The Breastfeeding Gap Between Race and Income

In March 2016, the White House made the initiative to bring awareness and help bridge the diaper gap — a social concept that explains that not all people with children, especially lower income families can afford diapers. In fact, according to the White House, 1 in 3 American families struggle to afford diapers — which are an absolute necessity for every baby and toddler not yet potty trained. But what about the cost of breastfeeding — is there a breastfeeding gap, similar to the diaper gap? The answer is yes, there is a gap between races who decide to breastfeed.

The diaper gap exists, according to the White House, because diapers are expensive — when families are already struggling to afford rent and make ends meet, then they're more than likely struggling to afford diapers. According to the White House, an average of $936 is spent on diapers each year. While breastfeeding is relatively free, a study found that along with an income gap, there is a racial gap in breastfeeding. The study conducted by Chapman University in California found that breastfeeding rates differ among white, black, and hispanic mothers. This disparity is shown in the numbers alone. According to The New York Times, the CDC has found that 58.9 percent of black infants have breastfed compared to 75.2 percent of white infants and 80 percent of hispanic infants.

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The Chapman University study, published this past July, found that "black mothers were nine times more likely to be given formula in the hospital than white mothers" — which, according to the study, was one of the main reasons that there is a racial disparity in breastfeeding. The study also found that in addition to being given formula in the hospital, higher rates of poverty and lower levels of education accounted for the breastfeeding gap.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backs up this claim — according to the CDC, breastfeeding rates in the U.S. remain relatively low in groups of women, particularly those who "are young, black, at or below the federal poverty level, and have less than a college education." According to the Chapman University study, hispanic mothers are more likely to breastfeed because they were "much more likely to have a family member who breastfed then white or black women."

The breastfeeding gap exists for multiple reasons — like mothers being given formula in the hospital instead of being urged to breastfeed their babies or not knowing anyone who breast fed their children. Some mothers might be afraid to breastfeed because of the stigma surrounding it. Breastfeeding is much more inexpensive than formula feed a baby — according to Baby Center, it costs around $60 to $100 a month to feed a baby — while breastfeeding is relatively free but can often have costly optional accessories to make the process easier for the mother.

Chelsea McKinney, lead researcher on the Chapman University study told Parents that bridging the breastfeeding gap could easily happen. According to Parents:

Change is possible. And we hope to see racial and ethnic disparities in breastfeeding diminish as more hospitals serving low-income populations become "baby-friendly" and encourage breastfeeding through close maternal-infant contact after birth and discouraging formula use.