Boston Public Health Commission Recognizes Black Breastfeeding Week at Bolling Building Event
BOSTON – August 24, 2023 – The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) today gathered lawmakers, advocates, health care providers, and community partners at the Bruce C. Bolling Building in Roxbury to recognize Black Breastfeeding Week, an annual celebration that takes place at the end of August. This week is dedicated to acknowledging the inequities in Black breastfeeding rates, the impacts they have on Black families, and the ways that we can support Black families on their breastfeeding journeys.
This morning’s event at the Bolling Building featured remarks from Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Commissioner of Public Health and Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission, Alexandra Valdez, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement, and Rosandria Williams, a local mother and breastfeeding advocate. The event also featured a ribbon cutting ceremony for the recently installed Mamava lactation pod in the Bolling Building lobby. The Mamava pod, which is free and open to the public, provides a comfortable environment for mothers to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding during the first two years of a child’s life is one of the most effective ways to support health and development. Breast milk contains valuable nutrients and antibodies that can be passed along to babies and can protect them from illnesses and infectious diseases. Despite its importance, only 25% of infants born in 2020 were exclusively breastfed in their first 6-months of life, according to CDC data, and most families do not breastfeed children through the first two years of their life as recommended by the CDC, World Health Organization (WHO), and American Academic of Pediatrics (AAP).
National data also show Black mothers have lower rates of breastfeeding initiation and exclusive breastfeeding than their white counterparts, as well as lower rates of breastfeeding at six months and one year compared to white mothers. These disparities are fueled by systemic inequities that put access to breastfeeding support, breastfeeding friendly spaces education, and breastfeeding-friendly work environments out of reach to Black mothers.
“Breastfeeding is important for supporting the health and wellbeing of babies and infants, but for many families, especially our Black families, it’s inaccessible,” said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Commissioner of Public Health and Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “We’re in the midst of nationwide Black maternal health crisis, but we can help Black babies and infants thrive and overcome the inequities harming our Black communities by supporting these families on their breastfeeding journeys.”
The same systemic pressures that make breastfeeding inaccessible to Black families also undermine Black maternal health outcomes in Boston. According to the latest data from BPHC, the rate of infant mortality among Black residents in Boston (9.7 deaths per 1,000 live births) were more than twice the citywide average (4.6 deaths per 1,000 live births) in 2021. Neighborhoods with higher concentrations of Black residents also experienced significantly worse maternal health outcomes than others.
Hyde Park had the highest rate of infant mortality of any Boston neighborhood (7.8 deaths per 1,000 live births) from 2012-2021. Mattapan had the most low-birthweight births (12.5%) for 2019, 2020, and 2021 combined. Mattapan (12.7%) and Dorchester (11.1% for zip codes 02121 and 02125 and 10.7% for zip codes 02122 and 02124) had the highest percentage of preterm births in Boston for 2019, 2020, and 2021 combined.
A full report detailing maternal health inequities in Boston will be published in September.
“Ensuring that new moms have support and the necessary resources in their community is crucial," said Alexandra Valdez, Executive Director of Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement. “As a woman of color, Latina and first-time mom, I understand the firsthand struggle women face when breastfeeding, especially in public.”
Improving Black breastfeeding rates to support healthier Black babies and neighbors is a key part of BPHC’s efforts to address these troubling inequities. Additionally, BPHC’s Healthy Start Initiative recently launched the Love for Latch campaign, a bold initiative that will create an inclusive and supportive environment for Black women to feel connected and confident in their breastfeeding journey. The goal of the campaign is to increase the amount of supportive breastfeeding spaces and environments accessible to Black families in Boston and to raise awareness about the importance of breastfeeding.
More information about maternal health care services and programs in Boston is available on the Boston Public Health Commission website and at LoveForLatch.org.