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Should your ZIP code impact your infant’s health?

Kimberly Seals Allers | 8/8/2013, 9:56 a.m. | Updated on 8/8/2013, 9:56 a.m.

I recently had the opportunity to launch a project called the First Food Friendly Community Initiative (www.befirstfoodfriendly.org), a movement to transform desert-like communities into first food-friendly oases. The initiative was started after I led a nine-month project, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, exploring desert-like communities in the Southeast. To better understand the role community support plays in breastfeeding success, we went into key cities in three Southeastern states with some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the country: Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. Our team of surveyors conducted a comprehensive community assessment gauging the actual community influences that a woman meets every day; we looked at everything from access to a support group to physician referrals to the levels of infant formula advertising in the community to the prevalence of nursing mothers rooms in public places.

Our sobering findings opened my eyes to the inequities of support and the absurdity of our expectations of mothers in these areas. There has been a systemic failure in many neighborhoods, and it’s time to build micro-level support in the community. It is no shock that these areas also have some of the highest infant mortality rates in the country. One thing is clear: Our communities are the next frontier in ensuring healthier babies and healthier moms.

Programs like the Breastfeeding Empowerment Zone (BFEZ) project, being launched in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville, Brooklyn, hold promise. The BFEZ will provide comprehensive and multi-level initiatives to support breastfeeding, including promoting male involvement, community education, direct home visits and support groups. This is what we need for healthier babies.

The CDC has consistently maintained that increased breastfeeding among African-American mothers would reduce our high infant mortality rate by as much as 50 percent; currently, Black babies die before their first birthday, on average, at twice the rate of white babies. In New York City, the infant mortality rate for Black babies is three times higher than that of white babies. Those are lost resources and lost potential and sorely impact families in our communities.

We can do better. And for Black babies, the imperative to increase breastfeeding is a lifesaving, all-hands-on-deck-no-matter-where-you-live matter.

Bio: Kimberly Seals Allers is an award-winning journalist, author, a leading commentator on African–American motherhood and a nationally recognized breastfeeding advocate. A former senior editor at Essence and a writer at Fortune, Allers is the author of “The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy” and two other Mocha Manual books, published by HarperCollins. She is also the founder of MochaManual.com, an award-winning pregnancy and parenting website, and Black Breastfeeding 360, a multimedia content library. Her next book, an in-depth analysis of the modern breastfeeding landscape, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in 2014. A graduate of NYU and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Allers is a divorced mother of two who lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @iamKSealsAllers 

Source for NYC infant mortality:

www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/ms/bimt-infant-mortality-overview.pdf