Answering Questions About Minority Women and Breastfeeding

Although the rate of breastfeeding among minority women has climbed in the past two decades, a disparity in the breastfeeding rate remains. Ronny Bell, PhD and co-director of the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity, talks about the issue.

Why do fewer minority women breastfeed?

One of the major contributors is that, unfortunately in this country, minority families are generally overrepresented in the population that lives below the poverty level. So you have a situation where women who have children need to go back to work in order to support their family, and that makes it more difficult for them to breastfeed.

Does place of employment affect the potential for breastfeeding?

That's probably true. (Poorer women are) more likely to have an hourly job and probably more likely to have a job that would not have a private location to pump or to do the things that you need to do to continue breastfeeding. It may also be the case that some of the pumping devices-some of the better ones-may be more expensive, and so those poorer women may be less likely to have them.

You also have to be able to keep the milk somewhere during the day, so you have to have a refrigerator available in your place of employment. All of those factors play into it.

What can be done to encourage breastfeeding and reduce the disparity in the breastfeeding rate?

I think that you're going to have to have employers that will be conducive to providing the environment where breastfeeding is supported. Also, encouragement for breastfeeding needs to start very early in the prenatal time period. It takes a concerted effort to encourage women to breastfeed, to let them know that there are support networks out there.

If there is availability of a lactation consultant or someone, a family member, who can provide encouragement for breastfeeding, then that will go a long way. With the disparities in infant mortality for minority families, reducing some of the barriers for breastfeeding would be very beneficial.


The Wake Forest School of Medicine Women's Health Center of Excellence for Research, Leadership, Education supports breastfeeding as one way to give your newborn the best care possible.

In addition to offering three lactation rooms, breastfeeding classes taught by a certified lactation consultant are available. For more information about breastfeeding programs, go to

In addition:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health website,, has information on diverse topics relating to breastfeeding.

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Last Updated: 02-02-2015
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