Experiences of Racism and Breastfeeding Initiation and Duration Among First-Time Mothers of the Black Women's Health Study

J Racial Ethn Health Disparities. 2018 Dec;5(6):1180-1191. doi: 10.1007/s40615-018-0465-2. Epub 2018 Feb 12.


Background: Breastfeeding rates are lower for black women in the USA compared with other groups. Breastfeeding and lactation are sensitive time points in the life course, centering breastfeeding as a health equity issue. In the USA, experiences of racism have been linked to poor health outcomes but racism relative to breastfeeding has not been extensively investigated.

Aims: This study aims to investigate the association between experiences of racism, neighborhood segregation, and nativity with breastfeeding initiation and duration.

Methods: This is a prospective secondary analysis of the Black Women's Health Study, based on data collected from 1995 through 2005. Daily and institutional (job, housing, police) racism, nativity, and neighborhood segregation in relation to breastfeeding were examined. Odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals were calculated using binomial logistic regression for the initiation outcomes (N = 2705) and multinomial logistic regression for the duration outcomes (N = 2172).

Results: Racism in the job setting was associated with lower odds of breastfeeding duration at 3-5 months. Racism with the police was associated with higher odds of breastfeeding initiation and duration at 3-5 and 6 months. Being born in the USA or having a parent born in the USA predicted lower odds of breastfeeding initiation and duration. Living in a segregated neighborhood (primarily black residents) as a child was associated with decreased breastfeeding initiation and duration relative to growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood.

Conclusion: Experiences of institutionalized racism influenced breastfeeding initiation and duration. Structural-level interventions are critical to close the gap of racial inequity in breastfeeding rates in the USA.

Keywords: Breastfeeding; Duration; Equity; Initiation; Life course; Racism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Black or African American / statistics & numerical data*
  • Breast Feeding / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Odds Ratio
  • Police*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Racism / statistics & numerical data*
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Social Segregation*
  • Time Factors
  • Workplace*