Health Department Releases Neighborhood Report on Breastfeeding Practices Among North and Central Brooklyn Women

The report highlights breastfeeding challenges faced by first time mothers in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville

August 26, 2016—The Health Department’s Center for Health Equity today issued the neighborhood report “Feeding Our Future: Breastfeeding Realities among North and Central Brooklyn Women and Their Babies.” The report documents the decisions and challenges to breastfeeding through the eyes of 19 women of color in the neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville. The report highlights barriers to breastfeeding and outlines recommendations for creating a more supportive environment for mothers who want to breastfeed. To learn more about the report, visit:
“Many mothers, especially black and Latina mothers face barriers to breastfeeding,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “This research reinforces why it’s so important for families, hospitals and policymakers to create environments that support all mothers who want to breastfeed.”
“We need to shift the burden and blame off mothers in reaching their breastfeeding goals and instead address the racial and ethnic, cultural and systemic barriers that do not make breastfeeding possible,” said Dr. Torian Easterling, Assistant Commissioner, Brooklyn Neighborhood Health Action Centers. “We must reimagine communities, where children can have the full opportunity to grow up healthy. Communities where breastfeeding families receive consistent support in their neighborhood, in hospital, at home and at work.”
The report is based on a qualitative study conducted by the Brooklyn Neighborhood Health Action Center, formerly Brooklyn District Public Health Office, to inform its Brooklyn Breastfeeding Empowerment Zone (BFEZ) initiative. The BFEZ initiative, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, trains community members to become lactation counselors and doulas, who in turn, educate families and community stakeholders about the importance of supporting breastfeeding in their neighborhood.

The report is based on interviews conducted with 19 Black and Latina first-time pregnant women. Once in their third trimester, and again four weeks after their babies were born. Key influencers in the family, such as the babies’ fathers and maternal grandmothers were also interviewed. Key qualitative findings include:
  • The majority of the women who participated in the study want to breastfeed, and believe breastfeeding is the healthiest choice for their babies.
  • Study participants also believe that new mothers in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville face barriers to breastfeeding. For many, breastfeeding in public places does not feel socially accepted.
  • Breastfeeding support from health care providers, employers, partners, family and community members matters, because their support helps women achieve their breastfeeding goals.
  • Breastfeeding education is also important. It helps women and families make informed decisions about breastfeeding and helps them deal with the challenges.
The report offers recommendations to make Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville breastfeeding-friendly neighborhoods, including calling on health care providers and hospitals to be first-line sources of breastfeeding information and support, and engaging community members, policy makers and health advocates to support breastfeeding in their communities. It also calls for continued support of initiatives that educate fathers about their important role as breastfeeding champions. 

"Community health is public health. The obstacles neighborhood residents face in leading healthy lives show up in very real disparities in healthfulness in New York communities. That's why the Health Department’s and community partners' work in breaking down the obstacles to breastfeeding is so important. Whether through the Brooklyn Breastfeeding Empowerment Zone initiative, or through gathering the experience of mothers and following through with constructive recommendations and action, or through partnering with families, clinicians, policy makers, and community residents, we have all have a role to play in empowering our community's mothers and ensuring our community's youngest residents get the healthy start they deserve," said Senator Jesse Hamilton.

"I am an African American woman who breastfed my child. I was lucky. I had family support and privacy. As a result, I could breastfeed at work and church. I attribute breastfeeding to my child’s good health. She has not had any health issues,” said Assembly Member Latrice Walker. “Many other African American women would like to exclusively breastfeed as long as possible but cannot readily find privacy or social support. In addition, African American women are often confronted with cultural misogyny that believes breasts are for sex rather than feeding babies. Cultural education is needed to allow African American women to feel comfortable breastfeeding their baby on demand, even in public.”

“This report shows the numerous hurdles breastfeeding mothers from minority communities still face on a daily basis. This is why I established a lactation room in my office and joined the movement to create a Breastfeeding Empowerment Zone. As the proud father of two children, I have personally witnessed firsthand the invaluable benefits of breastfeeding both to mother and child,” said Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley.

“The Health Department’s ‘Feeding Our Future’ confirms much of what we have suspected and witnessed regarding the obstacles to breastfeeding for women of color. Findings like these are why I’m proud to have help conceive one of the nation’s most progressive laws regarding provision of public lactation rooms, a law that Mayor de Blasio signed at Brooklyn Borough Hall — home to our own Lactation Lounge since last Mother’s Day. Education on breastfeeding is key, as is actively combating social stigmas that put undue pressures on moms. My administration’s baby card initiative will hopefully continue to advance this great mission by informing new parents at nearly a dozen local hospitals about breastfeeding from the moment their daughter or son is born. I thank Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett for her continued commitment to advancing the public health imperative that is breastfeeding,” said Brooklyn Borough President, Eric L. Adams.

“As Chair of the Women's Issues Committee and Co-Chair of the Women’s Caucus, I would like to acknowledge the incredible women throughout this city and beyond that unequivocally breastfeed their children anytime and anyplace. This is a personal decision for every woman, which ought to be respected within our society. It is essential that we support the bonding experience between mother and child because we know that mother's milk is the best milk,” said Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo.

As part of a multipronged strategy to promote and support breastfeeding across the city, Mayor de Blasio recently signed the lactation room bill, sponsored by Council Member Robert E. Cornegy, Council Member Laurie Cumbo, Council Member Corey Johnson and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. The legislation requires certain New York City agencies and offices that offer services to the public to provide lactation rooms for mothers who wish to express breastmilk in a private and comfortable space. The law goes into effect in the summer of 2017. The City agencies included in the mandate are: the Health Department, the Administration for Children’s Services, and the Department of Social Services. The Health Department has five existing lactation rooms available for both employees and visitors, at different locations around the city.  The Health Department has planned lactation rooms for six additional sites, including three in Brooklyn and two in the Bronx. To learn more about the bill visit
The Health Department works to promote breastfeeding around the City by implementing a series of community based initiatives such as home visiting programs like the Newborn Home Visiting Program, Nurse-Family Partnership, and the Brooklyn Breastfeeding Empowerment Zone. We also work with hospitals to support their efforts to become Baby Friendly, a prestigious designation that recognizes hospitals for assuring that mothers have the support they need to initiate breastfeeding. Twenty-seven maternity centers are working with the Health Department on this initiative, and there are nine Baby-Friendly Hospitals in NYC.




Christopher Miller/Carolina Rodríguez
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