Black Maternal Health

Part: 5

NYC Targets Black Women for Breastfeeding

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Public hospitals in New York City are marketing breastfeeding directly to their patients, a third of whom are African American. The plan is part of a goal to obtain official "Baby Friendly" designations for 11 hospitals.



Breastfeeding coordinator Ilana Taubman at Lincoln Hospital helping a new mother nurse her babyNEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--The breastfeeding coordinator at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx likes to tell people this story.

An African American teen mother had a baby and said she wanted to breastfeed her child. But the father of her baby did not support nursing.

Coordinator Ilana Taubman showed the father a video produced by Women, Infant, and Children, which encourages black fathers to support breastfeeding.

The young man reacted in awe and asked: "Why didn't we learn about this in school? Why didn't anybody teach us of the importance of breastfeeding?"

While nationally, 74 percent of new mothers breastfeed at some point, at Lincoln Hospital that figure is more than 90 percent. Almost all of the mothers delivering babies here are black or Latina and work blue-collar jobs.

"Breastfeeding is not natural anymore to most people," said Dr. Ray Mercado, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Lincoln Hospital. "We have to reverse that trend."

In an effort to do just that, Mercardo and staff make sure a healthy baby gets skin-to-skin contact with the mother and is latched onto her breast as quickly as possible after birth.

For the last three years, New York City's Health and Hospitals Corporation, the country's largest network of public hospitals, has been trying to gain "Baby Friendly" status for each of their 11 hospitals, including Lincoln. The World Health Organization certifies hospital and maternity centers as "Baby Friendly" only after they demonstrate they have taken the necessary steps to support breastfeeding, including buying formula rather than accepting gifts from formula manufacturers.

Eliminating Barriers for Black Women

If New York City's public hospital's leaders can attain Baby Friendly status, they can impact a huge number of women who are the least likely to gain the benefits of breastfeeding: black mothers. A third of the 23,000 mothers delivering babies in the network's hospitals are African American, proving an opportunity to eliminate some of the barriers that make black women the least likely to breastfeed in the nation. This also puts New York City in a unique position to become the first major metropolitan area to reverse the nearly three decade-long trend of low breastfeeding rates among black women.

"We hope we'll have the answers to promoting breastfeeding, especially among black women," said Dr. Susan Vierczhaleck, a pediatrician at Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital and co-chair of the hospital network's Baby Friendly steering committee. "There's not one magic key but certainly I'm hopeful."

The fact that black women breastfeed less than white women and Latinas concerns some health leaders who say breastfeeding is the lynchpin of efforts to improve maternal health. Breastfeeding reduces a mother's risk of cancer, diabetes and obesity over the course of her life.

"We need to normalize breastfeeding," Vierczhaleck said. "It should not be the Christmas of feeding a baby. If breastfeeding is the norm, then anything else is inferior."

In 2006, 60 percent of African American mothers breastfed at least once compared to 82 percent of Latina mothers and 76 of white mothers, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC.

The CDC recommends women breastfeed exclusively for six months. Roughly 30 percent of black mothers reached that goal in 2006 compared to an estimated 50 percent of Latina and white women.

Due to a bottle-feeding push in hospitals that began decades ago, a lack of education and cultural beliefs, black women across all socioeconomic categories breastfeed less than mothers with only a high school degree and mothers living below the poverty line.

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BLACK MATERNAL HEALTH SERIES

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