Racial Differences in Breastfeeding on the Mississippi Gulf Coast: Making Sense of a Promotion-Prevalence Paradox with Cross-Sectional Data
Breastfeeding is less prevalent among African American women than their white peers. Moreover, breastfeeding rates in the South lag behind those in other regions of the U.S. Consequently, various efforts have been undertaken to promote breastfeeding among groups for which this practice is less common. This study examines African American and white racial disparities concerning (1) exposure to breastfeeding promotional information and (2) reported prevalence of breastfeeding in primary social networks. The survey combines a randomly selected sample of adults representative of the population and a non-random oversample of African Americans in a predominantly rural tri-county area on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. An initial wave of 2019 Mississippi REACH Social Climate Survey data collected under the auspices of the CDC-funded REACH program (Mississippi's Healthy Families, Mothers, and Babies Initiative; 2018–2023) is used to examine racial disparities in these two key outcomes for Mississippians in Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson counties. The results show that African American respondents are more likely to be exposed to breastfeeding promotional messages than their white counterparts. However, the reported prevalence of breastfeeding in African American respondents' primary social networks is significantly lower than that indicated by their white peers. These paradoxical results underscore the limitations of promotional efforts alone to foster breastfeeding. While breastfeeding promotion is important, the reduction of racial disparities in this practice likely requires a multi-pronged effort that involves structural breastfeeding supports (e.g., lactation spaces, peer networking groups, and pro-breastfeeding employment policies and workplaces). This study provides a promising model of innovative methodological approaches to the study of breastfeeding while underscoring the complex nature of racial disparities in lactation prevalence.