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Breast milk like 'liquid gold,' can decrease Black baby deaths

Chloe Herring | 8/14/2014, 9 a.m.
Breasts, though arguably one of the most sexually objectified parts of the female anatomy, are the subject of national debate ...
In 2013 the Florida Department of Health touted historically low infant mortality rates, although for Blacks there were 10.7 deaths for every 1,000 live births. Photo by Miami Times Illustration

Breasts, though arguably one of the most sexually objectified parts of the female anatomy, are the subject of national debate over their functional purpose — providing nourishment to an infant.

With August being National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, several incidents that occurred throughout the year become examples for the cause. From celebrities who popularized social media attempts to normalize the practice, to hospitals ending their complimentary baby formula handouts, even President Obama’s Affordable Care Act supported breastfeeding by protecting nursing mothers in the workplace.

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Lameka Banks puts her son, Joshua, into his stroller outside a WIC office in Liberty City Aug. 11. She said hospital staff taught her about the benefits of breastfeeding.

“It’s like giving a child liquid gold with huge impacts that last a lifetime,” said Cheryl Lorie of WIC, a government assistance program from mothers and children, in Miami-Dade.

Breastfeeding provides natural protections to a baby that cannot be afforded using baby formula. Research shows breastfed babies have lower risks of childhood obesity, infant mortality, diabetes, asthma and a number of other serious complications.

Debunking Breastfeeding Myths

Even with all its proven benefits, the practice is shrouded in myth.

As a lactation specialist for North Shore Medical Center, Joselyn Milanes works to encourage mothers and debunk breastfeeding misconceptions. One of the most common ideas mothers have, she said, is that they must supplement breastmilk with baby formula.

But that simply isn’t true. In fact, both national and international organizations suggest that mothers exclusively nurse for six months in order to support the baby’s healthy development.

Another huge myth involves flimsy ideas about the frequency of infant feeding.

“A lot of people think you breastfeed on a schedule,” Milanes said. But babies are unable to curb their appetites, so mothers must be available like a fully stocked fridge. “Breasts are that. They’re the refrigerator for the baby.”

Breasts versus Bottle

But breastfeeding a baby can be hard work. Not only do many women find it impossible to manage with other commitments, but it can be a difficult feat.

“A lot of times mothers encounter issues in the early stages and the first thing they do is grab a bottle,” said Lorie.

Some mothers bypass the frustration of sore or chapped nipples, waiting for the baby to latch, and lack of sleep by ditching their breasts for formula. Baby formula offers convenience, but for healthy mothers who are able, feeding with breast milk is cheaper, more nutritious and proven to reduce cancer risks.

About four of every five mothers nationally and 77 percent of women in Florida have attempted to nurse their infants, according to latest reports from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

The statistics for nursing are lower for Black women who turn to the bottle the most. About 60 percent of Black mothers breastfed by 2008 compared to 75.2 percent and 80 percent for white and Hispanic women, respectively.

South Florida hospitals ditch formula

Studies show that successful breastfeeding often originates in the maternity ward of hospitals.

Lorie said, indeed, health professionals and women in general look to hospitals as the authority on breastfeeding. But one local group found that Miami’s public health systems, which largely serve low-income mothers of color, was sending mixed messages that were detrimental to minority health.