Motherhood is all about making conscious choices, and one of the first and most important decisions a mom faces when preparing to give birth is whether or not she’ll be breastfeeding her baby. While key global health forces like the World Health Organization and UNICEF advocate for exclusive breastfeeding during a baby’s first months of life, actually following through with the process comes with many challenges.
This barrier to entry is especially pronounced for families facing socioeconomic difficulty, an issue that’s referred to as breastfeeding inequality. Lack of quality employment prospects, education, income, and residing in impoverished geographic areas all play a role in a mother’s ability to continuously and exclusively breastfeed. Check out these shocking statistics:
- In high income states like Washington, California, and Oregon, breastfeeding rates reach over 90%; in contrast, low income states like West Virginia, Kentucky, and Louisiana have breastfeeding rates under 61%, compared to the national average of 79%
- Babies of high-earning families are breastfed longer, with 68% of wealthy mothers breastfeeding for at least six months compared to 38% of those beneath the poverty line
- Marital status and partner support make a big difference, as 60% of married mothers breastfeed for at least six months compared to 29% of their never-married counterparts
And, the list goes on.
As a sustainable, inexpensive means of feeding baby, the ability to breastfeed can have a serious positive impact on a low-income family’s finances. However, if the circumstances of poverty don’t teach or allow a mother to feed her baby as is required, the point is moot.
- Lower-income jobs tend not to offer paid maternity leave, nor are timely and sanitary breaks to pump and places to store pumped milk always available
- Hospitals in lower income areas tend to have fewer staff resources to distribute, which means follow-up consultations on lactation and nursing after birth don’t always take place
- A lack of community education and normalization of breastfeeding can become a generational issue in low-income communities
In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action is campaigning to raise awareness of the sustainable benefits of breastfeeding and the importance of removing obstacles to successful nursing. Click here to learn more.