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African-American Moms less likely to get Breastfeeding Advice

Update Date: Aug 30, 2014 09:40 AM EDT

Breastfeeding has been tied to numerous health benefits for a newborn. However, many women need help and guidance on how to properly breastfeed since not all babies will latch. In a new study, researchers examined the kind of help mothers get from a maternity ward and discovered that women who gave birth in communities that were made up of mostly African-Americans were less likely to get breastfeeding support in comparison to other communities.

"What this study suggests is that hospital practices, not just women's choices, beliefs or values, contribute to the observed racial disparities in infant feeding," sociologist Elizabeth Armstrong, a professor at Princeton University in New Jersey, told Reuters Health. Armstrong was not a part of this study. "Where a woman lives - and consequently gives birth - affects how her infant is nourished. Black babies and their mothers are less likely to start off in environments that support the optimal level of care for infant feeding and mother-baby bonding,"

For this study, researchers at the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed data from 2,727 hospitals and birth centers within the U.S to see if they could understand why a disparity in breastfeeding rates exists between African-American and white mothers. African-American women are 16 percent less likely to breastfeed.

The team found that facilities located in areas with more African-Americans were more likely to test their medical staff on breastfeeding support. However, maternity wards in communities with a high percentage of African-Americans were also less than half as likely to limit the use of supplements, which include formula milk. The use of supplements could discourage women to breastfeed. These facilities were seven percent more likely to give out pacifiers, which can hinder breastfeeding

In contrast, facilities that were in areas with more white people were nearly 14 percent more likely to promote early breastfeeding. These facilities were also 12 percent more likely to keep the infants near the mothers, which can promote breastfeeding.

"Because this is the first stab or look into the whole issue, we really don't know why we're seeing these disparities," said lead author Jennifer Lind, an epidemiologist with the CDC, according to Reuters Health. "We found that hospital practices during childbirth have a major impact on whether a mother is able to start and continue breastfeeding. We think it's really important that all hospitals - regardless of where they're located - apply policies and practices proven to be supportive of breastfeeding so that more babies are able to reap the numerous benefits."

The study, "Racial Disparities in Access to Maternity Care Practices That Support Breastfeeding - United States, 2011," was published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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