August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month, and this final week shines a spotlight on disparities Black women face. The CDC says fewer Black mothers breastfeed compared to White mothers, and COVID-19 has likely widened that gap.
Brittany Stinney breastfeeds her three-month-old son Kevin. “I looked down and see my little son nursing, and even through the pain and the discomfort or whatever it is I'm feeling, and the struggles, it's a beautiful journey,” she says.
But according the CDC, it’s a journey only 69% of Black moms and their babies experience, compared to 85% of White mothers and babies. Lack of exposure is a main factor, with generations of Black women not breastfeeding since slavery times.
Ana Rojas-Bastidas is a lactation counselor. She says, “Black mothers were expected to give up nursing their own child so that they can nurse the children of the White families. So it already is really creating a traumatic experience between the idea of what breastfeeding is.”
A recent study published on the American Academy of Pediatrics Gateway finds Black babies are nine times more likely to be given formula in hospitals than White babies. Nzinga Jones is a breastfeeding advocate. She says, “A lot of times the providers will assume that you're going to not breastfeed, and so they don't even provide the same levels of education and support.”
The CDC says breast milk lower risks of infections, asthma and obesity. Nursing moms are less likely to develop certain cancers, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes, diseases that disproportionately impact Black women.
The issue is now compounded with the pandemic disproportionately affecting Black communities. Many new moms are unable to get in-person lactation help, and some hospitals are separating moms suspected of having COVID-19 from their newborns. Rojas-Bastidas says, “You have got to give these mothers their first hour with their child.”
Stinney credits her breastfeeding success to her family and friends and says Kevin is thriving. “He's not like a chunky baby, but he's a healthy boy," she says. Stinney hopes he’ll continue to nurse for several more months.