Recent studies indicate that breastfeeding initiation rates among African American mothers lag behind breastfeeding initiation rates of other mothers. Data collected shows that 65% of non-Hispanic black infants born during 2005-2006 were breastfed compared with 80% of Mexican American and 79% of non-Hispanic white infants born at the same time. Likewise, National Immunization Survey (NIS) data of U.S. children in born 2006 indicated that overall, 73% had ever been breastfed. Further examination of the NIS study sample indicated that 57% of non-Hispanic Black or African American mothers initiated breastfeeding compared to 75% of non-Hispanic Whites and 82% of Hispanic or Latina mothers. This difference is important since breastfeeding is considered ideal for both mothers and infants from nutritional, physiological, and developmental perspectives.
The purpose of this research project is to explore the social context that impacts African American mothers' breastfeeding thoughts, attitudes, and behavior. Through in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 15 African American mothers, this study explores the role of various dimensions of social context as they influence these mothers' thoughts, attitudes and outcomes around breastfeeding. This study uses the perspective of intersectionality as posited by Black feminist literature to analyze the social context of African American mothers' thoughts, attitudes, and behavior around breastfeeding.
Previous research has suggested a variety of social and cultural factors that may explain disparate breastfeeding initiation rates for African American mothers, including differences in motherhood experiences, the early exploitative reproductive experiences of African Americans women, class based differences, employment environment, and relationships with spouse and family. Although there is an understanding about the advantages of breastfeeding and although research has documented the historical differences in breastfeeding rates, the underlying factors and reasons for lower breastfeeding rates among black mothers have not been clearly identified and are not well understood.
The outcomes of this qualitative study demonstrate that mother's breastfeeding behavior, when contextualized, was shaped by the dynamics of complex social conditions she experienced upon education and social status. Mothers considered infant breast-feeding an important and positive motherhood activity because of its health and developmental benefits. But, their awareness of breastfeeding's advantages did not always translate into the act of breastfeeding. Micro social factors like family support, cultural and religious beliefs, and chronic health problems intersected with structural conditions such as health care provider messages, demanding work schedules and the lack of pumping stations to decide mothers' infant feeding choices. Results from this study support the idea that micro-level social factors operate within broader macro-level structural constraints to predict mothers' breastfeeding thoughts, attitudes and behavior and so breast-feeding is best understood as a maternal behavior impacted in sociologically complex ways.