Graduate School of Nursing Dissertations

Publication Date


Document Type

Dissertation, Doctoral


Graduate School of Nursing

Dissertation Committee Chair

Donna Perry


Black women, breastfeeding duration, racism, health equity, racial inequity, African Americans, Breast Feeding, Lactation, Racism, Women's Health

Subject Categories

Health Services Administration | Maternal and Child Health | Nursing | Race and Ethnicity | Women's Health


BACKGROUND: Breastfeeding and lactation are cited as sensitive periods in the life course that contribute to the accumulation of risks or opportunities ultimately shaping vulnerability or resilience later in life. As such, breastfeeding and lactation are critical components of health equity. Despite this, Black women in the U.S. initiate and continue to breastfeed at lower rates than White women and other groups. Underlying reasons for racial inequities in breastfeeding rates are poorly understood. Exposure to racism, one manifestation of historical oppression in the U.S. has been cited as a determinant of poor health outcomes for decades but has not been extensively described in the context of breastfeeding.

AIMS: To investigate the association between experiences of racism and 1.) breastfeeding initiation 2.) breastfeeding duration 3.) and the association between selected life-course factors and breastfeeding initiation and duration among participants of the Black Women’s Health Study.

METHODS: This study was a prospective secondary analysis of the Black Women’s Health Study. The sample included all participants who enrolled in 1995, responded to the racism assessment in 1997 and reported the birth of a first child following the racism assessment resulting in an N=2, 995 for the initiation outcome and N= 2,392 for the duration outcome. In addition to the racism assessment, we also included life-course factors (nativity, neighborhood segregation and social mobility). For each aim, we calculated odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals using binomial and multinomial logistic regression using two models. The first adjusted for age, the second adjusted for age, BMI, education, marital status, geographic region, neighborhood SES and occupation.

RESULTS: Associations between daily and institutional summary racism variables and breastfeeding initiation and duration were small and not statistically significant. Experiences of racism in the job setting was associated with lower odds of breastfeeding duration at 3-5 months compared with 3 months 95% CI [0.60, 0.98]. Experiences of racism with the police was associated with higher odds of breastfeeding initiation and duration at 3-5 months [1.01, 1.77] and at 6 months [1.10, 1.82] compared with women who did not report this experience. The participant’s nativity and the nativity of her parents were life-course factors that predicted lower odds of breastfeeding initiation and duration. Neighborhood segregation did not reach statistical significance after adjusting for covariates but results trended toward lower odds of breastfeeding initiation and duration for women who reported living in a predominately Black neighborhood (compared with White) up to age 18 and for women who reported living in a predominately Black neighborhood in 1999.

CONCLUSION: Experiences of institutional racism in the job setting was associated with lower odds of breastfeeding duration. In addition to explicit experiences of racism, this study provides preliminary evidence surrounding life-course factors and breastfeeding. Individual level interventions may mitigate harmful effects of racism but structural level interventions are critical to close the gap of racial inequity in breastfeeding rates in the U.S.


Material from this dissertation has been published in: Griswold MK, Crawford SL, Perry DJ, Person SD, Rosenberg L, Cozier YC, Palmer JR. Experiences of Racism and Breastfeeding Initiation and Duration Among First-Time Mothers of the Black Women's Health Study. J Racial Ethn Health Disparities. 2018 Feb 12. doi: 10.1007/s40615-018-0465-2. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 29435898.



Rights and Permissions

Copyright is held by the author, with all rights reserved.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.