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More minority women are breast-feeding babies

Porcher Harris, 27, gives her 5-month-old daughter a kiss after waking her from her Friday afternoon nap. Harris represents a growing trend of minority women who are breast-feeding their babies, something most of their mothers didn’t do.


Porcher Harris, 27, gives her 5-month-old daughter a kiss after waking her from her Friday afternoon nap. Harris represents a growing trend of minority women who are breast-feeding their babies, something most of their mothers didn’t do.

When Porcher Harris decided she wanted to breast-feed, her mother gave her a breast pump and her support.

What she couldn't give the new Tampa mom was advice. Harris' mother, Maxine, had never breast-fed.

"She said the women in her day didn't think about breast-feeding," said Harris, 27, who is black and breast-feeds her 5-month-old daughter.

Harris represents a changing of the guard. Minority women are breast-feeding more these days, bucking a trend that ranked black and Hispanic women among those least likely to nurse in this country, even as breast-feeding rebounded in the past 30 years.

Over the last decade, the percentage of black infants who were breast-fed increased by about 30 percent and Hispanic infants saw a 13 percent jump, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health officials say efforts by the medical community and a more savvy generation of mothers has led to the change.

"Two or three generations ago, they didn't even have the information in front of them to the benefits of breast-feeding," said Charlene Laping, a lactation consultant for Hillsborough County's WIC program, a federal program that provides help with food, health care and nutrition education for women and children.

"Now they do and it seems more of a simple choice for them to say, 'Oh yes, I am going to breast-feed.'"

Studies have shown benefits of breast-feeding for mothers include reduction in breast cancer rates and a return to pre-pregnant weight faster; for children, reduction in childhood obesity, diabetes, and leukemia.

It's also significantly cheaper than purchasing formula, which can cost up to $1,500 year.

But in communities where breast-feeding is not a tradition, delivering the message of its benefits for newborns and their mothers has taken work.

More than half of the women who deliver at Tampa General are Hispanic. Many are Spanish speakers and it's the first time they've given birth in a state of the art setting.

"It's status in many communities to bottle feed your baby," said lactation specialist Suzanne Shapiro. "But we have to turn around and tell them what would you do in your home country?"

Shapiro and her staff, which includes a Spanish speaking lactation consultant, determine the woman's employment and home situation. Then they devise an individual breast-feeding plan.

Cristina Wingate of Belle Air Bluffs is 35 and of Puerto Rican and Peruvian descent. The first- generation New York native has been steadfast in breast-feeding her 22-month-old daughter in a family that still hasn't quite accepted it.

"It's something I truly believe and not having the support makes it challenging," said Wingate, whose mother did not breast-feed. "When I speak to my family, they'll ask me, 'Oh, are you still breast-feeding her?' "

Wingate, a member of the La Leche League, a worldwide support group for nursing mothers, has begun to educate her younger sisters and nieces about the benefits of breast-feeding.

Delilah Fortenberry, who is black, said it's a matter of information not reaching certain communities. A mental health counselor, she faced some apprehension from associates after she decided to breast-feed her son, now 3 months old.

"They felt it was weird, especially if it's a boy," said Fortenberry, 30, of Wesley Chapel. "But it's a natural kind of thing. The baby is not going to look at you as a sexual object whether it's a boy or a girl."

At the turn of the 20th century, it is believed that nearly 70 percent of new mothers breast-fed, according to the Journal of Nutrition. By 1950, that number had declined to 25 percent.

The decline began as childbirth went from the privacy of homes to hospitals, said Jane Crouse, public relations associate for La Leche League.

"Within a decade, you saw women going to the hospital having their babies, a lot of medical personnel involved and science involved," Crouse said. "Consequently, infant feeding practices went more in the realm of the doctor and not the woman and her community and her mother."

In the mid 1970s, as research emerged about the benefits of breast-feeding, more women began to nurse, Crouse said.

Still minority communities, specifically African-Americans in lower socioeconomic rungs, lagged behind.

Harris understands why. Breast-feeding, particularly when a baby is young, can be a challenge as both mother and child learn the routine.

"There was a point where I wanted to give up, but I knew I had decided I wanted to do it, so I decided to start back," Harris said. "And we do have a bond. She's a momma's girl."

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at [email protected] or (727)893-8828.

. fast facts

Where to find help

For more information on breast-feeding, contact La Leche League at or call toll-free 1-800-525-3243.


Breastfeeding: A Parent's Guide by Amy Spangler

Nursing Mother's Companion by Kathleen Huggins

Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League International

Nursing Mother, Working Mother by Gale Pryor

Mothering Multiples: Breastfeeding and Caring for Twins or More by Karen Kerkhoff Gromada

More minority women are breast-feeding babies 08/11/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 18, 2008 12:49pm]
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