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.
|Kimberly Seals Allers is an award-winning business journalist and founder and editor-in-chief of MochaManual.com, a weekly online magazine for moms of color. She is the author of "The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy" and "The Mocha Manual to Turning Your Passion into Profit." Kimberly is a divorcing mother of two and lives on Long Island, NY.|