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The Truth About Black Mothers and Breastfeeding

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Kimberly Seals Allers explores why more black women don't breastfeed.

woman breastfeeding her baby the mocha manual

Kimberly Seals Allers: The evidence just couldn't be ignored. For over 30 years, African-American women have had the lowest breastfeeding rates, and though the numbers have greatly increased in recent years, black moms still have the lowest breastfeeding rates of all ethnicities. And when it comes to the gold standard of infant nutrition -- six months of exclusive breastfeeding -- the rate among African-Americans is only 20% compared to 40% among whites.

MochaManual.com set about to uncover the mystery of why black women aren't breastfeeding more. We launched the "Breastfeed with Boldness" campaign, featuring exclusive breastfeeding content, to encourage more black women to see breastfeeding as beautiful, empowering, and sexy! Then through our online surveys, blog responses, and formal and informal focus groups in select cities, we talked to over 200 black mothers (and still counting) about their attitudes and perceptions about breastfeeding. The answers, thus far, may surprise you.

Misinformation, cultural myths, lack of support, anxiety, and family pressure topped the list of reasons why our group of otherwise savvy women chose not to breastfeed. Our mission continues. Our moms are still talking.

Black mothers speak:

... on the frequency fallacy

"I was nursing my son immediately after birth, but he was eating every two to three hours so I didn't think he was getting enough milk. I started giving him formula." -- Kelli, New Jersey

"My mother-in-law said the baby wasn't getting enough milk because she kept feeding so often." -- Latisha, Washington, D.C.

(Note to all moms: Since breast milk is natural and so easily digested, it doesn't sit in the tummy like manufactured formula, therefore breastfed babies eat more often. This is perfectly normal and expected, and as long as your baby continues to pee and poop, it is not an indication that the baby is not getting enough milk from you.)

... on making the commitment

"I started breastfeeding, but the baby was like a leech. He was on me all the time, I couldn't leave him with anybody, and after about three to four weeks, I started giving him formula and a bottle." -- Anonymous, St. Louis

"Breastfeeding is a serious time commitment, but what better gift to give to my baby girl. The sacrifice is soo worth it." -- Chantel, Washington, D.C.

... on anxiety about nursing in public

"I was embarrassed and anxious about how I could ever breastfeed in public. I didn't want to be stared at." -- Kristen, Philadelphia

"A lot of black women don't breastfeed because we aren't properly educated on the topic and we aren't aware of the many health benefits for mom and baby!" -- Karisma, Charlotte, N.C.

...on Mama's gotta pay the bills

"My need to return to work immediately after my paid maternity leave limited my desire and ability to breastfeed." -- Elizabeth, New York

... on loving it to the max

"Breastfeeding helped me shed those baby pounds and it was an incredible bonding experience with my daughter. My family kept asking me 'why are you doing that,' but I didn't let them bother me. My husband was supportive and I knew I was doing the right thing." -- Keria, Brooklyn, N.Y.

"I breastfed both of my daughters after a C-section. Although the milk was slow to come in, I was very happy to have breastfed as much as I could. Due to exhaustion and a bout of the baby blues with my second child, I had to supplement with formula. I breastfed/bottle-fed my first child for four months and my second child for three months. It was a wonderful and empowering experience. I never felt more in touch with myself as a woman and human being." -- Anonymous blog respondent

"It was the most beautiful and empowering experience of my life." -- Stacey, Tampa, F.L.

... on black men and breastfeeding

"My fiancé thought it was disgusting. I said I didn't care what he thought, but deep down I let his opinions affect my decisions. I only breastfed for a few weeks. I'm not very proud of that." -- Anonymous, Chicago

"My husband was super supportive. Even when his mom made offhanded comments about the baby being hungry and asking if I knew what I was doing, he had my back 100%. He was the most wonderful partner I could have ever asked for." -- Krystal, Mississippi

"I think more black men need to be educated on the benefits of breastfeeding and some of our cultural hang-ups. I think more black women would breastfeed with more support from our men." -- Alicia M., Detroit

... on when breastfeeding intentions go bad

"Awww. Breastfeeding really is one of the very best relationships between a mother and her child. Sadly, I missed out on this opportunity ... or should I say, it was taken from me. Due to minor complications after birth, my daughter was taken up to the NICU. While there, she was given both a pacifier and a bottle. The nipple confusion was so fast and I was devastated. I wanted to breastfeed my baby so badly, but she fought and fought at the breast as an infant, then came the supplementing formula and breast milk, and then since she wasn't gaining weight I had to do formula solely. I am hoping to have a second chance to have this experience and to provide this service to my future child." -- Anonymous

Join the conversation about breastfeeding. Did you breastfeed? Tell us why or why not. What are your thoughts on why black women don't breastfeed more? Share them in our Community.


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13 comments so far | Post a comment now
claweather May 19, 2009, 2:34 PM

I think it is because they don’t like the feeling of being sucked on constantly.

Pansy Moss May 19, 2009, 3:13 PM

You know it’s odd; my mother and grandmother nursed, so I always emotionally considered breastfeeding a “black” thing because it is what I saw. As I grew up, and saw first hand the stats you write about (that most black women in deed do not nurse), it has been hard to reconcile in my mind that nursing is NOT a “black” thing. I suppose what your mother does has a lot to do what you do as a mother.

BTW, I have 7 children and have been nursing for nearly 16 years straight. We have used child-led weaning. I weaned ranging from the shortest time period up to 7 months to the longest 4 1/2 years. My last 5 never even saw a bottle.

M May 19, 2009, 7:15 PM

why are they showing that picture like that. thats a little bit to much breast for me. i can understand the article just fine without having to see all that hanging out. when women do breast feed in public they have themselves covered up properly to show respect to the general public and themselves. hopefully that picture is not the new trend. lets not forget class and respect writers.

bb May 19, 2009, 7:59 PM

M - You can’t be serious. Ever seen any mainstream magazine cover, you’ll see WAY more breast than that.

Breastfeeding-Magazine.com May 19, 2009, 8:13 PM

M’s comment is why some women have a problem. Why does showing a baby EATING bother people, but you can’t go into a grocery store without seeing more breasts on the half-naked women on the cover of every magazine? That’s just crazy!

Ann May 19, 2009, 9:54 PM

I am surprised and even shocked that this is even a discussion. I did not know that so many black women do not breastfeed. I breastfed all three of my children and would never change a thing. I never considered that I would do anything else. Breastfeeding is the absolute most gratifying, loving, bonding thing you can do with your baby. Plus, you lose the weight from pregnancy so fast it’s amazing. You will never know a more satisfying experience with your child and the health benefits to the child are unmathched. I strongly recommend breasfeeding.

BF Saavy May 20, 2009, 7:57 PM

I do not know the answer to this question about our black sisters- I look at this from more of a perspective of socio-economic class and not ethnicity. It appears that most families with higher education and teens tend to be increase our nation’s breastfeeding rates whereas, the unfortunate mothers with less formal education and income do not breastfeed as much.

This is a concern for me; but more of a concern is the lifestyle choices that we as Americans are choosing without any thought of how it’s going to impact our children. Our children did not ask to be born therefore we should not subject them to less than perfect feeding methods by choice.

It is my desire to re-educate our society as a whole, regardless of color, and increase the breastfeeding rates. We as a society have so many obstacles to overcome in regards to our infant feeding choices!

“Human babies deserve Human milk!”

My family is very blessed to be in a state that supports my right & decision to breastfeed in any public place. I pray that the rest of the nation jumps on board.

stefanie December 8, 2010, 12:32 AM

Well, I had four babies I breastfed and I was low income. I didn’t finish my BA because my focous was my children. I also cannot believe its a discussion but, these are the statistics. I think its an influence of american culture. We culturally have always birthed naturally and brestfed. I also birthed at home so, again I beleive as a birth advocate and coach it is lack of education. People will always have their opinions when it comes to newborns. You must educate yourself and have te tools necessary to stand firm in what you believe in.The most common misconceptions are my baby needs supplementation because they are not growing enough. Also, my milk didn’t come in. Well it takes tow days in the meantime you have colostrum. When pregnant and after go to a La Leche League meeting. Also, find a lactation counselor or postpartum doula to assist you postpartum with breastfeeding. It is hardest the first time. Also, you must find a peditrician who is supportive. They make money off promoting stuff. They are always going to tell you your baby needs to supplement. There are so many chemicals in baby formula. Its really quite dangerous and unhealthy. It creates alot of avoidable health issues in babies.kellymom.com is a great resource also La Leche Legaue.
My website is http://hebrewearthmama.weebly.com

Shaquana January 16, 2011, 1:36 PM

I think it’s more of a misinformed issue when it comes to breast feeding. When I became pregnant with my first son and was asked if I wanted to breast feed or bottle feed, I chose to breast feed but unfortunately I was not making enough milk and tried supplementing for what I wasn’t making with formula. It broke my heart but I eventually had to give it up and give him formula exclusively. With my second son, I decided to try it again and I must say it’s going well. It gets hard sometimes and I do wonder if he’s not getting enough because he eats alot but then I have to remember that breast milk does not stay on a babys’ stomach like formula does which causes them to eat more frequently. I intend to feed him this way until he’s almost a year old. I’m praying that all goes well. Good luck to everyone who’s trying or deciding to do this. Just don’t give up. There so much to walk away with when it comes to breast feeding.

fizywelko January 20, 2011, 8:39 AM

This is a really neat have for me, Must allow that you are one of the superfine blogger I e’er saw.Thanks for bill this advisory article.
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Elle February 9, 2011, 6:14 AM

I mentioned your post as a resource, in one of my recent breastfeeding articles. http://cleverlychanging.com/?p=2053

i hate to say this but... March 9, 2011, 5:51 PM

A lot of men see the breast as “theirs” yours or the babies. Sometimes if you breastfeed your partner can become well, jealous and say mean things like, “that kid is spoiled.” (talking about an infant) Already in an emotional state a lot of women let these comments affect them. It’s why you can see breasts all over the hottest actress in the magazine aisle at the grocery store but if a woman pulls out out breast to feed her baby those same men will look disgusted. Not all men do this. I am just saying men need to be educated on the benefits of breastfeeding as well because they usually see their woman’s breast as just theirs alone.

john March 21, 2011, 7:18 AM

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