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New report highlights racial inequities in breastfeeding support

Many women of color who want and may try to breastfeed find their efforts thwarted, despite their best intentions. The latest study from the Center for Social Inclusion on “Removing Barriers to Breastfeeding” aims to tackle the why – why don’t many women of color have the opportunity to breastfeed for the recommended six months? And how can we change this “fact” so that all mothers and babies have a chance to experience the benefits of breastfeeding?

Using structural race analysis, archival research and interviews, the WKKF-funded study explores the stories of three hypothetical women – Sara, Nicole and Lara – a white, a black and a Latina mother, respectively. The study illustrates the different challenges each woman faces while pregnant, at the hospital, and in their communities and workplaces after giving birth.

The report highlights that almost one-fifth of Black people live in states without a single Baby-Friendly hospital, where doctors and nurses are trained to promote and encourage breastfeeding. Furthermore, medical reimbursement discrepancies in lactation support or breast pumps can pose barriers to women of color in sustaining breastfeeding.

Returning to work also creates obstacles to breastfeeding. A higher percentage of women of color work in service industry jobs, which are less likely to offer paid family leave or provide the time and space for mothers to express breast milk when they return to work after giving birth.

The report concludes with important policy recommendations to remove barriers to breastfeeding, including changes to our medical system, health care reimbursement and workplace policies.

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