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August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, which highlights the importance of breast milk as a primary source of nutrition for infants. Despite the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation to provide breast milk exclusively for the first six months of life, only about 24% of infants in Texas are fed only breast milk at this age and just 55% are fed any breast milk at all at 6 months of age.
Breastfeeding rates are even lower among minority groups. According to a CDC report released in 2019, Black families have the lowest rate of breastfeeding initiation amongst all ethnic groups and Black mothers experience a disproportional number of barriers to breastfeeding.
August 25-31 is Black Breastfeeding Week. It was created to highlight the disparities in breastfeeding rates among Black women and raise awareness to challenges unique to the Black community. Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women is hosting a FREE remote film screening of the documentary Chocolate Milk from Aug. 31 through Sept. 6. You can register for this free remote screening now through Aug. 28 here.
“Promoting breastfeeding in Black communities is important because it’s just one way to address health disparities and promote the health of mothers and babies to reduce some of the health issues Black women experience,” said Titi Otunla CNM, MS, Midwife Manager/Clinical Lead at the Women's Specialists of Houston at Texas Children's Pavilion for Women.
“Breastfeeding also increases maternal/baby bonding, encourages women to eat healthfully for their babies and also helps with weight reduction, a major problem in the Black community. There is also evidence that suggests breastfeeding can cause a reduction in health issues for mom and baby including breast cancer, allergies, obesity, etc.,” continued Otunla.
Black mothers continue to face an abundance of barriers around breastfeeding, including lack of education and information, confidence and community and family support. Many Black mothers don’t know they can get a free breast pump with a prescription and face challenges due to having to return to work to jobs that don't allow for opportunities to breastfeed or to express milk.
“It’s important that we support Black women in overcoming barriers to breastfeeding, and that includes more visibility of Black women who breastfeed in the media and lobbying for workplaces to provide space for pumping and give mothers time to express milk during the workday,” said Otunla.
“Additionally, Black women need more access to education about breastfeeding and need to know important information, like that The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) gives priority to breastfeeding moms when it comes to extra food supply,” continued Ontunla.
Donique Colbert, a lactation consultant at Texas Children’s Hospital who breastfed all five of her children, said that normalizing breastfeeding and educating women of color about the benefits of breastfeeding prenatally are key priorities.
“The best thing I experienced in my breastfeeding journey was sitting next to my cousin at a family gathering, breastfeeding our kids. No one blinked, no one said cover up. So, this is what we are passing on to the next generation in our family,” said Colbert.
Colbert says that a common barrier she sees is the lack of the availability of education for Black women to learn the importance of their baby receiving their milk. She says formula is marketed as a "convenience" which means breastfeeding can be seen as an "inconvenience." She also notes that lack of breastfeeding can be passed down from generation to generation.
“There is a whole generation that only formula fed and will pass that on to their daughters instead of researching what is best for their infants, and some mothers stop breastfeeding before they want to because of the lack of support of family and friends,” said Colbert.
“There is a website called Black Women Do Breastfeed, full of stories and pictures of Black women breastfeeding. It's motivational, but if some breastfeeding educators are not aware of where to steer a woman of color to embrace the beauty of what she's doing, she will fall in the trap of whoever is around her that's hitting her with the words of, ‘are you still breastfeeding that baby?’, ‘how long are you going to have him hanging off you?’ ‘is she getting anything?’ and ‘you need to just give that baby a bottle,’ said Colbert.
Please join us for the free remote screening of Chocolate Milk from Aug. 31 through Sept. 6. You can register through Aug. 28 here. Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women wants all mothers to have the tools they need to create a strong foundation for successful breastfeeding and bonding. The Baby Bistro in our Pavilion for Women is an outpatient clinic available to support mothers throughout their breastfeeding experience.