Monday, September 2, 2019

Racial Disparities Persist for Breastfeeding Moms

August 24, 2019 (PBS News Hour): Racial Disparities Persist for Breastfeeding Moms, by Laura Santhanam:

A recent study released by the CDC indicates that while 83 percent of mothers report breastfeeding babies at birth, substantial racial disparities exist with 85% of white mothers and 69% of black mothers reporting that they breastfed.  Several factors appear to contribute to the difference, including lack of support for breastfeeding in maternity wards and lack of community support including maternity leave.  PBS News Hour explains:

Previous research shows hospital maternity wards that serve larger black populations are less likely to help black women initiate breastfeeding after giving birth or offer lactation support following delivery, according to the CDC study. Often, staff in these facilities instead offer black babies formula.

Another serious barrier against breastfeeding for some black mothers is the need to return to work shortly after giving birth, according to previous studies the CDC cited. Black women are more likely than others to need to return to work earlier than 12 weeks, and tend to be confronted with “inflexible work hours” that make consistently nursing and expressing milk difficult, the study authors wrote.

Differences in breastfeeding rates are significant because breastfeeding can improve the health of mothers and their babies.  In the United States, the maternal mortality rate of black women is 3-4 times that of white women and the infant mortality rate of black babies is more than twice that of white babies.

The U.S. has one of the lowest breast-feeding initiation rates in the industrialized world and is the only developed nation that does not mandate paid maternity leave.  "In July 2018, the Trump administration drew criticism when they rejected a policy that supported breastfeeding at the World Health Organization, under pressure from the infant formula industry."  In 2010, Congress required that large employers provide reasonable break times for nursing mothers for up to one year as part of the Affordable Care Act.  However, despite the law, breastfeeding remains difficult for women in low wage jobs and jobs that lack flexibility.

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