By Aisha Qaasim
Thursday, July 24, 2008
World Breastfeeding Awareness Week is in August and Aisha Qaasim flags the need for stronger cultural support in the United States, particularly for African American moms. Negative attitudes, she says, are making our children sick.
Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews.
(WOMENSENEWS)--"That is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen," she said to the small woman at her side loudly enough to ripple through the weekday lunch crowd at the Westfield Shopping Mall in Bethesda, Md.
I've brushed off some pretty awful insults in my life.
In law school I received hate mail covered with pictures of gorillas demanding that I, and all of the other African American first-years, go back to "Cooley High."
Yet, I was caught off guard when I realized the insult was aimed at me, as I sat on a bench breastfeeding my 2-month-old daughter.
A nameless woman at a mall was somehow the one to find the insult that I could not toss onto the neat pile of words that would never hurt me. It did hurt. And, these attitudes toward breastfeeding are making our children sick, especially African American children, who are the least likely to get the benefit of mothers' milk.
Our babies are more than twice as likely to die before age 1 than Asian, Latino or white babies. A 2001 study in Pediatrics concluded that an increase in African American breastfeeding rates alone could reduce this disparity.
In other words, we cannot afford to treat breastfeeding like the choice between cloth and disposable diapers.
As mothers we have gotten out of the house and have shown off our pregnant bellies at the office and on the red carpet.
Now we need to give and get strong cultural support to breastfeed wherever we please.
We also need to know our legal rights: Forty-five states have enacted laws that either grant mothers the right to breastfeed in public or exempt breastfeeding from state obscenity laws.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers feed infants breast milk and nothing else for the first six months of life, and continue to breastfeed for at least one year. Yet, many women dread the negative attention they receive while breastfeeding in public.
To counter that, we all need to amplify the reasons breastfeeding is so good for mother and child.
Compared to their formula-fed counterparts, breastfed children stand a better chance of withstanding a long list of health problems including diabetes, leukemia, cold and flu viruses, bacterial meningitis and obesity to name a few. Some of these benefits continue into adulthood.
Women who breastfeed lower their risk of developing uterine cancer, osteoporosis, Type 2 diabetes and breast cancer over their lifetimes.
But the irony is that in today's ambitious parenting climate--where millions of dollars are being spent on educational toys and organic baby products--breastfeeding as the most impor