Monday, August 4, 2008

Breastfeeding and Social Justice are Good Friends

"Last year, CDC researchers found black infants are twice as likely as white infants to be premature or underweight, or to die before their first birthdays."


That fact is from this article at Women's ENews. In addition, the article includes a couple examples of hospitals who are becoming certified "baby friendly" in an effort to encourage breastfeeding initiation particularly among African American women. One hospital even chose to pay $20,000 a year to buy formula instead of receiving it for free along with "baby welcome bags" with free samples of formula that are distributed to all new moms. That is impressive to me; that's real commitment to health.

Why increase breastfeeding to reduce infant mortality?
From the same article:
Mother's milk improves those odds. Breastfed infants are seven times more likely to maintain a healthy weight than formula-fed infants, notes a 2003 study in the journal Pediatrics. Breastfeeding also reduces infants' risk of asthma, diabetes, infections and sudden infant death syndrome, all more common among African Americans.

Just as breastfeeding can help black infants, so too can it help their mothers. Research shows African American women are 70 percent more likely than other women to die of breast cancer and doubly likely to be overweight or have diabetes.

A woman's risk of developing breast cancer decreases by 4 percent for each year that she breastfeeds, according to a 2002 study in the journal Lancet. Breastfeeding burns up to 500 calories a day and can help women shed weight after pregnancy. It can also help ward off obesity and diabetes, for which African American women are at higher risk.

For women of all races, breastfeeding can lower the risk of osteoporosis and ovarian and uterine cancers. The health benefits continue through the next generation: Studies show breastfed daughters have lower rates of breast cancer when they grow up.

I knew the breastfeeding rates were different among white women and African American women, but this article was the first discussion I'd seen of why:
"The trend dates back to slavery, when black women were wet nurses but were not allowed to breastfeed their own children regularly," says Kiddada Ramey, president of the Detroit-based Black Mothers' Breastfeeding Association. "Black women disassociated themselves from breastfeeding and continued to do so through the generations."

Modern-day African American mothers are more likely than other women to give birth at cash-strapped hospitals that lack lactation consultants and often give away formula companies' free "welcome baby" packages to patients who take them home and get accustomed to using formula instead of breast milk.

Among some black women, formula is preferred because it has come to symbolize affluence, success and a special treat for babies....

African American women are also three times more likely than other women to live below the federal poverty level and may face difficulty buying breast pumps. Or they may be unable to take time to pump breast milk if they hold low-paying jobs that lack workplace flexibility.
I was breastfed and so were my brothers, and I breastfeed Jack even thought it was a huge struggle for the first 9 months. Someday I'll write that whole story down, when I can handle it emotionally. Suffice it to say I pumped like a maniac to try to increase and sustain my milk supply. I pumped at home, at work, in hotel rooms, in a little kitchen space during a retreat day, in my office on conference calls, and even in the car--while driving! I did that for over a year, then put the pump away except for trips. Now, the boy still nurses sometimes, more on this trip because it's a guaranteed comfort when his little sleep schedule is all messed up.

I think all breastfeeding mothers deserve some kind of superhero suits because not only can it be very challenging to learn this new skill at the time of highest sleep deprivation, it can also be very challenging to negotiate space and time at work and in public. So just as a very short list of helpful perspectives to nurture the determination it can take to push through, here's a list of...

The Breastfeeding Mom's Bill of Rights
The right to breastfeed wherever you are
If you have a right to be somewhere with your baby, you have a right to breastfeed there. ...

The right to choose how long you breastfeed
You have a right to breastfeed your child for as long as you see fit. ...

The right to pump breastmilk at work
You have a right to be bold in asking your employer for accommodations to pump breast milk at work. ...

The right to raise breastfeeding concerns in court
You have a right to raise breastfeeding concerns in legal or civic matters, such as child custody cases or jury duty. ...
Also in Babytalk there was a "breastfeeding license" that showed state-by-state rights. In California, for instance, mothers have the right to breastfeed wherever they have the right to be. In Washington, though, the law is weaker: it's just a guarantee that a breastfeeding mother can't be charged with obcenity for flashing a bit of boob. I can't find that "license" online but I'll check in my pump bag when I get home and see if I can find the one I printed out and track down a link.

Go boob! And, happy "World Breastfeeding Week"!


A.Ho said...

It should come as no surprise that as a childless male I've never considered what the challenges of breastfeeding a baby might be. I've also never thought about why those who choose not to make e that choice. It is always interesting to me to be made aware of the changes that modern life has wreaked upon our humanity. When such a basic and essential process as breastfeeding has become a challenge, hassle or imposition on our lifestyle it is certainly time to reassess the situation.

Aaron Hodges

A.Ho said...

edit [I did not proofread] -- I've also never thought about why those who choose not to breast feed make that choice.

umm.... Go boob.

nod said...

I'm glad to see a source for this info, I had heard anecdotes but now I have a link to ... uh, link to. I'm just getting ready to go back to work and would love to hear your story. I imagine, that just like LaLa's birth, this returning to work will be nowhere near as easy as it's supposed to be.