twitter facebook stumble upon rss

Is Slavery Why Black Women Aren't Breastfeeding?

sign up for the momlogic newsletter Tweet This

In the first of a series, Kimberly Seals Allers explores this phenomenon in search of answers.

woman breastfeeding the mocha manual motherhood in color

Kimberly Seals Allers: When it comes to breastfeeding, black mothers have somehow lost their way. 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 rates of all ethnicities. And when it comes to the gold standard of infant nutrition -- six months of exclusive breastfeeding -- among African-Americans, the rate is only 20% compared to 40% among whites. At a time when black infant mortality rates continue to climb to woefully high levels, momlogic and take a deeper look at why more black mothers aren't breastfeeding, and urge moms to give their infants the healthiest start.

Slave Owners Purchased Us As Wet Nurses

To get to the bottom of this breastfeeding business, it's important to go back. Waaay back. A long time ago, black women were notorious for nursing. In fact, slave owners used and purchased black women as wet nurses for their own children, often forcing these mothers to stop nursing their own infants to care for others. "On the one hand, wet nursing claimed the benefits of breastfeeding for the offspring of white masters while denying or limiting those health advantages to slave infants. On the other hand, wet nursing required slave mothers to transfer to white offspring the nurturing and affection they should have been able to allocate to their own children," writes historian Wilma A. Dunaway, in the book The African-American Family in Slavery and Emancipation, published by Cambridge University Press. And since breastfeeding reduces fertility, slave owners forced black women to stop breastfeeding early so that they could continue breeding, often to the health detriment of their infants, Dunaway writes.

wet nursing and slavery

Breastfeeding is for Poor People

But there's more to our story than breastfeeding interrupted at the hands of slave owners hundreds of years ago -- though many may argue that some vestiges of slavery still exist in the mindset of the black community. Aggressive marketing by the formula companies in the 1930s and 40s made formula-feeding the choice of the elite -- "the substance for sophisticates" -- white or black. And who doesn't want to be like the rich and famous? That marketing continues to this day, down to the formula company-sponsored bag of goodies you probably received on the way out of the hospital. Then there's something I call the National Geographic factor -- that is, most of the images we see of black women breastfeeding are semi-naked women in Africa whose lives seem so far away from the African-American lifestyle and experience.

"'Breastfeeding is for poor people,' my mom once said to me," explains Nicole, a 37-year-old mom from New Jersey, who breastfed two children for a year. "My mom is a very progressive woman, but this was the thinking of her generation. I couldn't believe it."

Breastfeeding Hurts and Takes Too Long

As children of that generation, many modern mothers don't have that breastfeeding legacy or support from their mothers, mothers-in-law, or extended family members. And due to the oversexualization of the breasts, some women have forgotten or are even uncomfortable with using the breast for its actual intended purpose. Go figure! Others worry that their man will complain (please tell him baby comes first). Myths such as "breastfeeding hurts" (truth: only if the baby is not latched properly) or "breastfeeding is too time-consuming" (truth: whipping out a breast is a lot quicker than sterilizing bottles, mixing, measuring, or heating up formula) still linger among black mothers.

Throw in the economic pressures that put many black women back at work soon after delivery, and there's a "why bother" mentality that makes breastfeeding seem more like a challenge and a chore. The results speak for themselves. According to national data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 45% of African-American women breastfed their babies during the early postpartum period, compared to 66% of Hispanic mothers and 68% of white mothers who breastfed during that same period. Of African-American women who do choose to breastfeed, the duration is short, with many discontinuing in the first days after birth, their data shows.

"Before I nursed my son and daughter, none of the women in my family had ever breastfed before," says Kathi Barber, founder of the African-American Breastfeeding Alliance and author of The Black Woman's Guide to Breastfeeding. "But I decided change would start with me when I learned breastfeeding has health benefits for mothers and babies alike."

We Owe It To Ourselves and Our Babies

And while modern white mothers have reclaimed breastfeeding as hip and trendy, with help from outspoken and high-profile celebrity moms like Angelina Jolie, black celebrity mothers are still mostly mum on the topic. As a new generation of confident, empowered black mothers, we owe it to ourselves and our babies to give them breast milk -- the very best. According to the CDC, black babies are twice as likely as white infants to die before their first birthday. A 2001 study in Pediatrics concluded that an increase in African-American breastfeeding rates alone could reduce this disparity. To do so, every black mother needs to become our own celebrity spokesperson (hey, we're beautiful with full lips!) to speak out and speak up to encourage and support breastfeeding in our own sister circles. It begins with you.

What do you think? Discuss in our Community.

next: Mel Gibson's Girlfriend Definitely Pregnant
119 comments so far | Post a comment now
Chicken Pox February 2, 2011, 9:52 AM

This website can be a walk-by for all of the info you wished about this and didn’t know who to ask. Glimpse right here, and you’ll definitely discover it.

Torty February 2, 2011, 3:53 PM

I’m pretty sure this article is the best.

Torty February 3, 2011, 1:30 AM

Thank you for your article.

Torty February 3, 2011, 5:28 AM

certainly like your web site but you need to check the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling issues and I find it very troublesome to tell the truth nevertheless I will surely come back again.

pet meds February 4, 2011, 5:29 AM

An cool post there mate ! Thanks for it !

Ara Kinney February 5, 2011, 6:17 AM

You should take part in a contest for one of the best blogs on the web. I will recommend this site!

Valencia February 7, 2011, 9:29 AM

My sisters and I were formula fed and grew up with all sorts of health issues. I breastfed my daughter for 2 1/2 years and as a Black woman, I am proud to have done so. It’s even helped me become healthier. I havent had a cold in such a long time! My sisters still get sick often (they are not parents yet).

It’s amazing how our history is tied into the new culture of today… many of us don’t even recognize it. Slave women had to wet nurse, stop breastfeeding their children early, work hard in the fields, separated from their husbands, treated as animals and the list goes on… Today we witness hard working mothers, whom are easy prey for wealthy formula companies, continuing that trend of not breastfeeding, working long hours for a to make a living,no proper support from spouses (many are prob single parents), and the list goes on!

The correlation is strong and I’m glad this article points that out. I counsel women in my community day and night about the importance of breastfeeding. I understand that not every woman has the ability to breastfeed; however, I must admit, it is challenging at times to be sensitive to some situations. Education and support is key to overcoming low breastfeeding rates.

Overall, we must continue to spread awareness, combat the myths, and educate our communities about the importance of breastfeeding. Breastfed babies grow to their full potential. Period.

Check it here February 8, 2011, 3:41 AM

Have you considered including a few social bookmarking buttons to these blogs. At the very least for twitter.

naprawa szyb samochodowych warszawa February 8, 2011, 9:44 AM

Thanks for another fantastic post. Where else could anybody get that kind of info in such a perfect way of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I’m on the look for such information.

stomatolog Zamość February 9, 2011, 8:47 AM

I just could not depart your website prior to suggesting that I really enjoyed the standard information a person provide for your visitors? Is going to be back often to check up on new posts

coptic777 February 10, 2011, 11:15 AM

The title of this article says it all. What an excuse for doing what in the best interest of the child & some of you here talk about it’s a choice etc. One more thing that explains why over 70% of black women in america are single. You all just do not get it.

Chickenpox Pictures February 19, 2011, 2:21 AM

How come at this time there zero much more a lot of these websites? Your content are perfect and get to themes or templates, that are unable to always be recognized all over the place. Please continue penning this sort of fantastic materials, it could be absolutely important. The net can be full of incredible waste, seeing that A single will be delighted when you learn anything. Exactly why typically are not there a lot more? Commonly do not abandon me dangling!

chicken pox virus February 23, 2011, 1:59 PM

This was really a fascinating topic, I’m very lucky to be able to come to your weblog and I’ll bookmark this page in order that I might come back another time.

erotyczne gry February 24, 2011, 2:09 AM


zarabianie w internecie February 24, 2011, 3:06 AM

Great job! nice articles!! congratulations from me!!

chicken pox scar February 25, 2011, 3:50 PM

Hi my friend! I want to say that this article is amazing, nice written and include almost all significant infos. I’d like to see more posts like this .

see it here February 28, 2011, 1:51 AM

This website is extremely cool. How was it made !?

tongkat ali March 1, 2011, 9:48 PM

Have you considered including some social bookmarking links to these sites. At the very least for flickr.

comet laptops March 3, 2011, 5:37 AM

Dead pent content material , thanks for entropy.

lego ninjago March 8, 2011, 7:20 AM

wow… nice!!!! I love it!

Back to top >>