The following question was posed to me in the Facebook group I created today: "Why are African American mothers the least likely to breastfeed their children?"
Years before I had MIB, I had always told myself that if I ever had children I would breastfeed. I tried to do as much research as I could about breastfeeding and really wanted to have a healthier lifestyle and diet for her so that she could develop properly and be on target with all of the "benchmarks" set for children. And I did when she was born...well at least I tried to. I had an extremely difficult recovery after having her and didn't eat for weeks after she was born and couldn't produce enough milk to properly feed and nourish her as a newborn. Good Start was the major source of vitamins and nutrients for MIB until she was a year old. But I never really paid attention the the number of African American women who don't breastfeed.
I was reading an article to research this question and it said that only 54% of African American women actually breastfeed their newborns (compared to 74% of white women and 80% of Hispanic women). The article went on to say that Hispanic women did it more because they are basically more culturally sound and aware than African American women in regards to breastfeeding. It didn't say, however, why white women are more likely to do so. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it's because of the amount of knowledge they are given and have access to about breastfeeding: professionally and personally.
After I had MIB and was in recovery, the nurses knew that I wanted to breastfeed and came up to try to get me to express some milk while she was in NICU so that she could feed. I tried to pump and breastfeed her the whole week but I noticed that they made sure to have a can of formula available just in case. They did give some tips about breastfeeding and pumping but why am I getting this info AFTER I had her instead of it being pumped into my brain DURING my pregnancy? My doctor never really pushed the breastfeeding issue and all of the information I learned about it was because I did the research. There were no suggestions of classes or handouts or pamphlets given to me about breastfeeding by my doctor. My social worker did give me books and helped me get a pump but only AFTER I requested the information and help.
Also, many of the women in my family didn't offer any suggestions or advice in regards to my desire to breastfeed. I guess that's because out of those who were in my age group none of them actually breastfed (from what I recall). Their babies were Good Start babies and none of them were really interested in doing so. The only advice and information I got from a family member was from my mother and that's because she's a nurse. It seems like many of us, because there is no recent family history of it, cannot depend on being led and nurtured by seasoned breast feeders and must depend on professionals to give us the guidance that we need.
Education about breastfeeding needs to be pushed and enforced in the African American community. I understand that how one feeds their child is entirely up to them but unfortunately due to budget cuts, sub par and inadequate health care and overworked and overbooked doctors all of the options about the best life for your child aren't available. We as African American women are not given all of the information about how breastfeeding can help our children's immune system, asthma, IQ, and even possibly prevent diabetes and heart disease. Not to mention the avoidance of possible harmful chemicals and growth hormones that might be in some baby formulas. Allowing others to dictate what and how we feed our children shouldn't be left up to the doctors and we shouldn't be given mini bookbags filled with blankets, coupons and starter $15 cans of formula.
We can't be told or encouraged to breastfeed the one day that we are in the hospital after having our child; better late than never is not an option when it comes to our children.
For additional information about breastfeeding, visit the following sites:
African American Guide to Breastfeeding (pdf file)
Mocha Milk Blog
Black Breastfeeding Blog
Black Women Do Breastfeed Blog
La Leche League International