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  • Writer's pictureAyanna Robinson

Centering Equity and Reproductive Justice to Eliminate Breastfeeding Disparities

We hope you are enjoying Black Breastfeeding Week! The 2022 theme (and 10th anniversary year) is, “10 Years, A New Foundation”.

The rate of Black infants breastfed in the U.S. continues to rise. However, breastfeeding rates among Black infants remain below national and global breastfeeding targets for optimal benefits for moms and babies. Furthermore, Black women and children are disproportionately impacted by the illnesses that breastfeeding protects against.

  • Among all infants, Black infants had a significantly lower rate of exclusive breastfeeding at age 3 months (36.3 %) than did White infants (49%). At age 6 months, the rates of any breastfeeding were 44% among Black infants and 59.9% among White infants (Source: CDC) .

A New Foundation for Breastfeeding that Centers Equity and Reproductive Justice

SisterSong defines Reproductive Justice as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities”, which includes decisions, rights, and informed choices on infant feeding. The decision to, where, how, and for how long to breastfeed as well as the having the support and resources to carry out this decision is a reproductive justice issue.

Among barriers to increasing breastfeeding rates among Black women are structural barriers rooted in systemic racism. For example, Black women report being more likely to receive formula or to be encouraged to formula feed, in comparison to white mothers. For example, in one study, Black women were significantly more likely to be offered formula at the hospital in comparison to white mothers. Furthermore, hospital formula introduction was the largest predictor of breastfeeding duration, which suggests that hospital policies continue to undermine the breastfeeding confidence and ultimately hinder the breastfeeding journey of Black mothers. Furthermore, hospitals in areas with higher percentages of Black residents are less likely to provide recommended maternity care practices supportive of breastfeeding (Source: CDC).

Centering equity requires structural changes in healthcare systems that improve access to pre and postnatal breastfeeding education and expand access to quality breastfeeding support and resources for Black mothers. The following are ways in which we can move the needle on centering equity.

1. Eliminate Barriers to Providing Breastfeeding Education and Support to Black Mothers

Remove barriers for Black women to become IBCLCs and improve access to other Black lactation support professionals, like Certified Lactation Counselors and peer counselors. Provide scholarships for Black women to take required coursework to attain licensure for lactation counseling.

2. Support more expansive pathways to becoming lactation support professionals and uplift culturally congruent breastfeeding education.

Uplift models created by Black women, e.g. The Black Course, that address social-cultural and historical barriers to breastfeeding among Black women.

4. Finally, expand the implementation and evaluation of Baby Friendly Hospitals to areas with high populations of Black pregnant women to improve reach of evidence-based practices. Conduct evaluation studies that specifically measure the implementation of policies among Black mothers in Baby Friendly Hospitals and the impact of Baby Friendly Hospitals on breastfeeding initiation and duration among Black infants. Again, ensuring populations of Black women have access to care by Black lactation professionals is essential.

Additional Resources

Check out the organizations below who are centering Black Mamas and communities to eliminate breastfeeding disparities.

You can also find online classes on prenatal breastfeeding education and postnatal breastfeeding support from Black lactation professionals on our bEarth Work app.

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