Black Women Lacking in Breastfeeding

Black women are less likely than any other group – such as white and Hispanic women — to breastfeed their babies, statistics show.

WASHINGTON — Anoa Dzidzienyo, 27, is a married mother of one son living in Takoma Park, Md. Despite Dzidzienyo’s busy schedule, the Howard University graduate student and owner of Shea Baby Butter, a small business that hand makes organic skin products for babies, said she still finds time to breastfeed her son — because she thinks it is vital.

"I decided to breastfeed because I knew how much better it would be for my son," said Dzidzienyo, who said her busy schedule that often leaves her ripping and running all day and at times sleepless at night.

"What I didn’t realize was that it made us so close and connected and helped me really transition smoothly into motherhood".

Unfortunately, doctors said, many black mothers are not following Dzideienyo’s example.

Black women are less likely than any other group – such as white and Hispanic women — to breastfeed their babies, statistics show. According to the Center for Disease Control, nationally, the breastfeeding rate amongst black infants is about 16 percent lower than whites and far less than Hispanic women.

Pediatricians around the national are encouraging African-American to breastfeed because of the numerous health benefits to children from infancy into adulthood.

 “We need more women of color to breast feed,” said Dr. Michal Ann Young, pediatrician at Howard University Hospital. “Many women do not have knowledge of how beneficial it is.

“Human breast milk is the perfect milk for human babies.  Breast milk can reduce baby’s risk for diarrhea, ear infection, obesity and type 1 and 2 diabetes.”

Far too many children are given commercial formula instead of natural milk, experts say. The commercial formula is missing the vital nutrients produced in breast milk.

Dominique Wright, 57, can attest to this.

Wright is a mother of three children, ages 21, 25 and 33. She said she didn’t breastfeed her first-born child due to a lack of knowledge, but she did for her last two children. She said she noticed a huge difference in the health of her youngest two children from childhood all the way up to their adult years.

“My first born son had a lot of health issues growing up, including ear infections and intestinal problems,” said Wright, who declined to use her real name. “I was always running back and forth to the hospital with him. My youngest two children have never had any health issues other than minor colds.”

Although experts believe that breast milk is best for babies, breastfeeding is not possible for all mothers. Women who are HIV positive should not breastfeed. Also, women who have received breast reduction surgery are likely to have a low supply of breast milk.

There are options for women in these situations.

Across the country, there are several milk bank services that collect, screen, process and dispense brast milk donated by nursing mothers.

Sharing breast milk may seem a little distasteful or strange to some, but it is a growing trend among women around the country.  Frozen breast milk is sent out to several breast milk banking centers by donors and dispersed to mothers in need.

This practice can carry many risks, depending on who is doing the donating.

Human Milk Banking Association of North America, an organization that promotes the health of babies and mothers through the provision of safe pasteurized donor milk and support of breastfeeding, has a process at assures no bacterial growth is present in the milk samples.

“The majority of women who are getting the milk are mothers of sick and premature babies,” said Liz Brooks, lactation consultant and member of HMBANA board of directors. “So we make sure that we remove any pathogens while at the same time retaining the anti-infective property,”

The milk is poured into glass flasks and mixed to ensure an even distribution of milk components. Four ounce glass bottles are filled with milk and pasteured. Pasteurization eliminates bacteria while retaining the majority of the milk’s beneficial components.  The milk samples then go through lab testing to check again for bacterial growth. Any milk that is contaminated is discarded. The milk is then frozen and stored and sent to hospitals and individual recipients at home.

“Human milk is great for moms and for babies. It helps reduce short and long term illnesses,” Brooks said. “Anything that can be done to support breastfeeding and breast milk use is good for families.”

For more information on milk banking, click here.

The Washington Post recently carried an article that found that a small percentage of breast milk bought on the Internet — one in 10 packages — was topped off with cow milk.