According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the current literature on breastfeeding patterns among American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) mothers is scarce, thus warranting further research.
Based on the limited data, AI/AN mothers have lower rates of breastfeeding initiation (introduction of breastfeeding within one hour of birth), duration, and exclusivity relative to other racial/ethnic groups except for African Americans:
- AI/AN rates of breastfeeding initiation (73%) among all races/ethnicities versus the average (83%)
- Rates of breastfeeding duration at 6 months (42.4%) and at 12 months (20.7% of mothers who initiate)
- 76% (3 out of 4) of AI/AN mothers terminated breastfeeding within 4 months of the child’s birth
- Formula supplementation is high (97%) for those mothers who didn’t initiate.
- There’s no regulation on how baby formula is advertised in the U.S., a reason mothers could think formula is a substitute for breast milk.
- Pasteurized donor milk could help those babies, but it’s often not covered by either private or public insurance, and buying donor milk without insurance can easily cost thousands of dollars a month.
- That leaves many newborns, especially those in low-income families, without access. At “safety-net” hospitals where more than 75 percent of patients are on Medicaid, only 13 percent routinely make donor milk available to premature babies in intensive care, according to a 2012 survey.
- Lack of knowledge about breastfeeding, unsupportive cultural and social norms, concerns about milk supply, poor family and social support, and unsupportive work and childcare environments make it difficult for many mothers to meet their breastfeeding goals. It is the “political, social, and environmental factors that actually shape breastfeeding.”**
- On a positive note, AI/AN mothers who were still breastfeeding at 6 months were more likely to still be breastfeeding at 12 months
So, this community is to put a face to the data and to share the contributions, importance, adversity, and celebration of Native breast/chestfeeding families.
Native Breastfeeding is an act of defiance to the colonial systems and their imposed “norms” as well as a resilience of culture and body sovereignty, no matter the length of your experience. In decolonizing practices of motherhood such as breastfeeding, we can promote food sovereignty, body sovereignty, and the healing of the next generation. In decolonizing feeding practices, we follow the needs of our children.
“Extended breastfeeding” is what some advocates call breastfeeding beyond years 1 or 2, but, as an Indigenous person, to continue to meet the needs of our children by chest/breastfeeding beyond infancy, we are merely upholding our traditional parenting.
- Jasha Lyons Echo-Hawk, Oklahoma, "A Closer Look At Native Breastfeeding Week"