Black mothers have the lowest breastfeeding rate compared to white and Latino women. However, local programs by black women helping other black women breastfeed seek to change this.
Several local programs across the country have been created to specifically help, educate and encourage black mothers to breastfeed their babies more often and for longer periods of time.
Oftentimes breastfeeding is viewed as a painful, taboo or little-understood practice within the black community. Writer Tara Pringle Jefferson recounts a particular exchange she had with family members at a barbecue when she informed them she was breastfeeding her firstborn. “The look of horror on their faces didn’t go away. ‘Ew! You do that?’ one of them asked.” Pringle Jefferson believes that negative attitudes toward breastfeeding in the black community lead to lower rates of breastfeeding.
In addition to negative attitudes, the socio-economic status of a black mother can contribute to the lower rates of breastfeeding. Black women who work full time are paid significantly less than white non-Hispanic women on average.
The black mothers who attend local breastfeeding advocacy meet-ups and programs often find other black mothers and women who are just as interested and eager to learn about how to properly breastfeed a child, to learn about sustainable diets for breastfeeding and, of course, for the encouragement from the group.
Leslie Curtis, a retail worker who attends breastfeeding network meetings in Milwaukee, says that attending the weekly meetings has helped her learn a lot. “I learn how to properly latch, properly pump, all the nutrition he’s getting… I learn a lot, and I love it.”
Studies have found that breastfeeding helps reduce a mother’s risk of certain types of cancers as well — cancers like breast and ovarian — while also reducing one’s chances of postpartum depression. These health benefits are especially important for black women, since they have higher mortality rates from breast cancer and higher rates of postpartum depression. In addition, black babies have higher rates of health disparities that breastfeeding can help counter.
The support black breastfeeding mothers receive from attending local breastfeeding advocacy meetings and having family support is crucial for them to begin and continue to breastfeed their children. “If my mother hadn’t been so adamant that I try breastfeeding, I probably wouldn’t have lasted as long as I did,” says Pringle Jefferson.