WASHINGTON, July 19 (UPI) -- Black mothers are nine times as likely to be given formula for their babies than white mothers, researchers found a recent study.
Hospital policies and demographics play an outsize role in whether a mother is encouraged to breastfeed or is given formula for her baby, researchers involved with a National Institutes of Health-funded study found.
In addition to the finding about black mothers being more likely to receive formula, the researchers found Hispanic mothers are the most likely to breastfeed for longer because of a family history of doing so -- suggesting family history has a greater influence on whether a mother breastfeeds than previously thought.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children be breastfed for at least six months before a gradual transition to other foods is started, though about half of all children in the United States have been weaned completely by six months of age.
Understanding the role that family history can play, researchers suggest hospitals rethink some of their policies on how and why they opt to encourage formula use instead of breastfeeding.
"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," Chelsea McKinney, a researcher at Northshore University, said in a press release.
The researchers found 92 percent of Spanish-speaking Hispanic mothers planned to breastfeed, with 91 percent doing so for a mean of 17.1 weeks. This was followed by English-speaking Hispanic mothers, with 88 percent intending to and 90 percent breastfeeding for a mean of 10.4 weeks. Among white mothers, 77 pecent planned to breastfeed with 78 percent doing so for a mean duration of 16.5 weeks. Black mothers planned to breastfeed 57 percent of the time, with 61 percent doing so for a mean of 6.4 weeks -- significantly less than all other groups.
Compared to white mothers, the researchers report black mothers were significantly more likely to be nudged to formula feeding, and many were far less likely to have a family history of breastfeeding.
Living with the father of a child also was found to have a large effect on whether a mother breastfed, with researchers saying the study echoed previous research emphasizing the father fostering a positive breastfeeding atmosphere.
"Our results suggest that hospitals and policy makers should limit in–hospital formula introduction and consider family history and demographics to reduce racial and ethnic breastfeeding disparities," said Dr. Madeleine Shalowitz, a director at NorthShore University Health System Research Institute.