Life-saving Questions Most Doctors Fail to Ask Black Mothers:
Physicians Matter: The life-saving question most doctors fail to ask black mothers.
By Tangela Boyd, MA, IBCLC
When black women go to the doctor’s office for prenatal checkups during pregnancy, are they being asked about breastfeeding? When discussing this with many moms, I sadly must say I discovered that the majority are not. I immediately began to brainstorm, trying to figure out why. My first thought was that maybe there is a stereotype that puts black women at a disadvantage.
Other thoughts I have are maybe doctors feel they do not need to ask because this is something the woman should decide on her own, or maybe they do not ask because they do not see a lot of black women breastfeeding in society as a whole.
Whatever the reason, there has to be a resolution so that it becomes routine that black women are asked if they want to breastfeed during the prenatal period. And if they are asked about breastfeeding and say, No, that they are still offered more information or, perhaps, asked again at a later appointment—not that a negative response ends the breastfeeding conversation forever.
Many years ago during my great-great grandmother’s era, black women breastfed their babies and the babies of white women. Could this have had a negative impact and affected the way breastfeeding evolved for later generations? Did they just get tired of breastfeeding because they wanted to breastfeed only their babies and not anyone else’s baby? Were they made to feel “uncomfortable”? There may not be a simple answer to these questions, but I do think they have an influence on how many black women view breastfeeding in today’s society.
Another reason doctors may not ask black women in the prenatal period if they may be interested in breastfeeding is because they may feel they should not have to. If so, is this fair? It might be a good idea if doctors asked moms if they would be interested in breastfeeding in the prenatal period because it could be a great time to promote breastfeeding. Why not share some benefits of breastfeeding for mom and baby? This could give mom an opportunity to think about the optimal form of feeding for her infant and tips on how she would benefit from breastfeeding. It would be a good idea if doctors and midwives would help promote breastfeeding in the prenatal period. We do not have to put all of the responsibility on the doctors. We have other professionals such as Childbirth educators, Doulas, Dieticians, and Nutritionists who could play a big role in promoting breastfeeding.
One of the biggest reasons black women are not asked to breastfeed in the prenatal period could be that it is simply not “the norm” in our culture. Some of the reasons are due to geographic issues where many black women may live in rural areas where they do not have a lot of access to breastfeeding support groups. There is a lack of promotion; we do not see many billboards around the city, and we just do not have many black women breastfeeding around us. I am not stating that black women do not breastfeed; I am expressing the fact that we have the lowest rates among other races of women. All of these reasons are holding us back from the greatness of breastfeeding! There needs to be a change!
If doctors would ask black women about breastfeeding early on in pregnancy, we could see a higher rate of breastfeeding in society. There are barriers that exist that cannot be ignored and we must come together as individuals to make sure black women are informed early on so they can have the choice to breastfeed or not. They need to entertain the idea of breastfeeding, give it thought instead of being left in the dark. I hope to soon see black women breastfeeding in record numbers and I hope for that sooner, rather than later!
Tangela L. Boyd, MA, IBCLC
Tangela L Boyd is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Doula, and Perinatal Educator. She is a wife and mother of four boys and breastfed all of them, including her twins. Tangela holds a Master of Arts Degree in Health and Wellness with a concentration in Human Lactation from Union Institute and University.