Removing Breastfeeding Stigma Could Unlock Lifesaving Benefits to Black Mothers and their Babies
Black Breastfeeding Week: Disparities in access to maternity care are alarming
The United States is one of the most dangerous places in the developed world for a black woman giving birth and for black infants in their first year of life.[i]
Stark racial disparities exist between black and white infants in the U.S. The infant mortality rate of non-Hispanic black infants is 10.9 per 1,000 live births, which is 2.3 times the infant mortality rate as non-Hispanic whites (4.7 per 1,000 live births).[ii]
Despite the news, there is a healthy, cost-effective strategy to help reduce infant mortality: Breastfeeding.
Dr. Lenaye Lawyer, an OB-GYN and a market chief medical officer for [iii]a national leader in Medicaid managed care, said there should be greater awareness of the importance of raising the low black breastfeeding rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), black infants are 13 percent less likely to be breastfed than white infants.
“There are many factors that contribute to the low black breastfeeding rate,” Dr. Lawyer said. “We have to help ensure that hospitals and health clinics in minority communities have breastfeeding and lactation resources and information. And, we have to work with our community partners to remove the stigma of breastfeeding.”
The CDC’s Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care (mPINC) survey found that hospitals and health clinics in communities with more than a 12.2 percent black population were less likely to be supportive of breastfeeding.[iv]
Comparing facilities in areas with more than 12.2 percent black residents with facilities in areas with less than 12.2 percent black residents, the largest differences were in the percentage of facilities that implemented recommended practices related to helping mothers initiate breastfeeding early on (46 percent compared with 59.9 percent), having infants spend the majority of their time in the same room as their moms (27.7 percent compared with 39.4 percent), and limiting what infants eat or drink to only breast milk (13.1 percent compared with 25.8 percent), according to the CDC survey. These findings reveal racial disparities in access to maternity care practices known to support breastfeeding.[v]
An international study found that breastfeeding for at least two months cuts a baby’s risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) almost in half, and the longer babies are breastfed, the greater the protection.[vi] Breast milk is good nutrition for a baby, providing all the proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that a young body needs to stay healthy.[vii] Infants who are breastfed have a lower risk of developing asthma, Type 2 diabetes, eczema, and obesity.[viii] For premature infants, breast milk can be lifesaving, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The organization recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for about the first six months with continued breastfeeding alongside introduction of complementary food for at least one year.
AmeriHealth Caritas works with local breastfeeding advocacy groups to promote awareness about breastfeeding to expectant mothers in historically disadvantaged communities. The organization’s Bright Start® maternity program hosts Moms2B community baby showers where expectant mothers can connect with local social service organizations and resources, including lactation specialists. The goal of Bright Start® is to improve birth outcomes and reduce pregnancy-related complications through early prenatal education and intervention.
“We have to work to help ensure that there is equal access to prenatal care and lactation programs and to help ensure that there are policies and practices to support women’s breastfeeding goals during prenatal care, during the maternity stay and after the birth,” Dr. Lawyer said.
About AmeriHealth Caritas
AmeriHealth Caritas is one of the nation’s leaders in health care solutions for those most in need. Operating in 11 states and the District of Columbia, AmeriHealth Caritas serves more than 5 million Medicaid, Medicare and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) members through its integrated managed care products, pharmaceutical benefit management and specialty pharmacy services, and behavioral health services. Headquartered in Philadelphia, AmeriHealth Caritas is a mission-driven organization with more than 35 years of experience serving low-income and chronically ill populations. AmeriHealth Caritas is part of the Independence Health Group in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more information, visit www.amerihealthcaritas.com.