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How to Reduce Breastfeeding Inequality

Posted on August 28, 2018 at 12:13 PM
I'd like to introduce our readers to Neve Spicer, writer and founder of We The Parents. She is sharing some very important information about breastfeeding disparity. I thought it especially important to share this information during Black Breastfeeding Week, in the hopes that a change-maker sees today's post and can help take action on the steps that Neve outlined in THIS post.  You can scroll to the end of today's post to see those steps, although I encourage you to click on the link and read the whole article.

I'm Neve, a proud mother of two, breastfeeding advocate, and part-time blogger over at WeTheParents. I'm really happy to be contributing to Sweet Pea Births during this year's Breastfeeding Awareness Month.

Now, when I say that I'm a breastfeeding advocate... I'm a pretty easy going one and not so much a die-hard lactivist. I breast fed both of my children and my experiences couldn't have been more different. My first experience was a nightmare; I don't think I did things right, and without a good support network I ended up with a very low milk supply. My daughter pretty much screamed constantly until I began to wean her early at 4-months. With my second, on the other hand, the experience was completely different. I was scared that I’d have the same problem, but actually things worked out beautifully and I breastfed until 18 months.

My breastfeeding experiences led me to want to support women and to let them know that, firstly, breastfeeding doesn’t always go according to plan, but also, secondly, it’s important to realize that our self-defeating beliefs, such as “I can’t produce enough milk” can also be wrong. I also realized that breastfeeding success depends so much on the knowledge and support we receive throughout our breastfeeding journey from pregnancy to weaning.

Now: I’m a bit of a research geek and while digging into some scientific journals on breastfeeding, I was shocked to learn just how drastically socio-economic forces affect breastfeeding rates.

Did you know that only 38% of mothers living below the poverty threshold (in the US) breastfeed at 6-months, while 68% of mothers in top-earning families do. That’s a huge difference, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I learned that that in academic and social policy circles people have known about these breastfeeding disparities for a long time. But why, then, was I not reading about it on the popular blogs I followed?

Too many heated words and firey tweets are being wasted on the breast vs bottle 'mommy war'. The big problem, however, is not whether a well-educated and well-off mother chooses to breastfeed. The real issue is breastfeeding inequality; too many mothers are NOT getting equal opportunity to breastfeed, even when they want to.

After discovering all of this, I wanted to shout about it. It’s time the blogosphere reframed the debate. I think we can all agree that if a mother, from any walk of life, wants to breastfeed, then she should be given the best chance possible. I passionately believe that mothers should unite behind this common goal.


FROM WeTheParents:

Too few mothers follow the AAP’s optimal breastfeeding recommendations. Were this a result of well-educated, well-informed, and well-off women choosing alternative nutrition options, that would be one thing. Unfortunately, the truth is that many babies are formula fed because their mothers are not sufficiently aware of the health risks or they simply don’t have practical support (at work or home) to make it work.This is unfair and impacts on the health of thousands of US mothers and babies each year. It has been estimated that annual excess deaths attributable to suboptimal breastfeeding total 3,340, 78% (2605) maternal and 22% (735) infant. (Source)But how can we reduce the breastfeeding inequality?While there is no easy fix, there are several strategies that have been highlighted and could use public awareness and support. These are:

  • Maternity/lactation support – Improve hospital maternity care and lactation support practices. For example, increasing the number of Baby-Friendly Designated hospitals across the US, especially in states with more poverty;
  • Educate professionals – Continued education of healthcare professionals such as doctors, nurses, midwives, and lactation consultants, to improve their knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors toward breastfeeding support;
  • Improve new mother access to professional lactation support – This can be done in different ways, such as in-person, online, telephone, or group. It can involve home-visits or breastfeeding clinics within the community;
  • Peer support programs – Peer support is a powerful mechanism for helping mothers reach their breastfeeding goals. Effective peer support typically requires leaders to be trained as facilitators. Mothers then share emotional support as well as guidance and problem-solving advice;
  • Boost breastfeeding support in the workplace – There are numerous ways in which employers can support mothers to continue breastfeeding. These include developing corporate policies, and providing adequate lactation spaces and equipment and giving women the flexibility to use them. Onsite child-care and allowing babies at the workplace also helps;
  • Support for breastfeeding in childcare and pre-kindergarten settings – Many mothers have older siblings attending early care education centers (eg, Head Start or pre-K). This solution involves improving the support that these centers give to breastfeeding mothers, eg, welcoming breastfeeding mothers to come into the center, or training staff to handle the storage and use of pumped breastmilk;
  • Improved access to breastfeeding education and information – While many mothers have heard the message that “breast is best”, many new mothers do not have direct experience of breastfeeding. It is vital that education and information get into all communities, especially minority groups that can be harder to reach;
  • Address the marketing of infant formula the associated conflict of interest in hospitals – There exist well-established links between commercial formula companies and hospitals. In return for free infant formula for babies that need it, many hospitals agree to give away free formula within their discharge bags. There is also a high incidence of hospital routinely supplementing breastfed infants with formula within the first 48-hours. Both of these practices lead to an increased uptake in formula use and a corresponding drop in breastfeeding rates. It is important that marketing practices that directly reduce breastfeeding rates are dismantled and replaced with others that do not involve a conflict of interest.

Thank you, Neve, for taking the time to research this topic and outlining specific action steps we can take to support our breastfeeding sisters.

The material included on this site is for informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult her or his healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation.  Krystyna and Bruss Bowman and Bowman House, LLC accept no liability for the content of this site, or for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of the information provided.  This blog contains information about our classes available in Chandler, AZ and Payson, AZ and is not the official website of The Bradley Method®. The views contained on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of The Bradley Method® or the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth®.

Bradley Method® natural childbirth classes offered in Arizona: Chandler, Tempe, Ahwatukee, Gilbert, Mesa, Scottsdale

Categories: Breastfeeding, Breastfeeding 101, Breastfeeding Awareness Month, Breastfeeding Challenges, Breastfeeding support, World Breastfeeding Week

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