A recent issue of the CDC’s Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report publication included a piece on racial and ethnic differences in breastfeeding, describing rates of breastfeeding initiation and continuation to six and twelve months by survey respondents’ status as Hispanic, non-Hispanic white, or non-Hispanic black.
The report finds that “National estimates for breastfeeding initiation and duration to 6 months and 12 months were 73.4%, 41.7%, and 21.0%, respectively (Table 1). Breastfeeding estimates varied by race/ethnicity, participation in the WIC supplemental nutrition program, and mother’s age and education.”
When examined by race/ethnicity, it was found that non-Hispanic blacks generally had the lowest prevalence of breastfeeding initiation, followed by Hispanics, with non-Hispanic whites having the highest rates. The authors note that “Most states were not meeting the HP2010 targets for breastfeeding duration for any racial/ethnic group.” HP2010 refers to national goals for health status and healthy behaviors; HP2010 had a goal of having 75% of women initiate breastfeeding, with targets of 50% and 25% for six and twelve months.
The report also provides geographic data, with a good chart of breastfeeding data by state and race/ethnicity, and some maps showing geographic differences in breastfeeding rates. For example, you can see that breastfeeding rates are pretty low in the Southeast where I live, but are a fair bit higher in OBOS’s home state of Massachusetts. The report notes wide racial/ethnic gaps here as well, indicating that “in the southeastern United States…13 states had a prevalence of breastfeeding initiation that was ≥20 percentage points different between non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites.” In Massachusetts, however, that gap is just 11 percentage points.
The report concludes that: “Breastfeeding should be promoted through comprehensive clinical and social supports starting in pregnancy, and including the birth, delivery, and postpartum periods.”
Of course, no discussion of breastfeeding rates is complete without consideration of all of the workplace, societal and other barriers to breastfeeding for women who choose to do so. The CDC report offers, among other factors, “returning to work sooner (where support for breastfeeding often is insufficient) and lack of social or partner support” as barriers that may prevent women who want to initiate and continue breastfeeding from doing so.
The recent health care reform legislation should help women with at least the workplace barriers. As we mentioned in a previous post, the legislation includes a provision which requires employers with more than 50 employees to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk; and a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”
It’s unpaid break time, but at least it’s a start.