Every Drop of Breast Milk Counts. However, Breastfeeding Duration and Exclusivity are Important.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of an infant’s life and the continuation of breastfeeding, along with the introduction of solid foods, for one year or beyond (Of note, WHO recommends two years of breastfeeding or beyond for mothers worldwide in order to receive optimal benefits from breastfeeding) (1).
According to the latest national data published by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 74% of Black infants receive breast milk initially. However, the table below shows that the rates of any breastfeeding and the rates for exclusive breastfeeding drastically decline at three months and six months (2).
Table 1. Rates of any and exclusive breastfeeding among Black infants in the U.S., 2015
Source: CDC, 2019, Racial Disparities in Breastfeeding Initiation and Duration Among U.S. Infants Born in 2015
Why Duration and Exclusivity Matter
While any breastfeeding yields positive health benefits for mothers and babies, we should underscore the importance of breastfeeding exclusively (that is without supplementing with any other solids or liquids) and breastfeeding duration as important factors for optimal benefits. The evidence on breastfeeding highlights the dose-response relationship between breastfeeding duration and its protective effect against numerous health outcomes (1).
- Greatest reduction in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) risk is observed among exclusively breastfed infants (1).
- Exclusive breastfeeding for three to four months provides a protective effect for infants against allergic diseases, such as asthma and eczema (1).
- 4% reduction in the risk of overweight is observed per each month of breastfeeding (1).
- Infants breastfed exclusively for at least three months have up to 30% reduction in the incidence of type 1 diabetes (1).
- Less than six months of exclusive breastfeeding is associated with a greater number of childhood deaths experienced by Black infants and increased ear and gastrointestinal
- The decreased risk for developing ovarian and breast cancer is greater for younger women and for women who breastfeed for a longer cumulative duration (5).
The benefits of breastfeeding may be slightly greater among African Americans who
suffer the burden of multiple illnesses and diseases that breastfeeding protects against, including diabetes, SIDS, gastrointestinal infections, asthma, childhood obesity, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer (4)(5)(6).
Meeting Black Breastfeeding Mothers Where they Are
There are a variety of reasons why Black women end their breastfeeding journeys earlier than desired, including socio-cultural norms and attitudes, embarrassment with public breastfeeding, returning to work, self-efficacy, apathy and lack of support among health care providers, as well as, the lack of social support from family, peers, and work places (7)(6).
Where to Find Support
Support is critical to helping mothers overcome breastfeeding challenges. If you have questions or struggles along your journey in breastfeeding, you can get the support you need from a lactation consultant. Many mothers also find peer support from other moms beneficial because they receive information as well as emotional and network support. Check out our directory of support groups for Black moms. You can also find a list of Black lactation support professionals here.
1. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2012). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics, 129(3), e827-e841.
2. Beauregard JL, Hamner HC, Chen J, Avila-Rodriguez W, Elam-Evans LD, Perrine CG. Racial Disparities in Breastfeeding Initiation and Duration Among U.S. Infants Born in 2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:745–748. DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6834a3external icon
3. Bartick, M., Jegier, B., Green, B., Schwarz, E., Reinhold, A., & Stuebe, A. (2016). Disparities in breastfeeding: Impact on maternal and child health outcomes and costs. Journal of Pediatrics.
4. Jones, K., Power, M., Queenan, J., & Schulkin, J. (2015). Racial and ethnic disparities in breastfeeding. Breastfeeding Medicine, 10(4), 186-197.
5. Brown, J., & Peuchaud, S. (2008). Media and breastfeeding: Friend or foe? International Breastfeeding Journal, 3, 15. doi:10.1186/1746-4358-3-15
6. Reeves, E. A., & Woods-Giscombe, C. L. (2015). Infant-feeding practices among African American women: social-ecological analysis and implications for practice. J Transcult Nurs, 26(3), 219-226. doi:10.1177/1043659614526244
7. Johnson, A., Kirk, R., Rosenblum, K. L., & Muzik, M. (2015). Enhancing breastfeeding rates among African American women: A systematic review of current psychosocial interventions. Breastfeeding Medicine, 10(1), 45-62. doi:10.1089/bfm.2014.0023