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NPR Story on African American Women and Breastfeeding

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A piece today on NPR about the low breastfeeding rates among African American women… and efforts to reach out to new moms. You can listen to the audio here. And here’s an excerpt:
When Kathi Barber gave birth a decade ago, she was the first in her family in generations to nurse, and was dumbfounded to realize she had no role models. Barber became obsessed with encouraging nursing among black moms, as numerous studies show that exclusive breast-feeding can reduce a baby’s chances of developing diabetes, obesity, ear infections and respiratory illness.
Yet Barber was frustrated that for many new mothers, their only image of this age-old act may come from a museum or a National Geographic documentary.
“Tribal women, with elongated breasts, earrings and tribal jewelry. And let’s say we’re trying to promote that to a 25-year-old, mmm …” she laughs. “I don’t think that’s going to do the trick.”
So Barber founded the African-American Breastfeeding Alliance and wrote The Black Woman’s Guide to Breastfeeding. As a lactation consultant, she travels the country putting on workshops and training sessions, and encouraging hospitals and family clinics to reach out to this community…
Barber says work is clearly a huge barrier, and black moms may be more likely to hold lower-wage jobs with no breaks allowed for nursing. African-Americans have also had to earn money since long before the women’s liberation movement.
In fact, Barber thinks you can trace part of the problem all the way back to the breakup of families under slavery, and the enduring, negative image of so-called mammies — slaves made to serve as wet nurses for their master’s white children.
That practice continued for domestic servants well past the end of slavery, and for Barber, it helps explain the ironies that played out later. In the 20th century, it was white, wealthy women who led the march to formula feeding, and minorities followed. But when white elites backtracked and made breast-feeding hip, most African-Americans didn’t buy it.
“Infant formula became a thing of prestige,” says Barber. “Breast-feeding was thought to be something that lower-class women did. So, if you can think of it as a political issue, it really is.”
Barber and others say another factor in low breast-feeding rates is aggressive marketing by the multibillion-dollar baby formula industry, which has convinced hospitals to hand out its products for free.



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