Black infants had more than twice the deaths of whites attributable to lack of optimal breastfeeding, shows a new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics.
Black infants also had more than three times the rate of necrotizing enterocolitis, a devastating disease of preterm infants, attributable to suboptimal rates of feeding with their mother's own milk.
Health officials have long been urging mothers to nurse their children for longer, since figures show most women stop after a couple of months. And now a new study by Harvard Medical School has calculated how bottle-fed children have significantly higher risks of developing life-threatening conditions.
White women initiate breastfeeding at much higher rates than black women and slightly higher rates than Hispanic women; moreover, white women breastfeed longer and have higher rates of exclusive breastfeeding. Current rates for black, white, and Hispanic women were defined as "suboptimal breastfeeding." This is the first study to show how these disparities translate into differences in health outcomes.
"If mom can't go to work, she's not getting paid. This may spell the difference between making rent that month, or keeping the lights on, or paying for basic needs," said Dr. Melissa Bartick, assistant professor of medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School, and lead author of the study.
Department of Labor statistics show that black and Hispanic mothers are more likely to be heads of households and to have low-wage jobs that lack paid sick leave.
The study also found differences in maternal health outcomes as a result of suboptimal breastfeeding. For both hypertension and type 2 diabetes, there was a 1.4-fold higher rate for black women attributable to suboptimal breastfeeding, compared with white women.
The study was funded by the WK Kellogg Foundation. It used computer modeling to simulate hypothetical cohorts of black, white and Hispanic women and the children they bore, based on current literature linking disease risk and breastfeeding.