“Building Capacity to Increase Breastfeeding Support in Communities of Color: Lessons Learned from the Cook County Collaborative for Breastfeeding Equity” – Natalia Ongtengco


Author: Natalia Ongtengco

Department: University of Illinois at Chicago College of Applied Health Sciences

Faculty: Angela Odoms-Young, PhD

Breastfeeding has been shown to lead to better health outcomes in mothers and infants. Infants have a reduced risk of asthma, type 1 diabetes, and obesity. Similarly, mothers are at a lower risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and ovarian and breast cancer. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants are exclusively breastfed for six months for greater protection from illnesses. Despite the health benefits of breastfeeding, only one in four infants are exclusively breastfed by six months. Breastfeeding represents a health disparity in the United States where black infants are 15% less likely than white infants to have ever been breastfed (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019). From a study in Chicago community areas, 13% of non-Hispanic, black mothers had breastfed for at least six months and 69% had never breastfed (Hughes et al., 2018). This study uses community feedback to identify the perceived barriers in different Chicago neighborhoods and ways to better support breastfeeding. We hosted a Cook County townhall on breastfeeding equity and conducted a survey of participants. The townhall is a component of the Illinois State Physical Activity and Nutrition (ISPAN) learning collaborative to increase support for breastfeeding in Cook County for low-income, African American, and Latinx communities. The survey asked questions on barriers, advocacy, and lacking support for breastfeeding in the respondents’ communities. Respondents (n = 22) were all female, ages 21 – 63 years, consisting of mostly parents, students, and individuals affiliated with universities and community or social service organizations. Findings indicate that the primary perceived barriers include lack of education and support in the hospital, return to work, and poor family and social support. To support breastfeeding, the majority of participants indicated that their community needs to reduce stigma, increase the number of safe breastfeeding spaces, and advocate for workers’ rights for breastfeeding. The findings can guide policy recommendations and the direction of initiatives to increase the support for breastfeeding in Cook County.

Keywords: breastfeeding equity, barriers, Cook County, community support, African American, Latinx

Read more about Natalia's work here