Why are African American mothers less likely to breastfeed compared to other mamas? Chocolate Milk: The Documentary is aiming to answer that complex question.
The benefits of breastfeeding know no cultural, racial, or religious boundaries. The health advantages of breastfeeding for both mother and child are numerous. Despite these benefits, significant racial and ethnic breastfeeding disparities exist in the United States. Breastfeeding rates for African American mothers are significantly lower than other racial groups.
While breastfeeding rates among the African American community have increased dramatically in the last decade, they still lag behind other groups. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 59% of Black women choose to breastfeed, compared to 75% of White women and 80% of Hispanic women. When babies reach six months of age, 44% of women overall are still breastfeeding, while 27% of black mothers continue to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding is beneficial for all, but the health benefits may be even greater for black families who already face a plethora of health disparities. African Americans have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and asthma. Breastfeeding has shown to be protective in all of these chronic diseases.
Through the creation of Chocolate Milk: The Documentary, one filmmaker is taking a frank look at the social norms and breastfeeding barriers that exist for black women in the United States.
Chocolate Milk is a food documentary that aims to explore black motherhood, the history of African American breastfeeding, and the multi-billion-dollar business of feeding black babies. Through the collection of personal narratives, the project is bringing attention to this very critical issue. The documentary, still in its fundraising stages, explores how slavery, economics, and society have influenced breastfeeding in the black culture.
The series, initially sponsored by the African American Breastfeeding Project, began with several short videos of black women describing their breastfeeding experience. They are raw, real, and touching. Moreover, the profiles bring much-needed and deserved attention to the issue. Chocolate Milk is now working on creating a full-length documentary exploring the topic of black breastfeeding in detail.
Lactation expert and mother of five, Angela Tatum Malloy, describes her experience in this video.
She shares, “I breastfed five children. I don’t like to breastfeed. I don’t like breastfeeding, but to me, I’m a mother, I gave birth, I had milk, and my children needed milk. I shared that with women because they feel that automatically because I’m a lactation professional, I love breastfeeding. I don’t. There’s room for everyone in this.”
Researchers have been able to identify several factors that may contribute to the disparity in breastfeeding rates. For example, existing social stigmas surrounding breastfeeding in the black community affect women’s choices and confidence. Some of the stigmas are deeply rooted in history when enslaved black women were made to serve as wet-nurses to their masters’ children.
Black women often have less access to quality health care and education. One 2014 study from the CDC illustrated that hospitals in zip codes with more than 12.2 percent black population were much less likely to promote breastfeeding than hospitals in more affluent areas. Specifically, the hospitals in these regions were less likely to help moms initiate breastfeeding, less likely to limit what infants drink to only breast milk, and less likely to encourage mothers to share a room with their new babies.
The aggressive and exploitative marketing techniques used by infant formula companies likely contribute to the disparity as well. Women, especially those in a lower socioeconomic areas, are often encouraged to take formula from the hospital. Additionally, half of the infant formula in the U.S. is distributed at no cost to families through the Woman, Infant, and Children Program (WIC).
African American women, on average, are less educated and make less money, which often results in jobs that do not allow for extended maternity leaves, breaks to pump, or adequate private places to pump.
Other organizations are bringing light to the issue as well, and highlighting the fact that black women do breastfeed. Black Women Do Breastfeed is an online Facebook community with over 160,000 followers. This mission of the site is to make the community of black breastfeeding moms more visible.