Why are black women more likely to feed their infants formula than mothers of other races? That’s what a recent study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center hopes to determine.

African American; Hispanic; Asian; and white, non-Hispanic pregnant women were interviewed regarding their intentions to breastfeed. The research found that while an equal percentage of mothers across the board felt comfortable with the idea of breastfeeding, black respondents were still far more likely to use formula. Now, by learning the roots of their preference for bottle-feeding, researchers hope to shift African American patients’ thinking and encourage breastfeeding.

The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding exclusively during a baby’s first six months, and various studies have been published touting its benefits for infant health. However, a study monitoring babies born in 2006 found that 77% of white, non-Hispanic children were breastfed, compared to only 60% of African American babies.

“We are committed to learning more about what influences women’s understanding of the risks of formula feeding, because this is a key part of improving breastfeeding practices and therefore, infant health, for some of our most vulnerable newborns,” says lead author Dr. Laurie Nommsen-Rivers. “The study results tell us that public health campaigns to promote breastfeeding must also include messages regarding the risks of formula feeding. For example, we know that formula-fed infants, even here in the U.S., are twice as likely to suffer an ear infection and 2-3 times more likely to develop gastroenteritis as compared to exclusively breastfed infants.” 

There are already public campaigns out there advocating breastfeeding, but researchers concluded that these campaigns have not been successful. Nommsen-Rivers says they plan to continue their research in order to discover what has led to these disparities.

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