low-income moms, and; new federal rules that require some employers to give nursing moms break time and a dedicated place—other than the bathroom—to pump milk.
Now, if we could just figure out how to get the non-supportive sisters in our community to stop discouraging breastfeeding black moms and continue to build support systems for those of us African American mothers who breastfeed our babies through six months and longer, we’ll be doing something amazing—not only for ourselves but brown babies everywhere.
1. Nipples and Ninny: An African American Mom’s Breastfeeding Journey
2. Dear Michele Bachmann: Shut Up About Black Moms and Breastfeeding
3. The Scariest Pro-Breastfeeding Video For Black Moms, Like, Ever
4. Black Breastfeeding 360°: Celebrating A New Resource For African American Moms