Did you know that Black Breastfeeding Week takes place every year from August 25 to 31? This important annual observance was started to bring attention to the disparities that are seen in breastfeeding rates among Black moms. During this time organizations and partners come together to advocate for change and solutions that will help close the gaps.
What the data show and why it matters
According to the most recent information available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (also called CDC), 84 percent of all babies born in the U.S. are ever breastfed. However, among Black babies specifically, that rate is just 74 percent, compared to nearly 87 percent of White babies. According to the reports, nearly 62 percent of White babies are breastfed until 6 months old, compared to just about 48 percent of Black babies. This gap is wide and a cause for concern.
Breast milk offers many great benefits and is the best food for babies in the first year of life. It has antibodies and helps protect babies from many illnesses. It also can reduce a baby’s risk for sudden infant death syndrome (also called SIDS). This is an especially important factor to consider because in the U.S. the rate of SIDS is higher among Black babies, comparted to White and Hispanic babies.
Barriers to breastfeeding
Unfortunately, there are many reasons why a baby may not be breastfed. These can be related to personal, social, economic and environmental factors affecting the mom. However, we must all understand that these factors affect Black women unequally and can make breastfeeding even more challenging. Some reasons include:
- Cultural and historical trauma
- Unpaid family leave and little support in their work environments
- A lack of, or no access to, good quality breastfeeding support
- Breastfeeding information that is hard to understand or not relatable
These barriers have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, and created additional stress. We know that too much stress, especially serious types of stress, can increase risk of serious health problems like postpartum depression (PPD), a condition that affects many Black women but that is often untreated or overlooked by our health system.
Let’s advocate together
Increasing access to high quality supportive and culturally-responsive health care is so important when it comes to improving the health of moms and babies. This may include virtual or telehealth breastfeeding support that can be easily accessed by Black women. Another aspect is, advocating for diversity in the lactation support and consulting field, and providing culturally congruent care.
March of Dimes is committed to reducing racial disparities through advocacy work at the federal, state and local level. We’re dedicated to promoting health equity by addressing social determinants of health, racism and unfairness so every pregnancy and every baby can be healthy. We urge you to join us! Visit our action center to learn how to get involved.