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Supporting Equity in Breastfeeding

Supporting Equity in Breastfeeding - bökee

Breastfeeding can be a wonderful experience and offer unique bonding with your child. It’s also the feeding method that medical organizations promote and recommend for optimal baby development and wellness. Unfortunately, equity in breastfeeding has proven hard to establish.

Many factors can prevent women from being able to breastfeed comfortably and safely. Women often experience health and medical inequities around breastfeeding due to socioeconomic dynamics and discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

The creators of the bökee fully support each mother’s plan for feeding their children. And we hope that the bökee can offer a helping hand to busy parents everywhere. Whether you breastfeed, use formula, or both, our unique bottle-prep tool makes the job easier by freeing up one hand to hold your little one while you open, fill, and close the bottle. Pick your favorite one today.

How Is Breastfeeding a Health Equity Issue?

For most women, successful breastfeeding requires a community that includes the following:

  • Medical providers who adequately support breastfeeding
  • Access to lactation experts
  • Family and friends with breastfeeding experience

Marginalized and underrepresented populations often struggle to meet their breastfeeding goals because they do not have equitable and adequate access to services, expertise, and support. Similarly, socioeconomic factors such as the need to return to work can impact people in marginalized communities more than others.

smiling Black mother breastfeeding baby

The health benefits of breastfeeding for both moms and babies are well-documented. So anything that limits a specific population’s ability to breastfeed successfully becomes a health equity issue. Regardless of the reasons behind the struggles, if they disproportionately impact specific groups, we have an inequitable situation.

This is true for many women of color and especially Black women. They often do not receive information and encouragement from medical providers. Also, women living in rural areas may be affected by poverty or lack of maternity health services.

Breastfeeding and the BIPOC Community

Surveys and research indicate that Black women have the lowest breastfeeding rates of all racial groups. The reasons behind this fact are significant, and they start before the woman delivers her baby.

  • There’s a lack of access to breastfeeding education and encouragement during pregnancy.
  • Hospitals are more likely to initiate formula feeding for babies born to Black mothers.
  • Nearly half of the designated Baby-Friendly hospitals are in cities with very low Black populations.
  • Black women are more likely than other racial groups to work outside the home, requiring them to pump.
  • Black women are more likely to work jobs with limited flexibility or support for breastfeeding and pumping.
  • Black women are more likely to have limited or no insurance coverage for lactation support and breast pumps.

Black parents snuggling newborn baby in hospital

In addition to these systemic inequities in medical care, health coverage, and job security, there are widespread cultural stigmas and trauma surrounding breastfeeding for Black mothers. Enslavers forced Black women to be wet nurses to white babies, removing their autonomy and choice in breastfeeding. This generational trauma impacts mothers today.

Additional Socioeconomic Barriers

For all women, regardless of racial identity, lower income and education lead to lower breastfeeding rates. Again, many causes involve lack of access to education and support. Rural mothers tend to have lower incomes than other women and may have limited medical services available, too.

With limited or no paid maternity leave in many jobs, low-income mothers are more likely to need to return to work sooner than their higher-earning counterparts. This situation can make it difficult for mothers to breastfeed, especially if their job doesn’t offer flexibility and space to pump comfortably.

Another factor is nutrition. Successful breastfeeding relies, in part, on adequate maternal nutrition. For moms who live with food insecurity or limited access to nutritious food, extended breastfeeding may be challenging.

How To Support Equity in Breastfeeding

To successfully support equity in breastfeeding, it is crucial to create systemic changes in the medical system and workplace setups. While shifts of this breadth and depth don’t happen quickly, we can take societal steps in the right direction.

breast pump and baby bottle on desk next to laptop to indicate concept of pumping at work

Hospitals in all areas of the country must support mothers through the lens of racial and socioeconomic equity. Medical facilities need to recruit and retain culturally competent providers who recognize the barriers to breastfeeding.

Baby-Friendly USA is an organization that helps hospitals gain the Baby-Friendly designation to support breastfeeding. Bringing this training and certification to facilities with high breastfeeding disparities is critical for boosting breastfeeding initiation rates.

Another valuable resource is support groups run by community health workers and lactation experts. These groups can be an effective way to promote and support breastfeeding. Creating culturally-aware breastfeeding groups is vital to helping marginalized populations in their feeding journeys. Online groups are a fantastic option for parents who can’t attend in-person gatherings.

Another critical component is identifying workplace barriers to equitable breastfeeding and offering better accommodations to breastfeeding mothers. Returning to work often inhibits breastfeeding for many women, so educating employers on the necessity of creating a safe, appropriate place for breastfeeding and pumping is vital.

Things To Consider About Equity in Breastfeeding

Maternal and infant health are crucial to a healthy society. With so much research to support breastfeeding, it’s in every community’s best interest to create an equitable environment for all mothers who choose to breastfeed.

woman of color breastfeeding her baby to reinforce concept of equity in breastfeeding

But we also recognize that how you feed your child is a personal decision. There are so many factors that impact each family’s feeding choices, and we carry no judgment here at the bökee. Our own parenting time has included breastfeeding, formula feeding, donor milk, and a feeding tube.

Our goal is to simplify feeding time no matter what it looks like for you. Our unique suction-cup bottle prep tool lets you hold and soothe a hungry baby while preparing their bottle. It’s a win-win for the whole family! Choose your favorite bökee color today.