By Tribune Staff

August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, which highlights the importance of breast milk as a primary source of nutrition for infants. 

In addition to the general National Breastfeeding Awareness observance throughout the month, August 25 – 31 is Black Breastfeeding Week, which is designed to specifically highlight the disparities in breastfeeding rates among Black women and raise awareness to challenges unique to the Black community. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Black families have the lowest rate of breastfeeding initiation among all ethnic groups and Black mothers experience a disproportional number of barriers to breastfeeding.

To be sure, Black mothers continue to face a number of barriers around breastfeeding, including lack of education and information, confidence and community and family support. 

Some of those barriers are economic. For example, Black women’s labor participation rate of 61.2 percent is higher than the rate for all other women, according to U.S. Labor Department statistics. Additionally, Black women are most likely to be the primary economic support for their families. In fact, they are twice as likely than white women to be the primary breadwinner. 

This means that shortly after birth, many Black women experience economic pressures to return to the workplace earlier than any other race.

Some barriers are more societal, and even historical. Consider the manner in which society has sexualized breasts to the point that people are routinely shamed for breastfeeding. Compounding this is the fact that Black bodies have been historically over-sexualized  in the media and degraded. The perception of Black women as hypersexual is a persistent stereotype that negatively impacts the sexual health and rights of Black women. Additionally, the traumatic history of Black women during and after slavery as wet nurses for white women means that for some, breastfeeding is associated with a lack of choice. 

The Advantages of Breastfeeding 

And while overcoming these challenges will take work, the benefits to breast feeding outweigh them. 

There has been significant research relating to breastfeeding, pointing to important health outcomes for mothers and babies. And there are additional financial and environmental advantages to breastfeeding as well.

Baby’s Health:

• Breast milk is a superfood that provides all nutrients needed for physical and mental development

• Confers a healthy immunity by anti infective constituents in colostrum and breast milk which helps build the infant’s immune system

• Prevents infections caused by germs that contaminate artificial feeding bottles and teats

• Reduces the risk of developing obesity and allergies

Mother’s Health:

• Helps mothers recover from childbirth more quickly

• Reduces fertility by delaying returned ovulation after birth resulting in wider child spacing and safer childbearing

• Reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular disease

• Releases two beneficial hormones: prolactin that allows you to relax by producing a sensation of peace and nurturing and oxytocin that enhances the sense of love and attachment you feel when you and your baby are connected through breastfeeding.

The Environment and Your Wallet 

• Breast milk produces no waste and requires no extra packaging

• Many women do not menstruate when breastfeeding and therefore need fewer towels, tampons or cloths. This reduces the need for fibers, bleaching, packaging and disposal

• Breastfeeding can save money in the long run – it is estimated that the cost of formula during the first year of baby’s life is up to $3,000 retail, and that doesn’t include bottles, nipples, and fuel and/or fare for trips to the store.

• Breastfed babies tend to be healthier, saving families time and money spent on doctor visits and medicines.

• Breastfeeding equipment, such as breast pumps and milk storage bags, can be purchased with pre-tax dollars from flexible spending accounts (FSA), or are tax deductible for women without an FSA so long as their out-of-pocket medical costs for the year exceed 10 percent of their income (often the case in the first year baby is born)

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