What is Black Breastfeeding Week and Why is it So Important?
August 25, 2017 marks the first day of Black Breastfeeding Week 2017. But why is Black Breastfeeding Week even a thing? We already have a Breastfeeding Week and a Breastfeeding Month.
Well, let’s talk about it.
Studies have shown that black women breastfeed at a much lesser rate than white and Hispanic women.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed the differences in breastfeeding initiation and duration overall and among black, white, and Hispanic infants born in 2000 and 2008. The results were staggering.
Among infants born in 2000, 70.3% had ever breastfed (had breastfeeding initiated), 34.5% breastfed for 6 months, and 16.0% breastfed for 12 months. Among infants born in 2008, the comparable percentages had increased to 74.6%, 44.4%, and 23.4%, respectively. By race/ethnicity, prevalence of breastfeeding initiation in 2000 was 47.4% among blacks, 71.8% among whites, and 77.6% among Hispanics. By 2008, the percentage of infants who ever breastfed had increased among blacks to 58.9% and among whites to 75.2%; an 80.0% prevalence among Hispanics did not amount to a statistically significant increase. From 2000 to 2008, breastfeeding at 6 and 12 months increased significantly among all three racial/ethnic populations. Although the gap between black and white breastfeeding initiation narrowed, black infants still had the lowest prevalence of breastfeeding initiation and duration, highlighting the need for targeted interventions in this population to promote and support breastfeeding. Despite increases in the prevalence of breastfeeding, fewer than half of the infants in the survey were still breastfeeding at 6 months, indicating that women who choose to breastfeed their infants need support to continue breastfeeding.
Black babies have a high mortality rate.
Black babies are disproportionately born premature or ill. The CDC believes increasing breastfeeding initiation, awareness, and continuation among black babies and providing them with the benefits of breast milk can help decrease the mortality rate.
There aren’t many black women in the lactation field.
The underrepresentation of women of color in the lactation field perpetuates a common misconception that black women either do not or are not meant to breastfeed. As a result, black mothers are less likely to receive culturally appropriate breastfeeding support and care.
History does not encourage black women breastfeeding.
Unfortunately, history plays a large part in the lack of black women breastfeeding. Before reconstruction, slave owners purchased and used black women as wet nurses for their own children–often not allowing enslaved women to breastfeed their own children. This historical trauma meant that black families needed a different dialogue about breastfeeding behaviors.
The creators of Black Breastfeeding Week recognized these issues and decided to do something about them. As a result, Black Breastfeeding Week was born in an effort to create awareness of the many benefits of breastfeeding, the reasons why the racial disparity exists, and the fact that black women do indeed breastfeed.