When singer Beyonce Knowles made the choice to breast-feed her new daughter, Blue Ivy, at a New York City restaurant where she was dining with husband Jay-Z, word spread fast. Twitter was abuzz with the news, gossip sites blogged it, breast-feeding advocates cheered and others, who still consider breast-feeding “gross” or “nasty,” sneered.
“I think it's amazing when any woman breast-feeds in public, but I especially think it is tremendously important for Knowles, as a public figure,” said actress Mayim Bialik who plays Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS' “The Big Bang Theory.”
Bialik just released a new book, “Beyond the Sling,” in which she shares her family's experience with attachment parenting, a style of parenting coined by Dr. William Sears, one of the world's most respected authors and experts on baby health and wellness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fewer black women breast-feed than any other ethnicity in America.
“What Knowles is doing is putting a positive face on an African-American, incredible, strong working woman who is breast-feeding,” Bialik said. Bialik has a doctorate in neuroscience, has completed all the coursework to become a lactation consultant and plans to get certified soon.
Bialik breast-fed both her children wherever and whenever she needed to. Last year, Bialik was photographed on the subway in New York, breast-feeding Fred, her 3-year-old. It was either that, Bialik said, or a toddler meltdown.
“I like to joke that pretty much every waiter in Los Angeles has probably seen my breasts from my years of breast-feeding in public,” Bialik said.
Breast-feeding mothers need to know that their rights to breast-feed in public are protected by law, both federal and state. Wherever the woman is allowed to be, she is allowed to breast-feed. Additionally, work places are encouraged, and in some cases required by law to provide breaks and a place other than a bathroom for lactating women to feed their babies or express milk.
Most people are familiar with the reasons breast-feeding is good for babies. Breast-fed babies are more resistant to ear infections and other diseases during infancy. They are also less likely to develop juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and cancer before age 15, according to womenshealth.gov.
The site notes research that shows that if 90 percent of mothers breast-fed exclusively for 6 months, nearly 1,000 deaths among infants could be prevented. This is especially significant news for black families as the infant mortality rate among black infants is 2.4 times higher than that of white infants, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Knowles' public breast-feeding also sparked a deluge of commentary, articles and conversations about the fact that fewer black women breast-feed their babies than other ethnicities, a fact that could be a contributor to the heightened infant mortality rate among black babies, some experts believe. In the United States, the CDC's 2010 Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance report shows that 50 percent of black mothers have ever attempted to breast-feed (that number for whites is 60 percent). However, only about 10.4 percent of black women continued to do so for at least one year — as opposed to 12.5 percent of white mothers.
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