Black American mothers are reportedly the least likely to breastfeed their infants, an issue which rooted from slavery in the early 1800s, where black enslaved women were forced to nurse the master’s newborn. The anti-wet nurse rebellion has been passed down for generations, and now, Black American women are lagging behind White and Hispanic women in nursing. This unfortunate issue was the inspiration for Black Breastfeeding Week, which today ends its third year. So, how successful has the movement been at getting black women to nurse?
In 2008, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that only 59 percent of black women nurse, compared to 80 percent of Hispanic women and 75 percent of White women. These numbers have reportedly risen, but despite efforts, black women are still behind. One physician, Katherine Bugg, who is the founder of ROSE, Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, is an advocate for breastfeeding to ensure the future health of the child, and even considers the lack of breastfeeding among black mothers to be an epidemic. In a recent statement to Nation’s Health, Bugg exclaims the importance of breastfeeding to the overall state of health in America.
“We can truly reform health care through breastfeeding. It’s definitely a public health issue.”
Due to the fact that part of the low breastfeeding rate with Black American women has also been linked to socioeconomic differences from their White female counterparts, much of the work and advocating for breastfeeding has occurred in low-income neighborhoods. These are places where health issues are reportedly out of control, and where little education on the importance of breastfeeding for both the mother and child is provided. Former Chief of Nutrition at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Laurence Grummer-Strawn, explained the origins of health culture in the Black American community.
“We know there are significant underlying conditions that lead to poor health outcomes — socioeconomic disparities, racism — all play a part.”
In additional efforts to promote breastfeeding, some states like Alabama, which beats the national average with 26 percent of its population consisting of Blacks, breastfeeding could be on its way up. The health department in Alabama has launched the Alabama Breastfeeding Initiative, which 33 hospitals have already agreed to participate in. Other target areas include Washington, D.C. metro areas (DMV) where organizations like Mocha Moms exist to promote breastfeeding amongst black women.
As it still stands that black women in America fall behind others in breastfeeding, and the 60 percent of black women who begin breastfeeding at the hospital usually quit, many see that there is much work to be done. Specifically, it is believed that a shift in the mindset and culture of black women to be “supportive” must occur.
[Image via Black America Web]