Black Maternal Health

Part: 6

Michelle Obama Urged to Speak Out for Breastfeeding

Monday, February 8, 2010

Michelle Obama breastfed both her daughters and advocates are hoping she will use the platform of her anti-obesity campaign to promote breastfeeding and share her own experiences.

Michelle Obama(WOMENSENEWS)--Michelle Obama breastfed her daughters Malia and Sasha and public health and maternal health activists are hoping she will explicitly endorse breastfeeding as part of her anti-obesity campaign.

In doing so, activists hope she'll become the national symbol, particularly for African American mothers, for pro-breastfeeding initiatives.

Obama declined to comment about the role of breastfeeding in her obesity fighting initiative, despite the potential link between breastfeeding and obesity reduction. However, the White House has announced Obama, along with members of the President's cabinet, mayors and other leaders, will hold a press conference Tuesday to unveil details of her obesity initiative.

"We have a dynamic role model in the White House, a black woman who gets the idea that she can go to work, be a lawyer and still provide milk for her baby," said Napiera Loveless, co-founder of MamaTotoMatema, a Cincinnati-based organization committed to educating and encouraging leaders and health care professionals to adopt different approaches to promoting breastfeeding in African American families. "She takes away the excuse."

Bettina Lauf Forbes, co-founder of Best for Babes, a nonprofit re-branding perceptions of breastfeeding in the news, popular culture and policy, agrees. "To turn breastfeeding into a cause that gets visibility, funding and backing, people think they need somebody like Michelle to shift perspective, for that tipping point to happen," she said.

Outside circles of top public health officials and what are known as lactivists--advocates for breastfeeding--most Americans remain unaware that Obama breastfed her daughters, now national symbols of healthy children.

Among African American women, where obesity rates are the highest in the nation, breastfeeding rates are the lowest. Breastfeeding has increased among black mothers from 12 years ago, when 36 percent of black infants were breastfed at some point to 65 percent in 2006. However, 40 percent of Hispanic mothers and 35 percent of white mothers breastfeed exclusively for the government-recommended six months, compared to 20 percent of African American women, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the CDC, reported in 2008.

Calls to Endorse Breastfeeding

"Michelle Obama breastfed," said Kirsten Berggren, a lactation consultant in Vermont and author of "Working Without Weaning: A Working Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding." "Everyone wants her to come out and support breastfeeding."

Advocates like Berggren not only want Obama to acknowledge that she breastfed, but to also endorse breastfeeding. Studies show breastfeeding lowers the risk of obesity, cancer, and chronic diseases--many of which disproportionately impact African American women--in mothers, as well as helps protect children against a host of ailments, including respiratory infections, asthma and childhood leukemia.

Studies also indicate a positive link between breastfeeding and reducing the risk for obesity in infants and mothers, though the association hasn't yet been proven.

"The evidence is remarkably consistent," said Katherine Shealy, a breastfeeding specialist with the CDC. "Breastfeeding reduces diabetes, metabolic diseases, heart disease and all these different issues intertwined with obesity."

Since the rise of the Obama family public profile, Michelle Obama has not championed breastfeeding.

But that may change.

Her movement to tackle childhood obesity, announced during the president's State of the Union address, holds the promise of advancing the promotion of breastfeeding as a strategy to improve the country's health.

For one, the CDC will lend expertise and technical assistance to the first lady's obesity-fighting initiative, officials at the agency say, and breastfeeding will play a part.

"There have been a number of attempts to try and get Michelle Obama on board with [breastfeeding promotion]," Laurence Grummer-Strawn, branch chief for the CDC's division of nutrition and physical activity told Women's eNews. "We have someone on our staff who is going to be working with her office over the next year on a number of issues related to childhood obesity. Breastfeeding is one of the things [our staff member] wants to take to her office and they are very open to that."

In addition, the U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, who launched a report about fighting obesity with Obama in late January, endorsed breastfeeding in workplaces, hospitals and communities, "as this practice has been shown to prevent childhood obesity," Benjamin wrote.

3 COMMENTS | Login or Sign Up to post comments


Black Maternal Health of New York City

High Death Rate of New York's Black Moms Analyzed

The Nation

Why is Michelle Obama Channeling Jackie O?


Michelle: Hold Your Head High; We Got Your Back


Tonya Lewis Lee Aims to Save Nation's Babies

Black Maternal Health

Black Infant Mortality Points to Moms' Crying Need


Black Fathers Opening Up About All That Love


Pregnant? Your Job Is To Take Care of Yourself

Some remarks from the feed of the UK website The Equality Trust on targetting obesity versus targetting a known cause of obesity:

"[The proposed approach is to have] public bodies ensure their policies 'reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage.' We'd argue that the best way to reduce the inequalities of outcome are to reduce the income inequality - you need to address the cause, not the symptom.... Take obesity as an example: our research shows obesity rates are higher in more unequal countries, and also that poor people are more likely to be obese. [The proposed approach] only requires you to address obesity, not address the income inequality that underlies it and a whole host of other health and social problems."

It will be interesting to see whether Michelle Obama is more likely to make the breastfeeding-obesity connection than she is to make the inequality-obesity connection.

I think Michelle Obama promoting breastfeeding would be fantastic. Especially among the African-American communities. In the Southeast (Where I live), a large portion of (not all) African-American women rely on the welfare system and WIC to provide vouchers to pay for formulas. Breastfeeding would be much healthier for their babies.

I believe we should be working to increase child activities outside for fresh air and exercise. Childhood obesity is heading towards becoming a way of life. I have my kids in soccer and when soccer is out of season, they are constantly outside, away from the television and video games.

My problem is this...just recently, president Obama cut the budget severely for child physical education programs in public schools. Leaving the schools without the funding to provide equipment and supplies for physical education. That's somewhat against her campaign against childhood obesity. They should work together to make sure that he isn't counter-productive to her campaign on childhood obesity.

Excellent article and points made! Thanks! There is no "downside" to this theme unless you're a formula company executive.


Series Overview

Black Maternal Health: A Legacy and a Future

Part: 19

U.S. Health Bills Show C-Sections Cut Two Ways

Part: 18

California Moms Live in Breastfeeding Haven

Part: 17

Lactation Breaks, Always Commendable, Are Now Law

Part: 16

Dr. Lu Puts 'M' Back in Maternal, Child Care

Part: 15

NYC Targets Black Women for Breastfeeding

Part: 14

Michelle Obama Urged to Speak Out for Breastfeeding

Part: 13

Tonya Lewis Lee Aims to Save Nation's Babies

Part: 12

Black Infant Mortality Points to Moms' Crying Need

Part: 11

Lawmakers Join Push to Close Maternal Health Gaps

Part: 10

Industry, Feds Entice Black Mothers to Bottle Feed

Part: 9

Midwives Fight AMA to Provide Black Maternal Care

Part: 7

Breastfeeding Not for You? Sisters, Listen Up

Part: 6

U.S. Black Maternal Hazards Tied to Social Stress

Part: 5

Black Fathers Opening Up About All That Love

Part: 4

Pregnant? Your Job Is To Take Care of Yourself

Part: 3

Maternity Center Showcases Full-Service Approach

Part: 2

Kindness RX Offered to Pregnant Black Women

Part: 1

Studies Plumb Depths of Black Maternal Health Woes