Black Mother Breastfeeding, 1937

This photograph is striking. It shows an African-American mother breastfeeding in 1937 in Greenville, MS. What once was normal in the black community has now shifted to abnormal. We all know breastfeeding rates among black women is the lowest in the country, but it wasn’t always this way. Something happened and I don’t think the shift to bottle-feeding can only be attributed to more mothers working outside of the home, although I’m sure working had a lot to do with it, just not everything. Attitudes changed and now breastfeeding isn’t the first form of infant-feeding with black mothers.

As a black mother I didn’t even consider bottle-feeding, but I’m rare given the numbers. I hope one day I can pinpoint what happened between the early 20th century and today that caused so many black mothers to balk at breastfeeding.

Location:Greenville, MS, US
Date taken:1937
Photographer:Alfred Eisenstaedt
Time Life Magazine

6 thoughts on “Black Mother Breastfeeding, 1937”

  1. I think it’s because formula became a status symbol, and breastfeeding became something nasty that only people who were too poor. Now it’s flipped- breastfeeding is what rich “crunchy” moms do if they can afford to stay home, or afford to pump and have the kind of job that allows them enough breaks- or the kind of clout to stand up when their employers refuse them.

  2. Yes, you’re right. I’ve heard that black mothers wanted to bottle-feed because it was what their white counterparts were doing. Now, that white mothers are breastfeeding in larger numbers, it’s funny how black mothers aren’t following suit as before. I believe wanting to keep up with the Joneses coupled with other factors: working, a relentless formula industry, and doctors who recommended formula also lead to the low numbers of black breastfeeding moms.

  3. I was just wondering where the black women were before I scrolled down to this pic. The eye contact between mother and child is so strong. What a positive affirmation of (black) motherhood (not to mention a perfect visual validation of my choice to breastfeed)!

    My mother did not breastfeed (she was told her milk was sour; I was born in 1979), and has been extremely supportive of me breastfeeding. Her sister was initially freaked out by the sight of me feeding my daughter, but has grown quite comfortable with it. I live in a city where the formula is kept in a locked cabinet in some stores, so it boggles my mind that more doctors are not advocating breastfeeding as the first choice.

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