There’s no doubt about it – public awareness and support for breastfeeding is at an all-time high. In fact, we just may be reaching the “tipping point.” Recent years have seen an unprecedented level of attention and commitment to improving the “landscape of breastfeeding support” and the media has taken notice.
Breastfeeding may be a hot topic for journalists and reporters (not all of it positive). But take a look beyond the sensational headlines and you’ll find advocates, health care professionals, employers, policymakers, and families working together to develop and implement real solutions to help families reach their personal breastfeeding goals. All of that hard work is paying off!
A new Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) entitled "Progress in Increasing Breastfeeding and Reducing Racial/Ethnic Differences — United States, 2000–2008 Births" showed that the percentage of mothers who start and continue breastfeeding is rising and gaps in breastfeeding rates between African American and white mothers are narrowing.
More families are receiving the breastfeeding support they need and deserve, and those families are living the statistics – making fewer doctor visits, taking fewer sick days from work or school, reducing their family’s risks of cancer, obesity, and a host of other acute and chronic diseases. Significant disparities remain, however.
Most families today are faced with barriers that threaten breastfeeding success, but study after study has shown that African American women are more likely to encounter them. Since our founding, the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) has worked tirelessly to make the policy, systems, and environmental changes needed to remove these barriers. We won’t quit until the job is done.
Strategic, targeted efforts are needed to make breastfeeding possible for all African American families, and many effective and innovative initiatives are already underway.
- Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE) is working to reduce the breastfeeding disparities among African American women, and to strengthen the health of their babies and families, through mentoring, training, breastfeeding support groups, social support, outreach, education, legislation, health policies, and social marketing.
- With support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and working closely with Baby-Friendly USA, NICHQ (National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality), is leading the Best Fed Beginnings project, a nationwide effort to make quality improvements to maternity care to better support mothers and babies to able to breastfeed. The participating hospitals are responsible for more than 275,000 births each year in the 29 states with the lowest breastfeeding rates and highest rates of supplementation during the hospital stay..
- The Affordable Care Act (ACA) includes the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” provision, requiring employers to provide time and space for hourly employees to express milk during the work day. ACA also requires insurance providers to cover certain preventive services, including breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling, with no cost sharing. This is especially important since African American women with young children are more likely to be employed full time, and may need to take a shorter maternity leave.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food & Nutrition Service, (USDA) Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program provides trained peer counselors throughout the country for one-on-one help and support.
- Fathers Supporting Breastfeeding is another project of the USDA/WIC Program, targeted to African American fathers so that they may positively impact a mother's decision to breastfeed.
- Groups like the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association in Detroit or the African American Breastfeeding Network of Milwaukee are working to eradicate the racial disparities in breastfeeding rates, starting in local communities across the country.
These and many other efforts are already working to make breastfeeding possible for African American families and it is imperative that we keep the momentum going!
Social norms, cultural beliefs and practices, lack of family or community support, and inadequate breastfeeding accommodations in the workplace remain barriers for thousands upon thousands of breastfeeding families. It’s not enough to know these barriers exist—action is needed to address them.
Media coverage must reflect the diversity of all mothers and families. Families must support and engage in the breastfeeding relationship. Communities must create an environment that meets the needs of breastfeeding families. Health care providers in every clinic, hospital, and doctor’s office—not just the ones in white neighborhoods—must offer accurate, comprehensive breastfeeding information and access to support. Lactation consultants, educators, and mother support counselors representing the diversity of American mothers are needed in every corner of our country. Employers must do their part to make working and breastfeeding possible and the opportunity must be available for all employees, not just those working in certain settings or positions.
The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding has outlined 20 concrete action steps needed to ensure every mother has the opportunity to reach her personal breastfeeding goals. The document identified USBC and our affiliated state breastfeeding coalitions as key implementation partners…but we can’t do it without YOU!
In just eight years breastfeeding initiation among African American mothers increased more than ten percentage points. This is tremendous progress, but there is more work to be done. The Call to Action has provided advocates with valuable new tools and resources to really move the needle, and with your help we will eliminate the racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographic disparities.
The time is now! Let’s work together to create a world for our daughters and granddaughters where breastfeeding support is built into our communities, our health care system, employment institutions, and everywhere that families interact in our society. A world where the healthiest choice is the easiest choice, no matter who you are or where you live.
The Blk BFing: Making HERstory campaign doesn’t end here. Join the USBC, ROSE, and MomsRising for a Twitter chat on Wednesday, February 27 from 9-10 p.m. EST. The conversation will continue on Facebook with a series of infographics published throughout the week
Every tweet, share, and “Like” matters and is an important step toward normalizing breastfeeding. Exposure to relevant images, resources, and information may make all the difference for a mom in your life: join the conversations on Facebook and Twitter today!