Doctoral Student Devane-Johnson Featured in NC Health News

Distant Echoes of Slavery Affect Breast-feeding Attitudes of Black Women

Black women have some of the lowest rates of breast-feeding. One midwife found some surprising reasons why that might be so.

By Rose Hoban, published in North Carolina Health News

As certified nurse-midwife Stephanie Devane-Johnson works with her patients in Greensboro, she talks to them about a lot of health issues. But for her pregnant clients, one of the biggest topics is breast-feeding.

“I’m asking about whether they’re going to breast-feed or bottle-feed,” Devane-Johnson said. “If they say they’re going to bottle feed, I say, “What about breast-feeding?’’

But to her frustration, for many black women breast-feeding their babies isn’t the first option.

National data show that only about 59 percent of black women breast-feed, compared to 79 percent of whites and 80 percent of Hispanic women. In North Carolina, those rates are even lower: Only about 44 percent of black mothers breast-feed.

This led Devane-Johnson to explore why more black women aren’t breast-feeding.

Some of the answers she found were surprising: The echoes of slave women being forced to give up their milk still resounded. And black women didn’t talk to their sisters, daughters and granddaughters about how to feed their babies; the bottle was just assumed.

And for some women, breast-feeding was a “white thing.”

Continue reading.