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Culture can discourage breastfeeding babies

Culture can discourage breastfeeding babies

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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Breastfeeding is one of the best things a new mom can do for her baby. But many women often are influenced by strong cultural and ethnic norms.

Pediatricians say to get the most health benefits, babies should be breastfed exclusively for at least the first six months of life. But strong factors that include race, education, even marketing work against the breast.

Baby D'Angelo is one week old and already off to a good start. His mom, Maria Juarez, is feeding him only breast milk.

"It's very important for the baby's health," she said.

But not all women are convinced the breast is best. In California, the exclusive breast feeding rate among white women is higher than Asians and Pacific Islander, and nearly twice that of African American and Hispanic women.

Part of the problem is tradition and culture.

Lactation specialist Maya Vazquez said, "It's really very, very hard for a woman to go out into a community if everyone is bottle feeding, and she was bottle fed. There's not much support at all."

A woman named Grace said, "Traditionally they were very used to breastfeeding. It was the norm in Chinese cultures and many Asian cultures, but immigrant women would decide against it. One is the misconception that formula would be better."

Not only that, but for many immigrants, the American way includes the bottle as a status symbol.

A woman named Maya said, "The idea that it is an upper class thing to bottle feed remains in many communities."

But women like Maria are changing attitudes in families and communities. All three of her babies were breast-fed.

"For as long as he wants. Two years. No more babies. He's the last one," she said.

New findings show nearly 87 percent of new moms want to breastfeed and begin to do so in the hospital, yet less than half go home exclusively breastfeeding their babies. Researchers point to hospital policies that discourage moms. They found hospitals that are baby-friendly are reversing that trend very quickly.

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Dr. Kim Mulvihill


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