CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - When it comes to breastfeeding, there is a drastic racial disparity: black mothers are less likely than white mothers to breastfeed their children.
Next month marks the sixth annual Black Breastfeeding Week, observed the last week of August. It’s an effort to raise awareness and highlight this disparity.
The Centers for Disease Control reports of all the infants born in 2012, the most recent year the data is available, only 66 percent of black mothers breastfed their children - compared to 75 percent of white women and 80 percent of latino women.
That disparity exists right here in the Carolinas. It’s why Novant Health has been working to not only address the disparity – but to close the gap.
“One of the things we knew what was important that was important is that we needed to make sure we’re reflecting the communities that we served,” said Tanya Blackmon, a vice-president and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer.“When we looked at our lactation consultants, we realized that we were not. All of our lactation consultants were white females, but our demographics were continuing to change. It was at that time that we as an organization said, we need to do something different here.”
Blackmon said it’s more than a program; it’s about changing the culture.
“We saw embedding diversity and inclusion and now equity as a culture change strategy,” she explained. “We did not see diversity inclusion as a program. Because what happens when you have a program? You bolt it on the wall today [and] when you don’t have funding or you’re tired of it, you take it off the wall. So for us, it’s really a way of life. It’s one of our core values. So we try to put the diversity and inclusion lens on everything we do and every decision we make.”
She also knows the benefits of breastfeeding firsthand.
"I had breastfed my daughter,” she recalled. “My son when he was born, had a milk protein allergy. And so the physician said to me, ‘if you can breastfeed your daughter for her first year of life, you are going to eliminate that problem.’ Had he not told me that, I don’t know that I would’ve breastfed. But because it was for the good of my child, I did. So I started thinking, 'Oh, this is interesting. No one’s breastfeeding. I’m kind of one of the first in our family to breastfeed. I don’t, didn’t see a lot of women of color, breastfeeding’.”
But there is cause for hope. Not only nationally - where the percentage of black women breastfeeding jumped from 47.4 percent to 58.9 percent over an eight-year period - but also here at home.
Novant has seen a marked increase in the number of mothers of color who breastfeed.
“We have a 30 percent increase in the people of color who are now breastfeeding, which is pretty significant that people are seeing that person, it looks like them and realizing that this is good,” Blackmon said. “This is something that’s good for the mom in terms of bonding and it’s good for the baby in terms of healthy outcomes."
Before this initiative, only 25 percent of women of color breastfed compared to 75 percent of white women. Now more than half of moms of color are breastfeeding at Novant.
The commitment is just as important when it comes to their doctors and lactation consultants. Of the 117 obstetricians on staff across Novant, half are women and more than 30 percent are doctors of color.
It’s through a new partnership with Johnson C. Smith University that Novant hopes to find a more diverse pool of lactation consultants. It’s the first time a hospital in North Carolina has partnered with an HBCU specifically for a more diverse pool of lactation consultants.
I’m working on that part of the story for Black Breastfeeding Week next month. I hope you’ll tune in August 25-31 for an in-depth look at this new partnership.