Dr. Larita Taylor’s newly published book on breastfeeding has been a labor of love.
“Nurture for the Nurturer: A 12 Day Meditational & Technical Guide for Breastfeeding Mothers
” was born out of Taylor’s passion and concern for public health, and the fact that she couldn’t find a comprehensive book already written on the subject. She began writing down notes from her own experience as a new mother in 2020—those notes led to publishing her book this year.
Dr. Taylor wanted to provide relatable information on the benefits of breastfeeding that offered personal perspective, real data, and a sense of community. There is also an appendix at the back of the book that lists the laws in all 50 U.S. states and territories that support the right to breastfeed.
She said the first part of her vision was to focus on the health of the baby and the benefits of breastfeeding.
“Breastfeeding is like the baby’s first immunization,” said Taylor. “All of the antibodies that a mother has developed throughout her lifetime to any disease are passed forward to her child.”
Everything about the book was carefully chosen, down to the cover art.
“The last part of the vision for the book was about imagery and representation,” she said. “Overwhelmingly, the images of breastfeeding mothers are white. And they are smiling and happy, rested, looking joyfully down at the baby. That’s not really the best representation.”
On the cover, the mother is wearing blue, which represents postpartum depression. Taylor wanted her face to display a more realistic expression of how some breastfeeding mothers feel.
Dr. Taylor is a native Memphian and graduate of the University of Memphis. She became eager to learn more about the “why” behind diseases and conditions that are particularly prevalent in certain ethnicities and geographic locations. While interning with doctors in cardiology, internal medicine, and neurology, she asked questions and made observations.
“When are we going to talk about what’s causing stress? Or the fact that they have diabetes and maybe it’s not genetic,” Taylor said. “Maybe it is because Mama put fat back in her greens because there was only fat back in the grocery stores.”
Taylor attended Vanderbilt University, and then worked for a nonprofit organization where she learned about the socio-ecological factors that affect health. When she eventually enrolled in a public health program at the University of Memphis, she began studying why infant mortality was so high in the Memphis area. She was seeing a high number of people in the community losing children and having complications from diabetes.
“When I learned about global health, and when we talked about challenges around the world, I found out that these things were considered disparities. It was normal for my community of African-American people in the Memphis area,” said Taylor. “But it was abnormal in the context of what is considered healthy worldwide.”
Barriers to Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding may be a natural event for some women, but there can be barriers. When African-American mothers give birth, often the option to breastfeed is not presented. During Taylor’s research, she found that when the babies are born, they are whisked away to get them cleaned up, and in some instances given bottles and pacifiers by default.
“They are then sent home with formula and bottles. The formula is pushed, rather than breastfeeding. This is an opportunity for education that is being missed,” said Taylor.
Looking back on her own life, she didn’t see mothers breastfeeding and she was not familiar with it.
“I never saw a breast pump on anyone’s baby registry. It just wasn’t presented to me and our community that way,” Taylor said. “I was on my third master’s degree [in public health], and no one had ever mentioned it. I wasn’t against it. It just wasn’t our cultural norm.”
While Taylor advocates that breastfeeding is best for new babies, it may not always be feasible. She said that lactation consultants are not available at every birth, and many new mothers don’t have access to healthcare facilities that offer training to make breastfeeding easier.
Benefits and Risks
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported
that 76% of African-American babies are breastfed in the United States, lower than the national average of 84%. The CDC also found that breastfeeding can reduce the risks of the mother developing Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, and breast or ovarian cancer. Babies who are breastfed have a lower risk of developing asthma, Type 1 Diabetes, and other issues as they grow.
African-American women are more likely than white or Asian women to develop aggressive triple-negative breast cancer
. Dr. Taylor said they’re also more likely to die as a result.
“The same disparities that we see system-wide when it comes to access and to quality care,” Taylor said, “Were the same factors that partially contribute to this increase in mortality among African-American women.”
How do we change the strategies, policies, misconceptions, and lack of education on breastfeeding?
“It starts with the providers sharing this information and educating the mothers,” said Taylor.
According to Dr. Taylor, Memphis currently only has one “Baby-Friendly
” hospital, where formula is not automatically given to babies. She said more hospitals should get on board.
“We need more buy-in from the medical establishments, and simply asking the question, ‘Are you going to breastfeed?’ Our community also needs [more] timely access to care.”