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.

Page 2 of 2

Looking at Low Breastfeeding Rates

Black Women Breastfeeding: a Multi-generational Story

Obama's obesity initiative comes at a time when breastfeeding advocates are intensifying their efforts to understand why African American women have the lowest breastfeeding rates in the country.

Last December, the CDC held its first national expert panel to investigate what health leaders can do about the relatively low breastfeeding rates among African American women, which dropped, along with breastfeeding among other women, when infant formula became a cultural norm in the 1950s.

"It is hard to explain to a young mother that formula is really not necessarily the best when society and advertisement is saying something else," said Terry Jo Curtis, founder of the Indiana Black Breastfeeding Coalition in Indianapolis.

Loveless, also a breastfeeding support technician at the largest maternity hospital in Cincinnati, says that African American women lost breastfeeding generations ago.

"In Ohio, not even half of the black mothers are breastfeeding," the 33-year-old African American mother of five said. "That explains why diabetes and obesity is so high in black communities. Why our babies are not as healthy as others."

In lieu of Obama's public endorsement, a community of breastfeeding activists have pinned their hopes to a do-it-yourself linking of her to breastfeeding by finding references on the Internet. They say Obama's breastfeeding story has the power to validate a movement to normalize breastfeeding.

"No one as high profile as Michelle has come out and spoken positively about their breastfeeding experience," Berggren said. "By not speaking about it, we confirm the tacit assumption that breastfeeding is somehow dirty or private or not normal."

Piecing Together a Picture

One day Loveless scavenged the Internet for hours, looking for information about Obama's breastfeeding experience, which she said could be used to encourage mothers she works with.

"I looked, looked, looked," she said. "I found some articles referring to her breastfeeding but no outright details."

One article is the 2007 People Magazine story, which reported that Obama was "still breastfeeding her newborn second daughter," when she interviewed for an executive position in Chicago.

There are a few more news references, all posted in different blogs and forums, forming a collage of Obama breastfeeding items.

Shealy also collects links of news stories that mention Obama breastfed.

"Michelle Obama really understands mothers need maternity leave to be able to breastfeed and go back to work," Shealy said, citing a 2008 article from the Toronto Star in which Obama reportedly said that as soon as you learn how to breastfeed, "you're back at work."

One find made Loveless particularly happy. The passage is in Barack Obama's 2006 "The Audacity of Hope," in which he says:

"While Michelle was getting some well-earned sleep, I would stay up until one or two in the morning, changing diapers, heating breast milk, feeling my daughter's soft breath against my chest as I rocked her to sleep, guessing at her infant dreams."

Malena Amusa is a New York-based reporter completing a book about her adventures in New Delhi, India.

Note: Women's eNews is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites and the contents of site the link points to may change.

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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