Unmothering Black Women: Formula Feeding as an Incident of Slavery

Andrea Freeman

Volume 69, Issue 6, 1545-1606

Laws and policies that impede Black mothers’ ability to breastfeed their children began in slavery and persist as an incident of that institution today. They originated in the practice of removing enslaved new mothers from their infants to work or to serve as wet nurses for slave owners’ children. The stereotype of the bad Black mother justified this separation. This trope also underlies racial disparities in breastfeeding rates in the present. The mythical Mammy loved the White children under her care but callously neglected her own. Today, the Welfare Queen reproduces for the sole purpose of gaming the system. Collective belief in the existence of the bad Black mother leads to low or no investment in resources for Black mothers who want to breastfeed, and to laws and policies that inhibit their opportunities to do so. Black infants and mothers suffer from related health conditions, including infant mortality, at disproportionately and unacceptably high rates. Structural reforms grounded in constitutional principles are necessary to reverse this manifestation of food oppression.

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