Study: Breastfeeding Results in 33 Percent Reduction in Infant Deaths

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As advocacy and support groups within the Black community continue to champion efforts to get more Black women to breastfeed their babies, there is now new evidence that demonstrates its lifesaving effects.

Experts have long recommended breastfeeding for its many benefits for infants, but now a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows how breastfeeding has saved the lives of babies across America. According to study of more than 10 million babies in the United States, breastfeeding is associated with a 33 percent reduction in infant deaths in the first year of life.

The research examined babies born in 48 states and Washington, D.C. between 2016 and 2018. It expands upon smaller studies that had found a reduction in deaths of between 19% and 26%.

Breastfeeding “is so protective against many acute and chronic illnesses for infants and children,” said lead investigator Dr. Julie Ware, of the Cincinnati Children’s Center for Breastfeeding Medicine.

Breastfeeding for any amount of time during the first two months reduces incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by up to 40%, Ware said. That figure jumps to 60% if babies are breastfed between four and six months, she added. 

“Breast milk is jam-packed with so many immune protection molecules, bioactive components, that really prime the immune system of the baby,” Ware said. “The immune protection, it’s like a powerhouse inside the breast milk.”

While about 66 percent of Black infants are breastfed compared to more than 82 percent of white and Latinx moms, renewed efforts by organizations such as Black Lactation Circle (BLaC) hope to change that data.

“We know that for a woman to be successful at breastfeeding, it takes a village; we also know that Black women in our country are profoundly likely not to have that village in their ordinary lives,” says Khadija Garrison Adams, co-founder of Black Lactation Circle (BLaC) of Central Ohio, a community empowering black pregnant and nursing mothers to meet their breastfeeding goals.

Adams explained that the various breastfeeding networks for Black women fills a necessary gap—a gap largely created by the historic and systemic inequities that Adams describes.

“Throughout the last century, there’s also been this push of formula onto Black women,” Adams said,

While researchers agree that targeted breastfeeding interventions for Black mothers could potentially increase their breastfeeding uptake. In a recent report on breastfeeding and racial disparities, the CDC explained that strategies for increasing breastfeeding rates among Black women included improving peer and family support. Research suggests that Black lactation and breastfeeding support groups not only give Black women and the necessary support needed to reach their breastfeeding goals; but they also have can lead to a deeper understanding of the needs of Black women in their community that ultimately provides insight into system gaps and barriers that perpetuate breastfeeding disparities.


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