Black babies are being breastfed less and racism in healthcare is on the rise again Calavia-Robertson

When Plainfield resident Kia Gentles gave birth to her son nearly nine years ago, the black mother-of-two decided to do something she hadn’t seen any of the other women in her family do: breastfeed.

“My mother didn’t breastfeed. My sisters didn’t, my aunts didn’t, I don’t think anyone in my family did that,” she said, adding that she’s proud to be “a first-generation breastfeeder, although she had to find out for herself. ”

Your pride is justified. After all, the 40-year-old Gentles has joined the ranks of other black women in New Jersey and across the country who, like her, are the first in their families to breastfeed, thereby helping to reduce racial disparities in breastfeeding. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 59% of black mothers reported breastfeeding in 2008, compared to 47% in 2000.

It’s a significant increase, but still, black women in the US have the lowest breastfeeding rates of any racial or ethnic group at 69.4%, according to the CDC. Black women also breastfeed for the shortest time, on average, compared to other racial and ethnic groups.

This is partly because black women are more likely to be persuaded to use formula in the hospital, face economic pressures to return to work soon after childbirth and earlier than any other race, and experience inequalities in access to health care, all of which are associated with lower breastfeeding rates, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The common assumption is, “Black women don’t breastfeed,” said Chanelle Andrews, the first black president of the New Jersey Breastfeeding Coalition, a statewide breastfeeding support and advocacy organization.

“It’s implicit bias and systemic racism that feeds into this narrative that black families don’t breastfeed and that black families don’t want to breastfeed,” she said.

“And that’s why it often happens when [Black women] Go to our prenatal doctor visits, we’re not briefed or explained what our infant feeding options are…instead it’s just ‘oh you’re going to give your baby formula’ and the conversation ends there.

Andrews says she experienced this first hand when she gave birth to her son almost 10 years ago.

“Before he was born, I received no information from my [doctor] about breastfeeding,” she said. “And after that, even though I said I wanted to breastfeed, the lactation consultant at the hospital kept telling me, ‘If he’s hungry, just give him formula, just give him a bottle.'”

The lack of maternal health care providers of color, Andrews said, “and breastfeeding support groups whose members look like me” has also been a challenge throughout her breastfeeding journey.

It’s one of the reasons Jersey City mom Renata Thomas, 21, says many black moms choose “not even to bother with breastfeeding.”

Thomas says she breastfed her 21-month-old daughter and is now breastfeeding her 2-month-old son. “But in my circle of friends,” she says, “I was the only one breastfeeding, so for support, I researched online and just had to believe in myself that I could do it.”

“As black women, we lack education about the health benefits of breastfeeding and support when we want to breastfeed,” she said.

It’s unfortunate, but thankfully things are starting to change for the better, says Shanita Joy Murray, a Union County doula and lactation consultant who is black and recently worked with Gentles when their second child, 7-month-old daughter Ava, was born have positioning and snapping issues.

Union County doula and lactation consultant Shanita Joy Murray, of Choosing Joy Postpartum Services, worked with Plainfield mom Kia Gentles when she was having trouble breastfeeding her daughter Ava.

Murray, who is a mother herself and has breastfed all four of her children, says she’s noticed that there are more black-and-tan lactation consultants now than in years past, and says it’s likely due to high demand.

“It’s interesting, but I think with all the attention that has been given to black mothers’ health and health inequalities in general lately, it’s kind of motivated women of color,” she said.

“It has made her more eager and excited to learn about doulas and breastfeeding, and it has made her focus on having someone in her corner, both during pregnancy and postpartum, who cares for her.” she and her health can use.”

Murray says almost all of her clients, with a few exceptions, are black women. For Gentles, working with Murray was an experience she describes as “seamless.”

“It was important for me to get that guidance from someone who looks like me, who was there, who did it, and who would be there to support me,” Gentles said. “Being able to find someone like her who could relate to me and relate to … it really made a difference and meant a lot to me.”

Months later, Gentles says she’s “still going strong” on her breastfeeding journey.

It’s a happy ending. Proponents of breastfeeding, like Kameron Dawson, a staff attorney for national rights organization A Better Balance, say they want it for all mothers, “particularly black and brown mothers, who are being disproportionately harmed by both the economic and health aspects of this issue. ”

A Better Balance, focused on helping American workers gain the time and flexibility they need to care for their families, offers free and confidential legal help for workers who are pregnant or breastfeeding and information about their rights at work.

Laws about breastfeeding in the workplace vary by state, but there are state protections, Dawson said. Luckily for NJ moms, breastfeeding here is also protected by the NJ Anti-Discrimination Act.

“[The racial disparities in breastfeeding] cannot be solved with just one solution,” said Dawson. “It’s a complex issue that requires a lot of effort and collaboration from legislators, advocates and the women who experience these issues.”

Daysi Calavia-Robertson can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram at @presspassdaysi or Twitter @presspassdaysi.

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