Creating Equal Access to Breast Pumps for Black NICU Moms

Medela Cares / March 2022

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 10 births in the United States in 2020 was a preterm birth. Though the preterm birth rate did decline 1% in 2020, from 10.2% in 2019 to 10.1% in 2020, the racial and ethnic disparities in preterm births remain. In fact, the rate of preterm birth among African-American women (14.4%) was about 50% higher than the rate of preterm birth among white women. 

It is crucial to not only acknowledge the reality that African-American women have much higher rates of preterm birth - many times due to racism-related stress, but when looking at historical and current actions of racism; the injustice experienced throughout history - but to also understand that acknowledging racism is not nearly enough. Racial trauma is real. This cannot be ignored. 

Imagine what life looks like for African-American parents in the NICU. Not only are they experiencing the same trauma, stresses, and fear that all NICU parents experience, but there is also the added psychological stressors unique to many people in the African-American community, such as higher rates of maternal mental health disorders, anxiety around the stress of living in high-crime areas, provider communication and trust issues, logistical issues, and medical and health insurance inequities. All of these stressors directly affect a mom's body and can have a big impact on her ability to adequately express the life-saving nourishment needed for her preemie - breast milk. 

Now imagine how it must feel to watch other NICU mothers use their own brand-new breast pumps. Imagine having to be in the position of deciding between buying food or paying your rent or mortgage or buying that new breast pump. Imagine feeling judged not only for the color of your skin, but for the fact that you have to rent those colossal and archaic hospital pumps. The act of producing life-saving breast milk has now become overwhelmingly stressful - among everything else - and erodes the breastfeeding and pumping experience. 

Overall, 83% of U.S. mothers breastfed their babies at birth. But when researchers broke down that number by race, 85% of white mothers reported that they breastfed - which is far more than the 69% of Black mothers who stated the same, and comes to about a 16% disparity. 

The Alliance for Black NICU Families™

The Alliance for Black NICU Families™ came together in unity from two preemie moms of different backgrounds who sought to make a difference in the racial and health equity space as a nod to the social justice realities of 2020 and the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a white policeman. 

The Alliance for Black NICU Families™:

  • seeks to raise the voices of Black families in the NICU and post-NICU in terms of creating racial and health equity through policy advocacy, professional education initiatives, family educational initiatives, leadership mentoring of up-and-coming African American-led organizations, and public outreach for assistance.
  • Provide financial assistance to lift up Black families and equalize access to healthcare, services, and products and programs. 

Organizations like The Alliance for Black NICU Families™ are a direct result of the desire for change and equality. The strength of the Black community is becoming more and more evident as they come together to create their own networks of healthcare that provide support in the form of Black doula organizations and Black breastfeeding organizations. It is the strength and resilience of this community and its allies that keeps pushing for change, to increase services and eliminate barriers to health access, and equalize the playing field from birth. 

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