Why Are Black Moms Breastfeeding Less Than White Moms?

mom-with-newbornBreastfeeding may be on the rise in the United States, but black moms continue to lag behind when it comes to nursing.

The stats are a real eye-opener: 79 percent of white babies born in 2010 were breastfed from birth, compared with 62 percent of black babies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By six months, 52 percent of white babies were still nursing, compared with 36 percent of black babies, reports the BBC.

Though several reasons for the discrepancy have been offered up, including access to jobs that offer maternity leave and a private place to pump, the CDC may have uncovered a new one: hospitals.

As reported in the Huffington Post, the CDC examined 2,643 hospitals across the country and found that ones in zip codes with more than 12.2 percent black residents were dropping the ball when it came to breastfeeding education and support. In some cases, the disparity is particularly striking. Compared to hospitals in zip codes with fewer black residents, these facilities were less likely to help new moms breastfeed within an hour of baby’s birth (46 percent compared with 59.9 percent). They were also more lax on limiting infants’ meals to breast milk (13.1 percent compared with 25.8 percent), and were less prone to letting infants spend the majority of their hospital stay in the same room as mom, which helps promote breastfeeding (27.7 compared with 39.4 percent).

And make no mistake — those early days with baby are a perfect time for moms to learn best practices when it comes to nursing. “Hospital practices during that childbirth period have a major impact on whether a mother is able to start and continue breastfeeding,” said Jennifer Lind, the lead researcher on the CDC study. “So it’s very important that hospitals support mothers in their breastfeeding decisions and follow the recommended policies that have been proven to support breastfeeding.”

Still, experts point out, a supportive hospital environment can only go so far. Breastfeeding moms need continued support from their community after they’ve been discharged and especially if they return to work — two areas some say are lacking. (Kimberly Seals Allers, who organized Black Breastfeeding Week this week, told the Huffington Post that people wondered whether her baby was getting enough food from exclusive breastfeeding, and some told her that nursing “is for poor people.”).

Which makes high-profile events like Black Breastfeeding Week all the more important. For its part, the CDC and the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality are conducting a three-year project focused on raising breastfeeding rates at 89 hospitals in low-income areas. And it’s money well spent. After all, every mother should be given all the facts and all the support she needs before deciding whether to breastfeed.

Tell us: What kind of breastfeeding education did you receive after delivering your baby?

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Image of mom and baby courtesy of Shutterstock

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