A new program in Mississippi is helping Black mothers breastfeed. Here's why it's crucial.
The Delta Baby Cafe in Sunflower County, Mississippi is providing breastfeeding assistance where it's needed most.
Mississippi has the third lowest rate of breastfeeding in America. Only 70% of infants are ever-breastfed in the state, compared to 84% nationally.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends infants be exclusively breastfed for their first six months of life. However, in Mississippi, less than 40% are still breastfeeding at six months.
The population of Sunflower County is 74% Black and studies show that only 69% of Black mothers breastfeed their babies at birth, 16% fewer than white mothers.
There are multiple reasons why Black women are less likely to breastfeed their children. First, according to the CDC, maternity wards that serve large Black populations are less likely to help Black women initiate breastfeeding after birth or provide lactation support afterward.
"With breastfeeding specifically, there's an assumption when [Black] women give birth that they're not going to breastfeed, and they're not offered the same kind of assistance. They're offered formulas right away. There is no attention paid to potential health risks," Andrea Freeman, law professor and author of "Skimmed: Breastfeeding, Race, and Injustice," told NPR.
Black women are are also overrepresented in low-wage jobs which tend to have inflexible schedules and provide less maternity leave.
"Policies that enable taking paid leave after giving birth, flexible work schedules, and support for breastfeeding or expressing milk at work might help improve breastfeeding intention, initiation, and duration," a CDC study says.
To add to the issue, Black babies have a greater chance of being born premature or with low birth weight. "Black women have babies born too small and too soon," Kimberly Seals Allers, a maternal and infant health strategist, told PBS. "Those babies need breastmilk the most."
Research suggests that breastfed babies face a lower risk of developing diabetes, obesity, asthma, digestive tract, ear, and respiratory infections.
The Delta Baby Cafe, supported by the Delta Health Alliance, provides support for new mothers by teaching logistical techniques, such as how to position the baby while feeding. It also provides access to breast pumps, and breastfeeding education.
"I started attending the breastfeeding classes, then it just got easier and easier," Kaylyn Walker said. "It's definitely a different experience (than with her first daughter who was bottle-ed). So like I said, I didn't plan on going this long but, you know, with my daughter, if it's something she likes then I'm okay with it. And it helps her as well with her immune system. Anything that's helping her, I'm okay with it."
The Baby Cafe's main goal is to increase the number of women in Sunflower County who breastfeed, but to also reduce the stigma associated with breastfeeding. By supporting over 80 new mothers a month and promoting breastfeeding as a women's health issue, hopefully this will increase breastfeeding numbers in the county.
"When you start by having programs and having things available for women, you begin to see that this is a part of a woman's health," says Jacqueline Lambert who launched the Baby Cafe last year. "I think most of it, the stigma, is because we just don't see it. And when you don't see a thing, you don't think it's normal."
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