“Breast is best” is not a slogan invented by hippies and granola eaters. From a totally scientific POV, breast milk is absolutely the real deal. Thank goodness we have formula, in case a mom can’t or chooses not to breast feed, but there is no question that formula is just a corporation’s best guess at imitating what Mother Nature has carefully designed over the past ... say ... million years!
Breast milk has scores of nutrients especially designed for a baby human’s growing body and brains. It is literally alive with antibodies and tons of white blood cells to fight off infection. (In the first days after birth, it even contains as many infection-fighting cells as can be found in our blood!) For these reasons--and many more--working to increase national breastfeeding rates has been a major U.S. health goal for decades. In fact, it is such an important public initiative that the entire month of August is dedicated every year as National Breastfeeding Month. And, nestled within this month-long celebration is another very important commemoration; August 25-31 marks the fourth annual Black Breastfeeding week.
Recent CDC data shows that 75% of white women breastfed for some period of time, versus 59% of black women. That’s a big gap. And it is very important from a public health perspective. Nursing lowers the risk of SIDS by about 50%. That is an urgently needed benefit for African-American babies who have a 2-3 times higher risk of SIDS each year, compared to Caucasians. And, nursing your baby helps moms, too! Women of all races can significantly lower their risk of ovarian and breast cancer by breastfeeding (and the longer they nurse, the lower the risk).
In the past, black women had a lower risk of breast cancer than white women, but that gap has closed. And that’s extra trouble for women of color because they have a much higher mortality if they do develop breast tumors. The American Cancer Society published the 2012 finding that the risk of dying from this disease is 42% higher in black women over white.
Calming Crying and Getting Sleep Boosts Nursing Success
Persistent crying and exhaustion are the top reasons moms abandon nursing. Studies show that exhausted moms are much more likely to get depressed (which reduces breastfeeding rates by 50%) and to develop creeping doubts about the quality and adequacy of their milk. That’s why, a personal mission of mine has been helping all new parents master the skills needed to calm their baby’s fussies and get more sleep.
Over the past 12 years, my Happiest Baby team has trained thousands of educators in dozens of countries to teach new moms – and dads – the soothing/sleep techniques called the 5 S’s. These five simple steps include swaddling, the side/stomach position, shushing, swinging and sucking (described in the DVD/book, The Happiest Baby on the Block). They often quickly reduce infant crying, boost sleep…and even promote parental confidence and breastfeeding success.
I am proud that hundreds of our educators work in programs supporting women of color all across the US, from hospitals to military bases to teen parent clinics to WIC programs. For several years, Happiest Baby classes have been taught in New York City’s Harlem Children’s Zone (the nation’s preeminent model for breaking the cycle of poverty) as part of their Baby College and Father Support curriculum.
Where Black Mamas Can Get Breastfeeding Advice
All new moms, from the beginning of time and from all parts of the world, have relied on family/community support to succeed at breastfeeding their children. Modern moms can get that support from their experienced friends, doctors, La Leche League (LLL), or from a local breastfeeding consultant. And, additional support is available to low income mothers from the national Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
A quick online search for black breastfeeding support and similar terms can point you in the right direction to a group or a consultant in your area. Fortunately, through the dedicated work of may public and private agencies, that separation is shrinking. From 2000 to 2008, breastfeeding among African-Americans increased from 47% to 59% and nursing for at least 6 months in that population almost doubled (increasing from 17% to 30%). That is great news for babies. But, we cannot declare victory, yet. We need to continue Increasing the support black moms get in the hospital, the doctor’s office, and the workplace until we totally close the gap. I applaud #BlackBreastfeedingWeek for promoting awareness of the great benefits of breastfeeding. Please ... help spread the word!