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Breast-Feeding Less Common for Black Moms

By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Black mothers in the United States are less likely to breast-feed their babies than other moms, and many cite a personal preference for the bottle as the primary reason, new research finds.

Overall, breast-feeding rates are rising, but the long-time disparity between ethnic groups persists, said Dr. Amudha Palaniappan, a pediatrics resident at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, N.J., who led the research. Fifty-four percent of black mothers try breast-feeding, while the national average is 73 percent, according to background information in the study.

Palaniappan, who was to present her research Monday at the American Academy of Pediatrics' conference in San Francisco, asked 62 black mothers and 83 non-black moms, all of whom were exclusively formula-feeding their infants, why they chose not to breast-feed.

She grouped their answers into categories, including barriers experts consider relatively easy to change (fear of pain, latching problems, milk supply issues); barriers that are not so easily changed (lack of desire to breast-feed, insufficient knowledge, previous formula-feeding, return to work or school), or true barriers (being on chemotherapy.)

Only 23 percent of the black mothers had easily changed barriers compared with 42 percent of the non-black mothers. Similarly, 89 percent of the black moms had barriers not easily changed versus 74 percent of the other ethnicities.

A lack of interest in breast-feeding was the most commonly reported barrier to nursing among black women -- 55 percent of black women compared to 27 percent of women in other ethnic groups felt this way.

Misinformation about breast-feeding was mentioned by 14 percent of black women and 31 percent of non-blacks.

"In other studies what has been shown is, there is this comfort level with formula [among black women], that formula is acceptable," said Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, professor of pediatrics and division head of adolescent medicine at Cooper University Hospital, a co-author of the study.

Many black women are also unaware that breast-feeding is linked with benefits for both mothers and infants, she said. Breast milk provides babies with disease-fighting antibodies, while moms who breast-feed are at lower risk for breast cancer later on. The practice also fosters mother-child bonding.

Micky Jones, a Nashville, Tenn., La Leche League leader and doula, or labor coach, also believes that good role models are lacking.

"You don't desire something you don't see," she said. "In the black community, you don't see a lot of black women breast-feeding."

But that is slowly changing, said this black mother, who breast-fed her three children. For a time, Jones also wrote a blog about breast-feeding for black women. Since then, others have spread the word to the black community about breast-feeding's benefits, she said.

What's needed, the authors concluded, are coordinated efforts to educate mothers and their families about breast-feeding's benefits and clarify misinformation and myths.

For instance, new moms need to know that exclusive formula-feeding poses risks, she said.

Jones suggests that black women considering breast-feeding get support from a friend or family member who has nursed a baby. Ask around, she advised.

"Sometimes that [information] comes out at baby showers," she added.

More information

To learn more about breast-feeding, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

SOURCES: Amudha Palaniappan, M.D., resident, pediatrics, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, N.J.; Lori-Feldman-Winter, M.D., M.P.H., division head of adolescent medicine, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, N.J.; presentation, American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition, San Francisco, Oct. 4, 2010

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