Despite the health and economic benefits, breast-feeding among African-American mothers is disturbingly low

Breast-feeding has become something of a hot-button issue of late, with First Lady Michelle Obama and the U.S. surgeon general stressing its health benefits.

In February, during a roundtable discussion of her various health-related initiatives, Obama commented that children who are breast-fed are less likely to be obese, and that she wanted to make it easier for mothers to breast-feed. This came days before a new Internal Revenue Service policy allowing tax deductions for breast pumps.

In January, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin issued a call to arms to remove obstacles for working mothers who wish to breast-feed. “It makes economic sense for the company,” Benjamin said in a statement. “Women miss less time at work when the babies are healthy, and there’s retention of their good employees.”

By 2020, the government’s goal is to have 82 percent of women breast-feeding, with about 25 percent of those babies breast-fed exclusively for about six months.

Of particular concern is the breast-feeding rates among African-American mothers, which are significantly lower than those of whites and Hispanics. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the journal Pediatrics found that only 40 percent of black women had ever breast-fed, compared with 70 percent of white women and 72 percent of Hispanic women.