If you follow us on Twitter and Facebook you may have noticed that we’ve been sharing some important messages about breastfeeding as part of National Breastfeeding Month. But did you know that Black Breastfeeding Week is also observed in August? Black Breastfeeding Week starts on August 25 and ends on August 31. During this time organizations and partners come together to raise awareness about the racial disparities (differences) in breastfeeding rates that exist in this country, and what needs to be done to change this.

What the data tells us about differences in breastfeeding rates and why it’s important

According to the latest information available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (also called CDC), most babies born in 2015 in the United States (about 83 percent) started out breastfeeding. By the time they were 6 months old, only 58 percent of babies were breastfeeding. And at 12 months, less than 36 percent were still breastfeeding. These stats show how fewer babies are getting the benefits of breastfeeding, as time goes by.

However, according to CDC reports, in comparison to white and Hispanic babies, black babies were less likely to have ever been breastfed. Overall, black babies are 15 percent less likely to have ever been breastfed.  This means that less black babies are getting the benefits of breastfeeding.

Breast milk offers many great benefits and is the best food for babies in the first year of life. Because breast milk has antibodies, it helps protect babies from many illnesses. It also can reduce a baby’s risk for sudden infant death syndrome (also called SIDS). SIDS is the unexplained death of a baby younger than 1 year old. In the U.S. the rate of SIDS is higher among black babies than white and Hispanic babies.

Breastfeeding also benefits moms because it may lower their risk of stress and chronic health conditions, like high blood pressure and diabetes. In the U.S. these two health conditions affect black adults at higher rates than white adults.

Breastfeeding challenges and barriers

There are many reasons why a mom may not be able to continue breastfeeding, including personal, social, economic and environmental factors. These factors can affect black women disproportionately (unequally) and make it very hard for them to continue breastfeeding, or to ever even start. Some specific challenges that affect breastfeeding rates among black women include:

  • Needing to return to work soon after birth due to unpaid family leave

  • Lack of access to professional breastfeeding support

  • Not getting breastfeeding information from their health care providers


Working towards equity in breastfeeding

Women’s health is at the core of the well-being of a community. Improving women’s health helps improve the overall health of her community and future generations. We believe that increasing access to high quality supportive and culturally-responsive health care is vital to improving the health of all moms and babies. This includes breastfeeding support.

Through its Health Equity Workgroup March of Dimes works toward leveling the playing field and achieving health equity.