I am an African American Mama who breastfed both her babies. Yet according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African American Women lag far behind women of other ethnicities in breastfeeding. Why?
When I made the decision to breastfeed, both my mother and mother-in-law looked at me, noses squinched up, as if they had smelled something repugnant. Neither of them had breastfed their babies (3 a piece), and they could not fathom why I would want to do such a “primitive” thing. My mother-in-law even went so far as to say, “You’re gonna have saggy boobs”. That fell on deaf ears because I had my kids so much later in life my breasts had already begun to head south! I explained to them both the benefits of breastfeeding; fewer occurences of ear infections, reduction in the incidences of asthma and the mother baby bond. Both became supportive of my breastfeeding and I was able to breastfeed each of my children for just under a year.
The Nation’s Health recently looked at the disparities in breastfeeding and has been asking, “Why is it that African American Women breastfeed at much lower rates than other women and what can be done to improve their breastfeeding rates and success.”
The biggest factor is support. While nationally many hospitals have increased their support and are advocating for exclusive breastfeeding (motivated in large part to earn the designation “Baby Friendly”), and are making lactation consultants widely available and ceasing to distribute formula care packages provided by formula companies, public health experts note that the support of a woman’s intimate family and friends plays a far more significant role in whether or not a woman decides to breastfeed and whether or not she succeeds. A woman is highly influenced by those around her.The responses of my mother and mother-in-law could have completely sabotaged my breastfeeding efforts. Strong, influential women like a mother or mother-in-law can make or break breastfeeding efforts. A supportive partner is also crucial to breastfeeding success. Women who have the support of their partners are also more likely to breastfeed and to have breastfeeding success. In communities in which breastfeeding is the norm, women are more likely to initiate breastfeeding and to be more successful at breastfeeding. Community groups and organization where mamas can gather and gain support also have an important role in breastfeeding success.
Education is extremely important. Many people are unaware of the significant health and emotional benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and baby. When I explained these important benefits (i.e. fewer ear infections, reduction in allergies and asthma, reduction in the incidence of reflux, bonding between mother and baby, and the financial savings) to my mother and mother-in-law, both quickly became supporters. Among teens, breasts are seen only as objects of sexual pleasure (as depicted in music videos and other media) and many young women report never having seen a woman breastfeed a baby and are unaware that the God given intentional use for breasts is to feed the young. We have to return to such basics.
We also have to consider the financial benefits and convenience of breastfeeding. Formula is not cheap and if a baby has any sort of allergy, specialty formulas are even more expensive than standard formulations. Additionally, with breastfeeding, there is no need to bring additional supplies in the diaper bag, no need to worry about temperature or if the formula is mixed in the right proportions to water. Breastmilk is always the proper temperature, the proper composition of water to nutrients and ready for immediate consumption! This is a huge consideration as we enter into Health Care Reform and the initiation of the Affordable Care Act. If we need to consider cost containment, Breastfeeding versus formula feeding must be targeted.
Finally, African American Women need to see other African American Women breastfeeding. While the CDC and other advocacy agencies have begun to show images of African American mothers nursing their infants, most informational material still shows white mamas and babies. Subconsciously, the message is “black mamas don’t breastfeed”. It may seem trivial, but we are visual creatures. When African American mamas are aware that other African American mamas breastfeed and can actually see other African American mamas breastfeed, they are more likely to breastfeed themselves.
While overall rates of breastfeeding among African American women has increased, these rates still lag far behind women of other races and ethnicities. With the known health advantages of breastfeeding for both mamas and babies, including the potential to lower infant illness and death in African American babies (who have the highest rates amongst infants of all ethnicities) Breastfeeding support and education must be made a priority for all mamas, but for African American mamas in particular.
Mamas, Sometimes life is simply devastating!
I was going through messages in e-mail and on Facebook and I came across a post from “Former” Mama on Bedrest Lynsey. She posted that she had been on bed rest for 14 weeks with twins and delivered her boys via c-section in mid August. She thought she was done and all was well. When her baby boys were just a week old, they were both diagnosed with neuroblastomas, a malignant form of cancer that develops around the sympathetic nerves (nerves controlling things like breathing, heart rate, etc…) and primarily affects infants and young children under age 5. What a blow! Here this mama was thinking she was home free, all is well, ythe babies are here and bed rest is over! Then, WHAMO! A sucker punch to the heart from out of nowhere.
When I read this message, my heart just sank. Scenarios like this just seem too cruel to be real. I find myself often asking the Divine Powers That Be, “How can you be so cruel? Why must it be so devastating?”
The Almighty most certainly doesn’t answer to me and doesn’t have to justify him or herself, but I still have to ask. And more pressing I wonder, “What can I possibly do or say to make this mama feeling even a teeny, tiny bit better?”
Life is sometimes completely unfair. You have young teenagers getting pregnant at the drop of a hat while loving, mature, couples who have the means and desire to raise a family are unable to conceive. You have women who struggle to maintain their pregnancies and carry a baby to term suffer repeated miscarriages. You have women who must endure weeks on bed rest to bring their children into this world. Then you have mamas like Lynsey who have done everything they could possibly do, finally give birth only to learn that they may not have their babies for very long. Why???
Well, I’ve not received any sort of heavenly answer to these questions, no heavenly guidance as to what I should do.
So I’m winging it-again! Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond was “conceived” to be a support for mamas who have high risk pregnancies, who are prescribed bed rest during their pregnancies and for mamas who struggle in the immediate post partum. Initially conceived with the intention of being a local support organization, it has grown and has embraced mamas from all over the United States, Canada, the Carribean, the UK, Belgium, Germany, The Middle East, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Obviously, I cannot get to every mama in every country, but because of the wonders of the world wide web (the internet) we mamas can come together and share ideas, tips and information for navigating this thing call “child bearing”.
One of the things that we do best is support mamas in need. So mamas, please share your words of encouragement and comfort to Lynsey. She, her partner and her boys have a long way to go and a tough battle to wage. We may not be able to stop in and give her in person support, but we can post to her here and give her words of encouragement. Love on her, mamas! Let her know that she and her family are not waging this battle alone.
Indeed this life can be devastating. Indeed this life can be cruel. But it is my firm belief that no matter what happens, it is our human obligation to love and support one another. I think that we are all aware of the fact that this could have been any one of us. For those of us who have lost children-either during pregnancy, during delivery or in the immediate post partum and beyond-we know this difficulty all too intimately. I am asking you to join me in supporting Lynsey and her family as the boys continue chemotherapy. Mamas, Keep Lynsey in your thoughts and prayers and Let’s pray these boys well!