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Has Breastfeeding Become A Luxury Rather Than A Right?

The national shortage of baby formula stock has struck thousands of store shelves and homes, leaving babies at the whim of needing proper sources of nutrition in the most critical months of their lives. But more so than affecting company sales, the shortage has struck a greater concern as to why so many mothers abstain from the ability to breastfeed their children as a first choice, and best practice.

Breastfeeding is proven to provide the healthiest experience for mothers, and most importantly their children when their environment is conducive to nursing.  Breastmilk serves as  not only the best source of nutrition for most infants, but additionally shares vital antibodies from mother to child, and helps to reduce the chances of ovarian, and breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure as reported by various health sources.

However, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) bi-annual breastfeeding report card, roughly half of nursing mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies through the first three months of their newborn’s life at a 47.3 percent rate across the District.  That number cuts in nearly half as only 24 percent of those mothers continue to exclusively breastfeed throughout six months postpartum.  District lactation consultants, and organizations alike including the Breastfeeding Center of D.C., attest to the lack of long-term breastfeeding practices that mothers maintain beyond the delivery room.

 “The important thing to remember with breastfeeding, at least in the U.S., is that most people know that breastfeeding is the best choice for their babies, and you see that with the initiation rates of breastfeeding,” said Gina Caruso, Executive Director for the Breastfeeding Center in Washington, DC. “But then when we look at the numbers throughout the month, by six months [post labor], only twenty-four percent are still [continuing] breastfeeding.”

The research and data illustrates a significant trend among mothers who find themselves facing a host of challenges when attempting to nurse their newborns long-term. Numerous variables in a mother’s ability to breastfeed beyond a 6-month cycle, largely including support systems, social, and socioeconomic barriers, often dominate the innate desire for mothers to give their children the essential benefits that breastfeeding provides.

 Local Herbalist and long-time District resident, Crescent Queen, who is also a mother to six children, shares her sentiments towards the dire importance of a woman’s familial support, and economic positioning when attempting to create a soft space that will allow a mother to mentally, and physically support the nursing needs of a newborn child. 

“I think every mother, especially new moms in the first experience, [considers not breastfeeding] because of the pain that we have to adjust to and embrace, and realize that it’s not pain when the baby is trying to latch on, and suck.  Your nipples are so tender, that you feel like you are going through another part of your labor.  That is why a lot of women don’t do it,” said Queen.  “A lot of these jobs do give you [roughly] 4 to 6 weeks to be able to bond with your baby, which is nowhere near enough time, ever.  But the fact that they allow that – most women stop breastfeeding in that time, and  I believe especially the younger generations between 18 and 30, are just less [prone] to nurse, because it is kind of like, why go through this pain when [they] can just look to the left and right and [find] formula.  It is the environment that the mother is in that isn’t really encouraging her to be the ultimate nurturer for her baby.”

Queen highlights the key conflict of a mother’s responsibilities, particularly when considering going back to work, that strongly compromises the flow of breast milk as almost a psychologically interfering effect when nurturing her child. These mental, and emotional stressors create anxiety that further manifests into the body, and contribute to what the mother is passing to their child during the breastfeeding process.

The structure provided within a mother’s home echoes as a dominant factor in what either empowers, or cripples a woman’s ability to have a healthy experience when nurturing her child’s early development.  Oftentimes, particularly in the Black community, mother’s are loaded with the anxiety of ensuring that financial demands are met to maintain their household, while simultaneously struggling to manage a nursing routine for young children.

“We are as a nation expected to go back to work very early, and without paid maternity, or family leave, so that makes breastfeeding unsustainable for a lot of people, ” Caruso shared. “We have to talk about policy and supporting things like paid leave, universal healthcare, and [making sure] that people are getting the support that they need to make those choices for their families, because for some people it is not a choice.”

In part two of this series, the Washington Informer will examine the essential role of family planning by examining the stories of several mothers breastfeeding journeys, the fathers who play a part in postpartum care, and the mentality of family planning in Black homes across the D.C. Metropolitan community.

Lindiwe Vilakazi reports health news for The Washington Informer, a multimedia news organization serving African Americans in the metro Washington, D.C., area. Lindiwe was a contributing editor at Acumen...

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