The Historical, Psychosocial, and Cultural Context of Breastfeeding in the African American Community

We really want to re-share The Historical, Psychosocial, and Cultural Context of Breastfeeding in the African American Community, an incredible, difficult, and powerful read! This article is particularly impactful while knowing that the American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated its Policy Statement: Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk recommendations to support optimal infant and young child growth and development. We know that community support of breastfeeding is critical for supporting Black Breastfeeding families. Federal paid leave protection and other federal policies are vital to ensure equity in access to the protections for families and critical to supporting families to meet their feeding goals. We remain committed to advocating for policies that foster equitable protections for families to meet the needs of their infants and young children, including the Black Child National Agenda.  


Breastfeeding provides a range of benefits for the infant’s growth, immunity, and development. It also has health benefits for the mother, including a reduced risk of premenopausal breast cancer, earlier return to prepregnancy weight, reduction of postpartum bleeding, and reduced risk of osteoporosis. There are a number of complex factors that influence the decision to initiate and continue breastfeeding, including those “external” to women, such as cultural beliefs. The cultural context and environment of decision making are illuminated through the prism of traditions and historical and cultural events. The ideology and sentiment of breastfeeding have changed during the course of history and have evolved within the African American community. Throughout the evolution of infant feeding practices, historical aftermaths have contributed to the legacy and emotional context of infant feeding trends. The tradition of wet nursing for African American women is inherently linked to white supremacy, slavery, medical racism and the physical, emotional, and mental abuse that enslaved African American women endured. Thus, the decision to breastfeed and the act of breastfeeding may remain deeply affected by the generational trauma of wet nursing during slavery. The associated negative connotation of wet nursing, slavery, and medical exploitation is one of the many nuanced cultural barriers that denies Black women and infants the many health benefits of breastfeeding.