New Academic Study Offers a Clue to Explain Racial Differences in Breastfeeding Rates

american-academy-of-pediatrics-logo21The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding and complementary foods until at least the child’s first birthday. But past research has found that the breastfeeding guidelines are not adhered to by many new mothers, and this is particularly true in African American households.

A new study, written by scholars from several major universities and published on the website of the journal Pediatrics, offers updated data on racial and ethnic differences in breastfeeding and offer evidence on why racial gaps persists.

Sharon Landesman Ramey a professor at the Carilion Research Institute at Virginia Tech and one of the authors of the study, notes that “we found that higher rates of poverty and lower levels of education helped explain breastfeeding gaps between Black and white women, especially in determining whether mothers started breastfeeding in the first place.”

One surprising finding that may explain racial differences is the fact that the authors found that Black mothers were nine times as likely as White mothers to be given formula for their babies when they were still in the hospital. “In-hospital provision of free infant formula is related to Black mothers’ poorer breastfeeding outcomes,” according to Bernice Hausman, the Edward S. Diggs Professor in the Humanities at Virginia Tech  and an expert on the cultural aspects of breastfeeding.

Professor Ramey adds that “our results suggest that hospitals and policy makers should limit in-hospital formula introduction” as one method to reduce racial and ethnic breastfeeding disparities.

The study, “Racial and Ethnic Differences in Breastfeeding,” may be accessed here.


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  1. Marie Nadine Pierre says:

    Jah love. I breast fed all 4 of my children for at least 2 years. I am a 2nd generation American Ayiti woman who was born into a working class family in Brooklyn, NY. I remain a working class or impoverished person even though I received a BA, MA and I am ABD in 2 doctoral programs. I am currently completing a Ph.D. at a University in Europe. And, I always planned to breastfeed my babies. I also delivered all 4 of my living children at home or in birth centers. So, I highly recommend a campaign that encourages black women to seek pre-natal care from midwives instead of doctors at hospitals. Blessed love.

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