With all the talk about obesity and chronic disease in the African-American community, the surgeon general is out to educate Moms about an early preventive measure: breastfeeding.
“By raising awareness, the success rate among Mothers who want to breastfeed can be greatly improved through active support from their families, their friends, and the community,” Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin, M.D said in a news release that announces the launch of “It’s Only Natural,” a public education campaign designed to raise awareness among African-American women about the importance and benefits associated with breastfeeding. It also provides helpful tips.
The campaign is a good thing, Steven Pratt, M.D., told NewsOne. The author of the soon-to-be-released “SuperfoodsRx Plan for Pregnancy: The Right Choice for a Healthy, Smart, Super Baby” and the New York Times bestseller “SuperfoodsRx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life” says breastfeeding helps fight obesity and chronic disease.
“In my new book, I stress breastfeeding even if you have to use a breast pump,” Pratt told NewsOne. “By six to 12 months after birth, a Mother sets the course for chronic disease prevention by providing important nutritional benefits, such as antibodies and reduced risk for developing high cholesterol and high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and many cancers for Mother and child.”
There are disturbing rates of obesity among children and women in the African-American community. Both groups have the highest rates of being overweight or obese compared to other groups in the United States.
About four out of five African-American women are overweight or obese, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Childhood obesity rates in America have tripled over the past three decades, and today, nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese. The statistics are even higher in Black and Hispanic communities, where nearly 40 percent of the children are overweight or obese.
And the leading cause of death among African Americans, according to the CDC, are chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes, which could be treated if caught early.
Breastfeeding is one way to help steel Mother and child against some of those diseases, Pratt says.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 80 percent of all U.S. women — regardless of status, race, or income — start out breastfeeding, the rate among African-American women was almost 55 percent. That is a major increase from 35 percent in the 1970s, but it is still well below that of other ethnicities in the United States, particularly among those living in the South.
The gap may indicate that African-American mothers face barriers to meeting breastfeeding goals and need additional support to start, which sparked the campaign that is designed to provide materials that reflect the experience of African-American Moms.
“Breastfeeding not only ensures that children will have a healthy life, it is also the easiest way for women to lose weight after a pregnancy,” Pratt said. “I urge pregnant women to eat smart and remind them that they are not eating for two; they are eating for one adult and a seven pounder. Besides providing important nutrients for their child, breastfeeding cuts the risk of postpartum obesity and cuts the risk of breast cancer.”
Pratt also explained that it cuts breast cancer risk because women who are breastfeeding are not producing as much estrogen, which fuels 80 percent of breast cancers.
Breastfeeding also helps women avoid the metabolic syndrome, or excess body fat around the waist, because the woman’s body is working to provide important nutrients to the child and burning calories.
Pratt says if Mothers have to use a breast pump, they should use the milk within the hour because the hormones and nutrients change. The closer a Mother feeds the baby to the time the milk was pumped, the better it will be because the nutrients and hormones are preprogrammed to have maximum impact on the child and the milk profile changes with each hour.
Pratt said he applauds the surgeon general’s efforts because “breastfeeding Mothers are programming their children for a lifetime. It helps Mothers so they can be healthy later in life.”