Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I Have a Dream - Black Breastfeeding Week

August is breastfeeding awareness month because although the US has come a long way in supporting mothers, there is still a long road ahead of us. Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for infants and is good for the new mother as well. This year, nearly 77% of infants were ever breastfed. At 6 months, 49% were still breastfeeding and only 27% at 12 months.(a) Not a bad start, but not a very good one a year later.

Today, on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, I wish I could say his dream has been reached. As of 2008, although nearly three quarters of US babies have ever been breastfed, only 59% of black babies have.(b) That compares to 75% of white and 80% of Hispanic (non-white or black) babies. I'm not going to pretend I know why black communities aren't supporting each other to breastfeed or don't have the support from lactation consultants. I think it's a complicated issue that could pull many reasons from many ideas. Whatever the underlying cause, it's a fact. Black babies are not getting as good of a start as their white and Hispanic counterparts. We need a month for breastfeeding awareness, how much more so do we need this week to help black babies and their mothers increase the support and knowledge to give all Americans a better start?

Kimberly Seals Aller over at proposed such a week. This week, the last week of August, breastfeeding awareness month, that happens to coincide with Dr. Martin Luther King's famous speech. While I don't necessarily agree with everything she wrote, you should definitely check it out and think about what she has to say. Why do so few black women choose to breastfeed?

From my limited personal experience, I can tell you it is harder for most black women than for us white women to start and continue breastfeeding. Growing up in an area that was more than 50% black, riding the bus every day to work with mostly black people and attending a breastfeeding support group for months when only 1 black women attended, and only a couple of sessions at that, I am positive the support is not there. The black woman who did attend two or three classes came with her questions and looking for support from the other mothers. Her husband didn't even want her to nurse. She said he kept asking her when she was going to stop because it's gross, not natural, those aren't for the baby. Although she had a pretty good response ("When formula is free!"), it shows what is most important for some. What if formula was free? Breast is still best for more reasons than the cost.

I dream of the day when we don't need a Black Breastfeeding Week. When all new mothers have the support they need to successfully breastfeed if they want to and have the knowledge and understanding of why it is so important to do so.

How are you going to support ALL mothers in their quest to give their babies the best start possible?

(a) CDC Breastfeeding Report Card 2013
(b) CDC Report. February 2013

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