“Baby-Friendly” Hospitals Underserving African American Communities

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

In its analysis of the US locations of Baby-Friendly hospitals—that is, maternity hospitals that have passed a set of stringent standards established by the World Health Organization to assist brand-new parents to begin breastfeeding—Women’s eNews reports that 45 percent of US Baby-Friendly hospitals are in cities and towns that have African American populations of 3 percent or less. And 83% of the nation’s Baby-Friendly hospitals are located in communities where the African American portion of the population is 13 percent or less. According to the report, “This geographic segregation of breastfeeding care and support may play a significant role in the lower breastfeeding rates among African American mothers, which in turn means the mothers and the infants do not enjoy the health benefits of breastfeeding.”

The benefits of breastfeeding include lower risks of ear and gastrointestinal infections, diabetes, and obesity. A mother’s breast milk is important to infants because it contains the antibodies that support them in fighting off viruses, bacteria, allergies and asthma.

Designation of a hospital as Baby-Friendly often depends on someone within a hospital who has the leadership skills, time and determination to lead the change. As Rita Henley Jensen reports, dependence on local leadership has led to “a haphazard distribution of breastfeeding support throughout the United States, affecting all parents.” For young black mothers, the lack of assistance during the crucial hours is “a major missed opportunity,” and overall, a “reflection of the cost of racial segregation that persists throughout most of the United States.”


Source: Rita Henley Jensen, “‘Baby-Friendly’ Hospitals Bypass Black Communities,” Womens eNews, August 29, 2013, http://womensenews.org/story/reproductive-health/130828/baby-friendly-hospitals-bypass-black-communities#.UlRL_GTXi3N.

Student Researcher: Natalie Evans (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Debora Paterniti  (Sonoma State University)