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Sahira Long's picture

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Recently MedStar Georgetown University Hospital became the first maternity facility in the nation’s capital (in fact the entire Washington Metropolitan area) to achieve elite designation as a Baby Friendly Hospital. As president of the D.C. Breastfeeding Coalition, I applaud this achievement. I personally witnessed the tremendous work and dedication it took for all involved including the hospital’s executive leadership, the lactation services department and the entire maternal and child healthcare team to achieve this honor.

I'm conflicted, however, because I work on the other side of the city, in an area of the District that consists primarily of African American families that do not benefit from the services provided by MedStar Georgetown. Many of the mothers I counsel choose against breastfeeding, most refuse to even try. These mothers often express that they are comfortable giving formula because it has worked for so many of them and their friends. In fact, 2006 CDC data indicated that while 97percent of non-Hispanic Whites in the District initiate breastfeeding, only about 55 percent of non-Hispanic Blacks do. My fear is that the disparity in breastfeeding rates will only increase unless facilities closer to where I work follow Georgetown’s lead. As Georgetown celebrates, I struggle to find financial support to keep the only lactation support center on our side of town open.

Many of the women I serve are living proof that the “Breast is Best” message doesn't resonate in our community. Last week, I actually convinced a mother to try breastfeeding for the first time with her third child after an extensive discussion of the risks of NOT breastfeeding. When she returned with her other children, she disclosed that she was no longer breastfeeding but remarked that I was the first person that was successful in getting her to try. Perhaps her next child will be breastfed for longer than two weeks.

To the MomsRising community, I’d like to pose a question: What more do you think the African American, breastfeeding and medical communities can do to encourage more African Americans to start and continue breastfeeding?

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