Seldom do I revert to childish gloating, but occasionally I just have to go there. Such is the case as I am gleefully reading the report put out by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention utilizing data from the National Center for Health Statistics which shows that Black fathers are just as engaged-if not more so-in the rearing and support of their children than fathers of other races.
Excuse me while I take a moment to gloat.
“Ha! Told yaaaaaaa!!”
“Na na na na na, you were wrong!!!!!”
Now you may be wondering why I am so over the moon about this research? Well, there are several reasons.
1. I am sick to death of hearing how black men are no good, they “hit it and quit it” and don’t take responsibility for the children that they help create.
2. I am sick and tired of hearing that all the ills of the world are because of black men.
3. I am thoroughly done with the portrayal of black men-black people actually-as uncivilized and bringing down the status of US culture globally.
4. And I am beyond through with this nation feeling that it is okay to kill a black male simply because he is present in time and space!
Now you all may be wondering, “What in God’s name does any of this have to do with high risk pregnancy and bed rest??” Well, it has everything to do with it. As I have often reported, African American women and infants have the worst birth outcomes of any other race or ethnicity in the US, with 2-4 times the morbidity and mortality of women and infants of other races and ethnicities. An African American infant is more than twice as likely to die before its first birthday than infants of other races and ethnicities and this is due primarily to preterm birth!!!
Are you following me yet?
Let me continue. Ever since I can remember and at least for my adult professional life “the party line” regarding the black family has been,
“It’s the breakdown of the black family, and the absence of black fathers in particular, that is the cause of the high maternal and infant morbidity and mortality that exists amongst African Americans.”
As an African American, and now as a divorced single mama, I knew that isn’t at all the case but had no way of substantiating what I knew to be true. Now there is concrete data obtained by one of the most reputable scientific bodies in the United States that has shown what many of us African Americans already knew. Yes, many more African American children are born to and/or raised by “single” mothers, but what this study has shown is that while the parents of a child may not be married, they may in fact be together (co-habitating) and even if they are not living together, African American fathers are intricately involved in the rearing of and support (and here I do mean financially) of their children, in many cases more than White or Latino fathers.
So again you may be asking, “What does this have to do with preterm labor and infant mortality?” Stay with me.
There is a lot going on in the United States as regards race and quite frankly none of it is good. We have all seen and heard the news reports of police shooting unarmed African American men, racial profiling of both African American men and women, disparities in discipline for African American School Children and so on and so on and so on. These are daily facts of life, daily stressors for African American women, and daily stressors for the infants they are carrying. Additionally, poverty for all families is reaching heights not seen since the great depression and other times in our history. The unemployment rate is still teetering on the high side and looms highest amongst African American men. More depressing is the fact that people of any race with higher educations are now just as likely as those with little to no education to endure a prolonged time of unemployment, and those numbers are again higher for African American men. This amounts to markedly elevated stress for African American men and African American women, their partners. Stress, as well as poverty, is not good for anyone, but particularly not good for pregnant African American women and the infants that they are carrying. We know that stress is an independent risk factor for preterm labor, prematurity and low birth weight all areas in which African Americans have the highest rates. So I think that it is safe to say that poverty, unemployment and racism are far strong predictors and stressors on maternal and infant morbidity and mortality in African Americans than “absentee dads”.
Now I know that many of you are going to come right back at me and say, “But what about black on black violence? What about the crime rates in predominantly black neighborhoods? And we know that many African American men abandon their family responsibilities.” Agreed. But the data from this study, which was broad and the study well constructed, shows that despite all these negative influences, African American men continue to be hands on fathers, and at greater rates than white or Latino fathers.
I wholeheartedly admit that there is much that needs to be done within my culture to heal it. But let’s not look astray too much to lay blame. Much of what we see in these urban, depressed areas is poverty; boarded up buildings, non-existent stores and services, poorer schools and no revenue coming into these areas. Add to that no jobs, no way for people in these areas to support themselves and their families, no money, leads to crime and yes, homicides. Is it okay? No. Is it an excuse? Of course not. But let’s consider the fact that if people in these areas had jobs, income and ways in which to support and sustain their families, then, according to data from the CDC again, crime rates would in fact go down and quality of life would go up.
But I myself have veered a bit off topic. The bottom line is this-even in depressed economic times, even in economically depressed communities, even when jobless, even with the threats to their lives black men are taking care of their children. Contrary to the sensationalized news reports and the stereotypic depictions on television and in movies, black men are taking care of their children-their families. The question now becomes, how can we as a culture, as a nation give them a hand so that this can continue? What are we as a nation, as a culture doing to reduce poverty, increase jobs, increase opportunities for education so that not just black men, but all men, can have the means to raise and support their children?
Finally, we have to ask the question, “Have we too narrowly defined “family”? We know from this work that there are men and women living together and raising their children but not married, or married and helping to raise their spouse’s children. Aren’t they still a family? What about blended families? Large extended families? This is all data that is yet to be analyzed-or even obtained. We know that African Americans being of the African diaspora are a “tribal” people. Migration and dispersion-both voluntary and involuntary-has also played a role in the depressed socioeconomic status of African Americans resulting in decreased community support for families. How are we as African Americans going to re-establish our communities and our families going forward?
There are many unanswered questions and I am sure that many more studies will come about, but what we do know is this: African American men are supporting their children and its time to toss out the stereotypes of them as “absentee fathers” and do what we can to support their efforts and the efforts of all men who want to be active parents to their children.
Jo Jones, Ph.D., and William D. Mosher, Ph.D., “Father’s Involvement With Their Children: United States, 2006–2010”. National Health Statistics Report, Number 71, December 20, 2013
The Causes of Infant Mortality-The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
African-American Women and Their Babies at a Higher Risk for Pregnancy and Birth Complications–The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Black Unemployment Rate 2015: In Better Economy, African-Americans See Minimal Gains–International Business Times.
Murry, V. M., Brown, P. A., Brody, G. H., Cutrona, C. E. and Simons, R. L. (2001), “Racial Discrimination as a Moderator of the Links Among Stress, Maternal Psychological Functioning, and Family Relationships.” Journal of Marriage and Family, 63: 915–926. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2001.00915. x
The Absent Black Father Myth Debunked-by CDC–The Daily Kos
According to a recent study done by Brazilian Researchers published in The Lancet Global Health, “Breast-fed babies may be smarter, better educated and richer as adults”. This article so intrigued me that I had to read through and see just what the researchers saw as the determining factors.
According to the Medline report and the actual publication, Brazilian researchers followed enrolled and started following 5914 neonates who were breastfeeding to gather information about IQ and breastfeeding duration. The data was analyzed between June of 2012 and February 2013. 3493 participants remained from the original study group. The researchers found that the durations of total breastfeeding (in months) and predominantly breastfeeding (breastfeeding as the main form of nutrition with some other foods) were positively associated with higher IQ, higher educational attainment, and higher income. Babies who were breastfed for 12 months or more were found to have higher IQ scores, more years of education, and higher monthly incomes than did those who were breastfed for less than 1 month. So based on these findings, the researchers concluded that “Breastfeeding is associated with improved performance in intelligence tests 30 years later, and might have an important effect in real life, by increasing educational attainment and income in adulthood.”
While the results of this study are in line with many other studies, the article has aroused some criticism. Dr. David Mendez, a neonatologist at Miami Children’s Hospital, said “Parents should not take the message from this study that ‘if you do not breast-feed, your child will not be a successful adult.'” The researchers found that it was duration of breastfeeding that was key. It did not depend on the infants’ families being wealthy or on the parents being highly educated, outcomes in the infants still showed breastfed babies were more successful and those who were breastfed longer were more successful.
What those critical to the study did point out is that it does take time and effort to breastfeed. Parents who are dedicated to breastfeeding and mamas who have a strong support while they breastfeed are going to be more successful. Moreover, they are more likely to be invested in the overall development of their child, making choices and exhibiting habits that nurture their child and guide them in more positive behaviors. They caution people against thinking that breastfeeding alone will give a child an advantage. However, the more its studied, the more we can see that breastfeeding does in fact lead to numerous benefits-for infants as well as for their mamas. Here are some of the benefits:
- Breastfed infants are getting high quantities of saturated fatty acids (of which breastmilk is composed) and which the infant brain preferentially uses for growth and development
- Breastmilk contains important immunologic factors that are passed from mama to baby so that babies are protected from many dangerous diseases while they are growing and being immunized.
- Breastmilk is always ready; perfect amount, at perfect temperature. No need for bottles, or additional time to mix or prepare
- Breastfeeding is economical. No additional costs to the family
- Breastfeeding provides additional “skin to skin” time for mama and baby and numerous studies have shown that skin to skin, cuddling and closeness improves growth and development in infants
- Breastfeeding has been shown to help some mothers lose the pregnancy weight
- Breastfeeding is linked to reduced rates of breast cancer in mothers.
With all of these benefits and more, one would think that Breastfeeding would be a “no brainer” (pun intended!!). However, Breastfeeding is still somewhat controversial here in the United States, despite all the scientific evidence for its benefit, the “Breast is Best” campaigns and the recommendations from the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatricians. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 79% of American mamas initiate breastfeeding at birth, and at 6 months that number drops to somewhere around 27%. At 12 months, a mere 12% of mamas are still breastfeeding their babies. Barriers to breastfeeding include:
- Difficulty latching on
- Lack of support from parnter/familly
- Painful/sore nipples
- Insufficient milk supply
- Mother returns to work/limited ability to pump.
Many of these barriers are being addressed. “Baby Friendly Hospitals”(1) are allowing more time for mamas and babies to bond right after birth and during the hospital stay. Mothers are encouraged to breastfeed and lactation consultants are available to assist with any logistical difficulties. Lactation consultants are also available to answer questions partners or family members may have, and to educate the family on the benefits of breastfeeding and their important role in supporting mama.
Public breastfeeding is not widely accepted in the United States and many states, cities and local areas have laws/restrictions about how and where mothers may feed their infants. Breastfeeding advocates are working to have many of these laws and rules overturned, but face an uphill battle in some areas. Legislation has been passed in many states requiring employers to provide “pumping breaks” for breastfeeding mamas, as well as quiet, private and comfortable areas in which mamas can pump. These are all works in progress.
We cannot ignore the fact that up until the turn of the 20th century, everyone was breastfed. While the wealthy or nobility may have had “wet nurses” (other, often poor or servant lactating women breastfed their babies), all babies were breastfed until they were old enough to eat mashed table foods or cereals. It’s how we as a species survived. It has worked for centuries. Why is it suddenly “passe”?
I am sure that this article will continue to spark controversy. However, I hope that we don’t lose fact of the basic principle: babies were meant to be breastfed by their mothers. The physiology of a woman’s breast, and the milk that she makes is specifically designed to feed her infants regardless of the size of her breast tissue. Most infants can breastfeed unless they have a physical anomaly prohibiting them from doing so, and this is rare. Even in such cases, if mothers can pump, the infant can still reap the benefits in breastmilk. In mothers who have difficulties, with support, education and guidance, most all mamas who want to breast feed, can. The data is in and yes, Breast is best-for infants and quite possibly for the adults they will become!
1. Prof Cesar G Victora, PhD, Dr Bernardo Lessa Horta, PhDcorrespondenceemail, Christian Loret de Mola, PhD, Luciana Quevedo, PhD, Ricardo Tavares Pinheiro, PhD, Denise P Gigante, PhD, Helen Gonçalves, PhD, Fernando C Barros, PhD. “Association between breastfeeding and intelligence, educational attainment, and income at 30 years of age: a prospective birth cohort study from Brazil” The Lancet Global Health. Volume 3, No. 4, e199–e205, April 2015 (Released online March 17, 2015).
2. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is a global program that was launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 1991 to encourage and recognize hospitals and birthing centers that offer an optimal level of care for infant feeding and mother/baby bonding. It recognizes and awards birthing facilities who successfully implement the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding (i) and the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (ii).
I was watching Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday and she had this very lovely woman on named Dr. Shefali Tsabary. Dr. Tsabary is a clinical psychologist and an internationally known expert in “Conscious Parenting”. Her book, The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves and Empowering our Children is a bestseller on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com, and explains how we as parents are not to “lord it over” our children, but our job is to really get in touch with the spirit of our children and thus guide them towards their higher selfs.
Dr. Tsabary states that in the parent-child relationship, children actually mirror and act out issues parents have regarding their own childhoods, and this is often a source of stress between parents and children. For example, a parent who may be very insistent that their child be a soccer player may have had soccer aspirations themselves as a child. But the child may hate soccer and manifest this dislike by not being prepared for practice, trying to avoid practice, misplacing or losing equipment, etc…Then the parent and child get into power struggles; the parent trying to “instill good team skills and agility/athleticism” (actually their own desires for team skills and athleticism) and that child trying to assert his or her own preferences.
Dr. Tsabary also emphasized that we cannot expect our children to be perfect. Their bad behavior is just behavior and we should not take it personally. She said that when our children throw tantrums, it isn’t a reflection of us as parents, but a sign that the child is upset. Okay, I agree with that in theory, but each of my children threw exactly one public tantrum and I have to admit, it made me crazy and yes, I was concerned that other customers in the stores were thinking,
“She can’t control her kid!”
This is where we err, according to Dr. Tsabary. We should be focusing on what is going on and what has triggered our child. The tantrum isn’t about us. But when we take it and judge ourselves as parents for it, then we set our selves up for confrontation with our children.
I have not read this book (yet), but I was very taken with what this psychologist had to say. As someone raised in the “you do it because I told you to do it” line of parenting, I really do have a desire to be a more “conscious parent” and I do give my children a chance to voice their opinions. I actually came into conflict over it with my mother on a visit to my parents one summer. I asked my daughter to do something and she asked me “Why”. The moment she asked “Why”, my mother threw a fit and started yelling at my daughter to be quiet and to do what I asked. I actually had to “back my mother off” my daughter and tell her that I was fine with my daughter asking why she was to do what I asked. I then explained to my daughter why I needed her to do what I asked and she went ahead and did it.
“I’m not into this ‘new parenting,” my mother gruffly stated.
“It’s not ‘new parenting'” I said. “It’s allowing my children to learn to respectfully express their opinions. She wasn’t out of line, she simply asked a question about why I asked her to do what I asked.”
My mother grew up in a very different time than we live in now and in her day, Children were to be seen and not heard and to be obedient little robots, yet expected to live and function fully in the world. While one may argue that many grew up this way and have fared just fine, I know that I have had my own issues with communication and asserting my opinions. I don’t want either of my children to be this way. I want them to be firm in their convictions and to not be afraid to speak their minds.
I am looking forward to reading through The Conscious Parent and seeing what else I can learn and take into my parenting arsenal. I invite you, Mamas on Bedrest, to take some time to think about how you want to parent those little loves you’ve got growing inside of you. If you decide to read the book, please post a comment in the comments section below. I’d love to hear if and/or how this book changes your parenting perspective and what tips you are taking into your own parenting arsenal and the things with which you are in disagreement. I don’t feel that there is enough emphasis on really thinking about the type of parent you want to be, and quite frankly once the baby is here, there just isn’t time. So while you are hanging out and gestating, you may want to read this book and formulate your parenting style.