Monday, October 3, 2022

Breastfeeding in Southern Nevada

August 9, 2022 by  
Filed under Health

BY BRITTNI LENTS

August is National Breastfeeding Month. Each week highlights specific groups — including Indigenous Milk Medicine Week, Asian American and Pacific Islander Breastfeeding Week, and Black Breastfeeding Week. This gives us an opportunity to look at the programs and systems in place, as well as the disparities in access to lactation support. Breastfeeding is an equity and social justice issue that can have an impact on the health of infants. There are hurdles that many communities of color face in their lactation journey.

Here in the United States, breastfeeding rates vary across demographics, with Black women being the least likely to breastfeed. However, this is not the burden of the individual — as society and practices have made it difficult for many families to reach their feeding goals. Low breastfeeding rates in communities of color include disparities in maternal care practices and lactation support. As the only developed country without paid parental leave, Black women are more likely to return to work soon after birth, making it difficult to get breastfeeding off to a good start. Breastfeeding provides many health benefits for both mom and baby. Exclusive breastfeeding helps provide the highest benefit.

Breastfed infants are less likely to have ear infections, asthma, diabetes, leukemia, and a number of other long-term health issues. This benefit is crucial as Black infants have the highest rates of these illnesses, and are 2-3 times more likely to die in their first year of life. The breastfeeding rates of Black infants are 50% lower than their white counterparts. Studies show that breastfeeding could reduce the number of infant deaths in the United States by 50%.

A number of studies have also shown that the benefits of breastfeeding extend to the mother. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. Improving hospital practices can help increase breastfeeding rates in communities of color. There have been many steps identified to improve breastfeeding success in hospitals and reduce the disparities in care. The CDC has found that areas with higher populations of Black women have care facilities that are less likely to implement these policies that support breastfeeding.

Formula marketing has also played a role in breastfeeding rates, as these companies have aggressively targeted communities of color with misinformation and misleading claims of health benefits. The impact of the formula recall and subsequently the formula shortage impacted Black families at a higher rate.

As a whole we can support organizations that are building initiatives to improve breastfeeding rates in our communities of color. Here in Las Vegas, we have organizations like the Southern Nevada Breastfeeding Coalition, the Southern Nevada Health District, Kijiji Sisterhood, and La Leche League. These organizations are dedicated to improving access to lactation support.

We also celebrate individuals that have dedicated their time and energy to the cause. Semaj Bruce from “Breastfeeding with Maj” runs a milk depot that collects human milk from screened donors. This milk is crucial for our medically fragile infants hospitalized in Southern Nevada. In partnership with Rikki Jenkins of “Heart and Sol Collective” they have opened a second location. The Southern Nevada Breastfeeding Coalition has worked to increase diversity in board positions by over 50% and developed partnerships to support underserved populations in Southern Nevada. These partnerships have allowed the coalition to provide multiple educational opportunities, resource fairs, and scholarships to people of color who provide breastfeeding support. We strive to help families meet their feeding goals, improve breastfeeding rates, and the overall health of our community.

Brittni Lents, BS, IBCLC, ALC is President of Southern Nevada Breastfeeding Coalition and owner of Latch Las Vegas.

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