Breastfeeding is all natural and has the best nutritional value for your baby. The benefits of breastfeeding are touted nationwide; but the message isn’t reaching the Black community. Black women are half as likely to breastfeed their babies as Hispanic and White women. Though there has been a significant increase in Black mothers nursing their infants, up from 36% in 1994 to 65% in 2006, there is still a need for more awareness and education in our communities.
The US Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health, says “infant formula cannot match the exact chemical makeup of human milk, especially the cells, hormones and antibodies that fight disease. Breastfeeding is linked to a lower risk of various health problems for babies, including: SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), asthma, obesity, childhood leukemia, type 1 and 2 diabetes, stomach viruses, diarrhea, ear infections, respiratory infections, atopic dermatis and gastrointestinal diseases.”
The Surgeon General, American Academy of Pediatrics, CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), March of Dimes, and American College of Nurse-Midwives, along with many other agencies offer a wide range of programs and initiatives encouraging the use of breast milk over infant formula. Most religious doctrines support breastfeeding. The Holy Bible is replete with references to breastfeeding, and the Holy Qur’an even provides a timeframe and schedule for weaning an infant from breast milk. We hope this information will serve as a wake up call and encourage more Black mothers to breastfeed.
According to the Office of the Surgeon General:
- The ADA (American Dietetic Association) has long recognized the value of breastfeeding.
- Breast milk is easy to digest and contains antibodies that can protect infants from bacterial and viral infections.
- Research indicates women who breastfeed may have lower rates of certain breast and ovarian cancers, and postpartum depression.
Breastfeeding is a crucial element in bonding. The physical contact helps babies feel safe, warm, comforted and loved. Mothers benefit equally from the relaxing quiet time, an important aspect in the good mental health of new mothers. Research has shown that breastfeeding mothers have increased levels of oxytocin, a hormone that aids in both calming the mother and easing the flow of milk.
Breastfeeding is also environmentally friendly, producing no waste. It is more cost efficient for mothers and the society at large, resulting in lower medical costs, since breastfed babies have fewer “sick” doctor visits, hospitalizations and need for prescriptions. Also, funding to the WIC (Women Infants and Children) Program, most Black women’s resource to purchasing infant formula, is expected to receive drastic cuts as a result fo the new budget law recently passed in Congress.
Breastfeeding has also been proven to lower many of the risks associated with low birth weight babies, which is a particularly serious problem in the Black community. Historically, “the march to formula feeding began around 1920 and was led by wealthier, highly educated women. Poorer women and women of color followed,” said Dr. Barbara L. Phillip, MD, FAAP, FABM, associate professor of pediatrics at Boston University Medical Center, in a report for JointCenter.org. The report also states, “breastfeeding explains the racial difference in infant mortality as well as low birth weight.” And “children of less educated, lower socioeconomic mothers would gain most in outcome, if breastfed.”
Many factors contribute to Black women’s reluctance to breastfeed. The CDC has reported that only 4% of hospitals support breastfeeding. They have begun an initiative to combat this trend. The $3 billion infant formula industry plays a major role in women’s perception of breastfeeding. Since there is no monetary gain from this all-natural form of feeding babies, the commercial driven media suggests that formula feeding is the norm. Hopefully, this vital information will convince you otherwise.
WomensHealth.gov has published a free, downloadable booklet that you will find very useful should you choose this most beneficial option for your family: Your Guide to Breastfeeding for African American Women. Other exceptional resources are, The Black Woman’s Guide to Breastfeeding, Black Women Do Breastfeed, JointCenter.org, as well the earlier mentioned agencies and organizations.
Black Girl Green World encourages each of you to be socially and culturally supportive of breastfeeding mothers. The fact that it is a better alternative than formula is undisputable. Burn your bottles and breastfeed your babies, Black mothers! Let us all do our part to help build a stronger and healthier community, a cleaner planet, and a better Black society.