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Breastfeeding is the best way to reduce Black infant mortality

Black Breastfeeding Week provides a chance to understand why many Black women don’t breastfeed—and to think about why it’s so important to do so. 

There’s never a dull moment in Hadijah’s house—She’s mom to 3 full-of-energy boys. When they were born, she made the decision to breastfeed. She knew breast milk would provide healthier nourishment for her babies than formula. Hadijah says, “Breastfeeding strengthened my mommy-baby bond. And I still appreciate that today!” 

Breastfeeding protects the health of moms and babies. But hospitals and providers are 9 times more likely to offer formula to Black women than White women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black babies die at twice the rate of White babies because Black babies are often born too small, too sick, and too soon. CDC estimates if more Black moms breastfed, 50% fewer of their babies would die. 

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Raising awareness

Black Breastfeeding Week (Aug. 25-31) began 8 years ago to raise awareness of the need to get more black moms to breastfeed. This year’s theme is Revive. Restore. Reclaim! 

On Aug. 28, 2018, the Tacoma City Council passed a proclamation recognizing Black Breastfeeding Week and encouraging everyone to nourish our families, communities and future. 

We support and encourage mothers and families through: 

Racial equity 

Many Black people experience worse birth outcomes and higher rates of disease. Since 2009, Black Infant Health (BIH) provides trusted and culturally safe services for Black pregnant and postpartum women and their infants through: 

  • Breastfeeding peer counselors. 

  • Childbirth educators. 

  • Group peer support facilitators. 

Those who support BIH attend monthly community meetings to share information, successes and challenges. They provide families with: 

  • Perinatal health education. 

  • Referrals to First Steps services. 

  • Pregnancy and parenting information and resources.  

This year, the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health took bold action to address the legacy of racism. Board members unanimously passed a resolution that declares racism a public health crisis. We strive to be an anti-racist organization—actively working to promote policies that dismantle racism. 

Why are Black breastfeeding rates low? 

The relatively low number of Black providers contributes to poorer perinatal outcomes. We work to build capacity for trusted and culturally safe resources for Black families. Black women breastfeed less than other racial groups because of: 

  • Culture—Negative feelings about breastfeeding are often linked to slavery. Black women were wet nurses for their slave owner’s children. Breastfeeding became taboo in some Black homes. As formula became popular, breastfeeding was viewed as an option for people with less money. Formula was seen as an option for elites. 

  • Lack of family support—The Black community doesn’t openly talk about breastfeeding. That makes it difficult for new mothers to how important it is. That can lead a mom to stop earlier than she planned. 

  • Social pressure—Pressures like free formula, formula advertising, lack of maternity leave or pumping/nursing breaks and breastfeeding shaming make it very hard to breastfeed. 

Why is it important for Black women to breastfeed? 

Breastfeeding improves bonding and child development. Black women should choose breastfeeding because: 

  • Fewer Black infants will die. Breastfed children receive immunity and nutrition from mom. This helps the baby create a stronger defense against communicable and chronic diseases. 

  • It provides many more benefits: 

  • It is easier for babies to digest than formula. 

  • Reduces the risk of SIDS. 

  • Helps mom lose pregnancy weight. 

  • If the baby is exclusively breastfed for 6 months, it provides natural birth control. 

  • It’s free! 

  • When Black women advocate for breastfeeding, more breastfeeding professionals will understand the needs of the Black community. That can help remove stigma around Black breastfeeding. 

This week—and always—we must raise awareness for and support Black breastfeeding!