Boosting Breastfeeding in the Black Community

Jennifer Johnson

Posted By: Jennifer Johnson

I didn't grow up around breastfeeding moms. In fact, I grew up making formula bottles for my little sisters.

I haven’t bought a single can of formula since my daughter was born, and I haven’t touched the can that was sent to me before she arrived. I know formula companies target new moms, and moms who sign up for things like special offers at maternity stores. But I also wonder if they target minorities. Statistic show breastfeeding rates among black women lag behind all other ethnic groups.

A friend of mine recently did a story on the topic and asked me if I knew the reason behind the low numbers of black women breastfeeding. I couldn’t come up with a good answer and still can’t. I know it wasn’t predominant in my family but I didn’t assume it was a racial thing. Now I have a few more ideas why this may be the case and what we can do to help more black women breastfeed.

For one, formula is given away at many assistance offices. My mother even suggested it to me when I told her I wanted to breastfeed because it was cheaper. I know many assistance programs are now trying to advocate for breastfeeding more, and I’ve heard commercials and campaigns pushing for this, but I imagine this mentality that formula can be free can make it seem cheaper and easier than breastfeeding.

Another factor I personally believe affects not only minority women but women in general is access to breast pumps, and being educated about the benefits of breastfeeding.

I asked for help from a lactation consultant in the hospital. I read up about breast pumps before having my daughter and got one before we even came home from the hospital. For many moms who have to work many many ours outside of the house, sometimes working multiple jobs, pumping is the only way you can keep up with breastfeeding, but pumps aren’t always affordable for everyone, and some just don’t know how to go about creating a pumping routine at work.

Rules regarding breastfeeding and pumping in the workplace aren’t plastered all over business walls like many other things like first aid tips, or minimum wage requirements. But maybe it should be. Perhaps everyone should see obvious signs about breastfeeding policy so more could be comfortable and familiarized with the topic.

Popular media has a big impact – maybe not intentionally or directly, but in some way, every time a baby is shown being fed a bottle on TV or in a movie, an opportunity is missed to show feeding at the breast as equally normal.  I can’t remember any popular television shows I’ve seen showing a mom nursing her infant (aside from comedies making fun of the topic) but if I did now, it would surely stand out. I’d probably applaud inside and praise the show. But I shouldn’t have to feel that way. Wouldn’t it be neat if a scene with a mom nursing her baby was viewed just as nonchalantly as a woman bottle-feeding?  

I’m all for bottles – at my house we use them most of the time because I’m away from work, but why not show a woman breastfeeding every once in awhile? There’s certainly already enough boobs shown on TV anyway – why not show them being used the way nature intended?

Lastly, I believe the black community is also lacking is visible breastfeeding role models. Recently First Lady Michelle Obama has spoken out about childhood obesity in the black community as well as the need to promote breastfeeding.

If Oprah had a baby and breastfed, breastfeeding numbers would sky rocket. That’s my theory anyway.

I hope Michelle Obama, and other prominent black women will continue to support breastfeeding so more women from all walks of life can understand the benefits, and so ultimately we can have a healthier generation of children. A generation where we’re not clipping our formula coupons, but tossing them away because we know we don’t need them. Because we know what we have is not just as good, but better.

12:00pm on Tuesday March 8
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