Liquid gold is the best freebie you could give an infant. However, breastfeeding rates show that black mothers are sharing less of these natural riches with their infants. There are a host of benefits that black infants miss out on when black women are not supported through the breastfeeding process.
Breast milk changes to meet the infant’s unique needs. Within the first 2-5 days after birth, women create ‘colostrum’ that comes packed with potassium, calcium, minerals, proteins, and antibodies that are necessary for building the immune system in the most formative months of life. During feeding sessions, the milk changes from watery to fatty to provide the calories needed.
Breastfeeding benefits the mother. Aside from the obvious bonding moments, breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer for mothers and helps burn approximately 600 calories per day. Forget about a personal trainer or gym membership for the new body changes. Why worry about working out immediately after having your baby when you can lay around, feed your kid and lose extra weight within those first 6 months? Kill two birds with one nipple.
Mothers would also save about 1500 dollars a year by choosing to breastfeed instead.
All these breastfeeding benefits and black women have the lowest rates. Why is it that black women are more likely to pay for a product that they can produce naturally?
Only 74 percent of black infants are breastfed in comparison to 82.9 percent of hispanic infants and 86.6 percent of white infants.
According to the CDC, at 80 percent, young mothers ages 20-29 years old were less likely to breastfeed than those 30 years old and older (86.3 percent).
75.5 percent of WIC-eligible infants are breastfed compared to the 92.7 percent of WIC-ineligible infants who are breastfed.
Healthcare facilities do not support breastfeeding in black communities.
Research shows that hospitals in communities that have about 12 percent of black residents or more had a tendency to be less supportive of breastfeeding. The World Health Organization and UNICEF created the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative to support healthcare facilities in promoting breastfeeding to new mothers. The initiative comes with 10 elements:
Comply with International Code of Marketing breast milk substitutes which includes an infant feeding policy, and monitoring and data management system
Educate staff on breastfeeding processes
Educate women and families on the breastfeeding process
Facilitate skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth
Support mothers through breastfeeding challenges
Promote exclusive breast milk feeding
Promote mother-infant rooming 24/7
Educate women on infant feeding cues
Educate women on bottles, pacifiers, and teats
Coordinate discharges to continue breastfeeding support.
These facilities that do not promote breastfeeding in black communities typically falter on early initiation, mother-infant rooming, and promotion of exclusive breastfeeding. However, Boston Medical Center experimented with breastfeeding and formula to see how rates would change for Black women. When they prohibited non-emergent supplemental feeding, 90 percent of the new mothers began breastfeeding.
Black women return to work earlier
Historically, lower-income black women haven’t had the privilege of being worry-free when it comes to work and finances. Black women have always worked. When so many households have low-income, single-parents while dealing with being a new parent, it’s easy to opt for the most convenient choice to make things easier. Socioeconomic status and the lifestyle restrictions that follow make this marginalized group the perfect candidate for aggressive marketing practices from supplemental feeding companies. We’ll expand on this later.
Employers don't provide support for working mothers
Employers establishing provisions for pumping is a recent phenomenon and hopefully will become more widespread in years to come. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to support breastfeeding employees by providing a sanitary and private lactation space and adequate break time for up to 1 year post-partum. Lactation space can not be a bathroom (breast milk is a food product, right? Who would want to prepare baby food in a bathroom? I’m surprised that needed to be written into law) and does not have to be permanent. That means that your boss can put their money where their mouth is and let you use their office for pumping, for example.
Misconceptions are the cultural norm
Alongside the history of wet nursing in the black community, black women have associated breastfeeding with inconvenience and perceivingly insurmountable challenges. A few of these misconceptions have to do with milk supply, body changes, and benefits of this option. Due to aggressive and socially irresponsible marketing practices, black women tend to believe that formula has more nutrients than their own breast milk. Just think about how pervasive the marketing has to be to convince women that formula has more scientifically-proven, physiological benefits to their infants than what they produce naturally?! Black women also tend to believe that they won’t produce enough milk or that it will turn sour or dry up. In reality, breastfeeding is about supply and demand. Once your baby starts to wean, only then will your breast milk supply decrease. There’s also an idea that breastfeeding will change your breast size or make them sag. Neither of these is changed by breastfeeding but are changed by age, genetics, or the number of pregnancies you’ve had. Even if that were the case, the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh these.
Aggressive marketing practices
Why does everyone seem to hate Nestle? It ain’t just about the water. Nestle played a major role in aggressively marketing supplemental feeding and thus discouraging breastfeeding for low-income, marginalized women domestically and internationally.
“Don’t wait to wean the baby. If you do the little one is likely to be weak and anemic. Mother’s milk is, of course, the best food young babies, but the time comes when it isn’t sufficient for the fast-growing body. Doctors say that this is when the baby is about six months old… Nestle’s food is the nearest thing in the world to mother’s milk. It is the richest cow’s milk from our own sanitary diaries, with the proteids made digestible and the sugar and fats rightly proportioned-all under scientific direction.“
Peep this advertisement, the seedling of the 11.5 billion dollar industry.
It’s clear that Nestle touted their formula as scientifically more fit for infants in their formative months. This form of aggressive marketing discourages black women from breastfeeding by preying on the lack of education and by undermining their confidence in the breastfeeding process.
Once breastfeeding rates dropped to dangerously low rates abroad, folks began to analyze marketing methods for supplemental feeding. Then, in 1977, the Infant Formula Action Coalition began to boycott Nestle for its marketing practices in developing countries that led to widespread infant deaths. Nestle’s branding powerhouse led mothers abroad to exclusively feed their infants on Nestles “food“ which did not provide the calories needed. Nestle wasn’t the only culprit in the baby business. Pet Milk and Enfamil were looking funny in the light too. According to an article in the Hastings Law Journal, these companies conducted a market analysis of black communities to effectively push their products on a vulnerable population. These companies learned that black audiences waned products that reflected their actual lifestyle and socioeconomic status rather than products that allowed them to live the lifestyle of whites vicariously. This fact in combination with the fact that black women have to return to work earlier than their white counterparts made this group easy to market formula to. During this time, black women were more likely to get free formula samples through their hospital discharge. Now, how easy would it be to stick to the formula with it being pushed into your hands like this? Knowing that breast milk production is based on demand from your infant, physical dependence on the formula is created once mothers have decided not to breastfeed. When they're weaning the kid onto formula, their breast milk production goes down. Then, they'll have no choice but to buy formula. The jig is all the way up. And we can change that.
What are some misconceptions about breastfeeding you've heard? Comment below!