Black Maternal Health

Part: 15

Breastfeeding Not for You? Sisters, Listen Up

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.

More Outreach Needed

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 Lower Risks

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 important developmental head-start is often neglected.

Among African American women that's particularly true.

In 2004, 74 percent of U.S. women initiated breastfeeding soon after giving birth. Among black women it was 60 percent.

By the time infants reached 6 months of age--a key health target--only 14 percent of U.S. infants were breastfed exclusively. Among black infants it was 7 percent.

Only 36 percent of U.S. babies received breast milk in combination with formula or other foods at 6 months of age. For African American babies make that 29 percent.

Black women are the least likely to breastfeed, even those of us with a college education, health insurance and a nice paying job. African American women across the spectrum breastfeed less than women who have only a high school education, less than women who live below the poverty line and less than adolescent mothers, according to the Centers for Disease Control 2004 National Immunization Survey.

Copyright 2009 Women's eNews. The information contained in this Women's eNews report may--with the prior written authorization of Women's eNews--be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.

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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