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Penn Nursing found that Black mothers initiate breastfeeding at a rate of 69%, compared to 80% of the general population in the U.S. 

Credit: Kylie Cooper

A recent study by Penn Nursing found that Black mothers initiate breastfeeding at lower rates than the general population in the United States.

While breastfeeding initiation rates in the United States are 80% for the general population, the rate is only 69% for Black mothers, Penn Nursing News reported. The study, which was published in the Journal of Perinatal & Neonatal Nursing, used results from a focus group of Black mothers to identify factors that can act as barriers to breastfeeding, including lack of access to breastfeeding resources, disparities in culture-based care, and stereotyping of Black mothers in the healthcare industry.

Professor of Perinatal Nursing and Helen M. Shearer Term Professor of Nutrition at the School of Nursing Diane L. Spatz said that in the healthcare field, some medical providers make assumptions about patients’ interest in breastfeeding based on their race, ethnicity, and income. This can contribute to Black mothers being less likely to receive resources for breastfeeding.

Spatz, who co-authored the study, added that Black patients may not have grown up in a community where breastfeeding was a common practice, and may not have been informed of the health benefits of breastfeeding compared to using formula. 

Spatz believes that adjustments in the medical field can help address the disparity in breastfeeding between Black mothers and the general population, including culture-based care for Black mothers during the antepartum through postpartum period.

“People have to be willing to change,” Spatz said. “People have to acknowledge the fact that racism exists in healthcare.”

Spatz emphasized the importance of raising awareness of the health benefits of breastfeeding as a public health issue in order to close the disparity.

“I would love to see all people view this as an important public health topic and something that can change the trajectory of health for families,” she said.