This week I had the pleasure to serve as a panelist at BreastfeedLA’s 2018 summit. In a 90-minute panel, my fellow panelists explored how race, ethnicity, geographic location, place of birth and other factors have a direct correlation to breastfeeding.Infant feeding inequities do exist and play a much bigger role in health equity than most of us would imagine. You only need to think about this: if you were born tomorrow in California, what are your chances of growing up healthy?
Let me tell you. You have a 22.8% chance to be born in a family living in poverty and a 0.6% chance to die before turning one year old (KidsData, 2017). Breastfeeding is one of the most powerful tool to increase your chance to survive beyond one year old (WHO, 2015), but it’s hard for your mother to breastfeed you.
For starters, breastfeeding can be physically difficult. Your mother may struggle with getting you to latch. She can be dealing with milk supply issues, sour nipples, or tongue tie. And because you’re in from a low-income family, your mother may not be able to afford a lactation consultant.
And also because you are from a low-income community, there is less education about breastfeeding, and hospital nurses are more likely to encourage low-income and/or black mothers to use formula (CDC, 2014). There is also a negative perception of breastfeeding in the colored community (Front Public Health, 2015).
If your mother receives breastfeeding education from the hospital and is encouraged by the nurses to breastfeed, it’s still hard for her to breastfeed you after leaving the hospital. Because the lack of mandatory paid parental leave complicates the breastfeeding relationship. It’s likely that your mother can’t afford to take six weeks off after giving birth to you, but establishing a nursing relationship really requires round-the-clock nursing for the first few weeks.
Even if your mother manages to take six weeks off and establishes breastfeeding, it’s still hard for her to continue breastfeeding after return to work. It’s very likely she doesn’t have access to a clean place to pump at work. Although California law requires employers to provide accommodations for workers to pump, employers regularly break the law and fail to provide employees with a clean place to pump.
So even if your mother desperately wants to breastfeed, she might not be able to, for numerous reasons. The lack of social support and resources for low-income families or families from marginalized communities is a big one.
Breastfeeding is incredibly difficult for less-advantaged families. When we talk about which women are able to breastfeed and why, it’s important to note that there are a ton of societal issues at play. Breastfeeding is a privilege, while it really should be a right.
At the end of the panel discussion, the facilitator asked me what’s my one solution to increase the availability of lactation support in low-income and colored community. To answer that, I think everyone can contribute whatever one can. One thing I can do is continue writing to raise awareness on infant feeding inequities. What would you do? Please comment below.