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Black Breastfeeding Week: Why Doctors Insist the Breast Is Best

As a new parent, if you knew there was something you could do to instantly provide not only nurturing but nutrition and protection for your newborn, you’d do it, right?

If you’re physically capable of breastfeeding your newborn, there is. Experts have long said the practice is the best source of nutrition for your baby, and for Black Breastfeeding Week 2018 (Aug. 25-31), they want to ensure that new moms everywhere know the benefits of a breastfed baby.

“Breastfeeding is extremely important, and it’s really because breastmilk is the best,” Dr. Lisa F. Waddell tells The Glow Up. “For babies, Mom’s breastmilk has protective antibodies that fight diseases … [helping] to protect babies from illnesses. It’s really the best combination of nutrition for the baby.”

Dr. Waddell is Senior Vice President of Maternal Child Health and NICU Innovation, and Deputy Medical Officer for the March of Dimes, and encourages new mothers to breastfeed exclusively for at least the first six months; ideally up to a year. Faced with the high number of black babies who are born prematurely (PDF) each year, she says the best defense against a frighteningly disproportionate infant mortality rate is nutrition—in and out of the womb. “A baby born prematurely even more so needs that best protection and nutrition [that breastfeeding] provides.”

And breastfeeding doesn’t just benefit babies; it also helps new moms burn calories, potentially helping them return to pre-pregnancy weight sooner, as well as lowering the risk of diabetes and other diseases. Additionally, the hormones produced can also help contract the uterus, helping it return to its normal size after birth.

But is it true that black mothers don’t want to breastfeed? Dr. Waddell makes it clear that in her experience, it isn’t a lack of care, but a lack of resources and support that create very real barriers for black mothers. Among these, she cites hospitals that are under-equipped and under-educating their patients, a lack of referrals to lactation specialists who can help new mothers over the hurdles of breastfeeding, and workplaces that aren’t supportive of lactating mothers.

“Moms in general have many challenges and many things that they’re trying to juggle,” says Dr. Waddell. “And black women often are faced with a number of challenges; the issues around the types of jobs that many women hold, those jobs may not be in places that have environments set up where they can easily go and pump—many women may not have access to a good breast pump.”

And then there’s the stigma of public breastfeeding, as women of all races are continually shamed for choosing to feed their babies in the most natural—and nutritious—way possible. Dr. Waddell says this is a barrier we should all be fighting against.

“We’ve got to change this stigma and this narrative. Because [breastfeeding in public] is perfectly acceptable,” she adds. “We should be praising mothers that are breastfeeding because they are doing what is best for their babies. … We should be encouraging and trying to support them, there should be systems in place because it’s not always easy as a first-time mom.”

So, what advice does Dr. Waddell give to moms who genuinely want to breastfeed, but feel unsupported in the process?

“We encourage you to get the support that you feel like you need in order to be able to breastfeed your baby, and to not be discouraged,” she says. “There may be some hurdles along the way, but you’re not alone … everyone can have their challenges with breastfeeding, but the support is out there.”

The Glow Up tip: For breastfeeding support, please contact your doctor, Breastfeeding Support Group for Black Moms or the Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association.

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