Even today, breastfeeding mothers face an array of challenges. And for Black women, it can be even tougher.

Historic implicit biases about Black women not being interested in breastfeeding can mean that Black mothers don’t get enough lactation help after giving birth, researchers have found. Kingspirit Image Room/Shutterstock.com

Historic implicit biases about Black women not being interested in breastfeeding can mean that Black mothers don’t get enough lactation help after giving birth. Forty-five percent of baby-friendly hospitals – those that have adopted a set of policies to ensure that their facilities are supportive of breastfeeding – are concentrated in cities in which Black people make up 3 percent or less of the population, the ACLU reported in 2019. Hospitals in communities with an above-average Black population are less likely to promote nursing than hospitals in other neighborhoods, the civil liberties group says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women also struggle to breastfeed successfully because they return earlier to work after giving birth and have less access to professional support than white people do.

I learned firsthand how difficult it can be to continue breastfeeding after returning to work. I was a first-year resident when I had my first baby, and I did not know my rights as a breastfeeding mom. There was no lactation room at the time in my residency program, so I had to scout for rooms to express milk. I was often scared to ask to go pump (even though I was in a pediatrics residency program) and felt that I had to overcompensate for my absences.

Ten years ago, I had my first child – a beautiful, healthy girl. I had decided that I would breastfeed her, no matter how difficult it was, because I had seen the beauty of breastfeeding firsthand from a close friend who had a baby that she had exclusively nursed.

Amara, my daughter, had a tongue tie and so, the latch was very painful initially. I was clueless about breastfeeding. I remember briefly talking to a lactation consultant in the hospital and being discharged with a bunch of papers.


Amara and I eventually figured it out and I was able to breastfeed her for about 11 months. The journey was not smooth. In addition to not having a room set aside for pumping in my workplace, I was very stressed and often didn’t have much milk to express.

Unfortunately, my experience, as a Black professional woman, is not unusual. Statistics show that the rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration for Black women continue to lag those of all other races and ethnicities. There are several factors that contribute to this, including the history of slavery in this country, implicit bias, lack of knowledge and not having enough role models in the Black community.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of a strong support network. If you are a breastfeeding mom and you do not have a family or community support system, there are groups like La Leche League International. I recommend that you try to find one that is culturally sensitive to you; the members likely will have shared experiences and advice.

We know the health benefits of breastfeeding. We should do all we can to encourage new moms and assist them, while also recognizing that breastfeeding isn’t possible or desirable for everyone. We can help each other by being nonjudgmental and supportive.

It is my hope that Congress will pass legislation to require universal paid maternity leave of several weeks, insurance coverage for lactation support and breast pumps, on-site child care and workplace space to express milk.

Until we get laws that cover everyone and truly support new families, companies need to step up. As more people navigate returning to the workplace after many months of working from home, there will be breastfeeding moms among the ranks. Employers should support mothers who are breastfeeding by having clean, spacious lactation rooms, and there should be a clear culture in the workplace of giving women the time they need to express milk, take time off when necessary and not feel guilty about it.

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