Previous studies have documented that African American mothers are less likely to breastfeed their infants than other mothers in the United States. A new study led by Urmeka T. Jefferson, an assistant professor at the Sinclair School of Nursing at the University of Missouri, sheds new light on the low tendency of African American mothers to breastfeed.
Dr. Jefferson surveyed African American women college students on their attitudes toward breastfeeding and whether they intended to breastfeed their infants if and when they had children. The results showed that the African American college students were well-informed about the benefits of breastfeeding but a large percentage still indicated that they were hesitant about breastfeeding any children they had in the future. Dr. Jefferson found that many of the Black women believed there was a lack of public acceptance of breastfeeding. A large majority of the respondents said they would not be comfortable about breastfeeding in public and many of the respondents voiced the opinion that formula feeding was a better choice for mothers who worked outside the home.
“We need to start early with our breastfeeding education and exposure because women decide before they have children whether or not they will breastfeed,” Dr. Jefferson says. “We need to figure out how to encourage positive breastfeeding attitudes among young Black women and make them aware that breastfeeding is the normal, natural infant-feeding method.”
Dr. Jefferson also believes that “encouraging public acceptance of breastfeeding is important. Our American culture tends to add a sexual connotation to breastfeeding that is false, and we have to do more to change social perceptions so that women feel more comfortable breastfeeding in public.”
Dr. Jefferson is a graduate of the University of Memphis. She earned a master’s degree at Union University in Germantown, Tennessee and a Ph.D. at Saint Louis University. She joined the faculty at the University of Missouri in 2012.