Celebrating Black Breastfeeding Week
Black Breastfeeding Week was started 6 years ago, in order to bring awareness to the racial disparities faced by black breastfeeding mothers.
When I had my first child, I had no one to go to. No one in my family talked about breastfeeding and when I mentioned that I wanted to breastfeed, I was met with shock. “Oh really?!”, ” Wow!”, “You’re better than me”. Encouraging right? As I looked around the internet, I couldn’t find a single black woman that breastfed in any ads, articles, or mommy groups.
Clearly, I wasn’t the only black woman to breastfeed. I knew there had to be more women out there. In the hospital after I delivered my son, I vaguely remember a lactation consultant coming in to see me. I needed all the help I could get! This was my first baby and I had no clue what to do and no one to turn to. He got latched on to my breast and I never saw her again.
I went home with my What to Expect When Expecting book that I bought from the bookstore back when I was 8 weeks pregnant. I read that thing front to back. It was the only resource I had to go off of when it came to breastfeeding. With little support and knowledge, my breastfeeding journey ended around 4 months with my first child.
Why is Black Breastfeeding Week Important?
My story above is not uncommon. This is the problem many black women face around the country. Many are dismissed and simply handed formula without a thought. Some have been so misinformed, that the only way they know how is to formula feed. Other’s simply don’t have access to resources.
Breastfeeding has been proven to reduce infant mortality, and has benefits for both mom and baby that are out of this world. So would you be surprised to know that the infant mortality rate for black infants is twice as high than that of white infants. It is actually the highest of all races.
Now knowing that information, it should be no surprise that the rate of breastfeeding for black babies is the lowest in the nation.
5 Areas Affecting the Black Community on Lactation
In 2014, Black breastfeeding week was started by Kimberly Seals Allers, Kiddada Green, and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, to bring awareness to 5 areas that affect the black community. These particular aspects contribute to the low breastfeeding rates amongst African Americans. With this information, we should be able to improve breastfeeding rates across the board.
High Infant Mortality
As stated before, the infant mortality of black babies is twice, almost triple, to that of white infants. The high infant mortality rate among black infants had 5 leading causes by 2017:
- Low birth weight
- Congenital Malformations
- Maternal Complications
- Accidents (Unintended injuries)
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infant mortality can be reduced significant’y by breastfeeding.
Lack of Diversity in the Lactation Field
Let’s be honest, when you look around the web, all over Pinterest, the mom bloggers, they tend to have something in common. Besides the apparent disparities faced in the black community when it comes to breastfeeding, there are also disparities when it comes to breastfeeding leadership and education.
Because breastfeeding leadership has been known to be white-female led, it gives off this notion that black women do not breastfeed. Because of the lack of representation, many of our white counterparts are not equipped to connect with and understand the cultural struggles faced with black women. While they mean well, it oftentimes comes off as being culturally insensitive.
We all know that representation matters. You want someone on your team that understands you and can relate and connect with you in some way. That’s why it’s so important for black professionals to step into these positions to represent the vast number of back breastfeeding mothers out there.
Higher Rates of Disease Related to Diets
According to the CDC, the benefits to breastfeeding also include decreased risk of obesity, Type 1 diabetes, Gastrointestinal infections (diarrhea/vomiting), and necrotizing enterocolitis( NEC). Not to mention that breastfeeding has also been shown to reduce asthma and SIDS. All of these issues affect the black community at alarming rates. And all can help be prevented by the wonders of breastfeeding.
Lack of Community Support
It’s pretty ridiculous to expect a mother to breastfeed, when you send her home to a community where there is no support or access to resources to support. That is the problem facing many black communities.
Access to lactation consultants, and other programs that help with breastfeeding, are normally found outside of black communities. Hopefully with more professionals stepping into breastfeeding leadership roles, this will open more doors.
Other Cultural Barriers
The dialogue around breastfeeding in the black community is very different compared to other communities, and it isn’t positive. These negative connotations go all the way back to slavery, when black women were forced to nurse their master’s white baby from their breast, while their own infant died of either starvation or from the concoctions of dirty water and cows milk.
These negative ideals and feelings surrounding breastfeeding were then passed down to each generation to the point where breastfeeding wasn’t even something talked about in households. And if it was, you were pushed towards formula feeding.
What my readers are saying…
Many women have different experiences with breastfeeding, which is also important to understand. When asked if they chose to breastfeed and why, if not, they answered:
Yes, all three of my children. My daughter came 17 years after my last child…although I was an older mom, I wouldn’t have it any other way.Velesia Janet
I breastfed my first for a few months and then gave up because I thought my supply was low. I’m not sure if I want to breastfeed this next baby. I’m due in November and everyone has just told me to give her formula.Anonymous
I had my first child at 19 and had no idea how to breastfeed. When I was in the hospital the nurses just gave me a bottle. No one asked if I wanted to breastfeed. That was 15 years ago. If I knew what I know now…Anonymous
While it’s obvious that there are many black women that breastfeed, it’s still apparent that more access to resources are needed. When asked if they received help with breastfeeding in the hospital, 30% said no.
Where can black breastfeeding moms seek help?
These amazing organizations are all about helping spread the awareness and support of black breastfeeding mothers, and reducing racial disparities.
- Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association
- African American Breastfeeding Network
- Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere
- Black Women Do Breastfeed
Social Media Groups for Breastfeeding Mamas
What is infant mortality?
Infant mortality refers to the death of children under the age of one years old. Infant mortality rate is found by taking the number of newborns in a specific geographic location, dying under the age of one, divided by the total number of live births in that area, and multiplied by 1,000.
Is breastfeeding easy?
Many people will say that breastfeeding is the most natural thing you can do. But lets be honest. It’s the most unnatural, natural thing you will do. It’s a learning process. For both you and your baby. So it may not be easy at first, but once you two get the hang of it, it’ll be smooth sailing.
After delivery, I don’t get anything when I pump. Should I just give my baby formula?
The short answer is no. Your baby is more efficient at pulling out your breast milk than a pump, and when you do pump you may only get drops of colostrum out right after birth. This is ok and completely normal! Colostrum is thick and concentrated so your baby doesn’t need much to fill their tiny bellies.
In some cases, a baby may need their blood sugar checked if mom has Gestational diabetes or if baby was “big”(See I Failed My Glucose Test-Understanding Gestational Diabetes). If their blood sugar is too low, the staff may recommend supplementing with formula. Ask if you can use donor breastmilk first if you want to steer clear of formula.
When can I start putting cereal in my baby’s breastmilk bottle?
Never sis…Never. Listen, I’m sure your auntie, grandmama, sister, cousin, probably told you that you should start putting cereal in your baby’s bottle around 2 or 3 months. They likely said your baby would sleep better. I bet they even told you to cut a bigger hole in the nipple so it would get through the hole. NO. Putting cereal in your baby’s bottle is a choking hazard.
Not only is putting cereal in a bottle a choking hazard, but according the the American Academy of Pediatrics, your baby shouldn’t be given solids until all signs of readiness are met AND your baby is 6 months of age (or for medical reasons approved by your doctor). When that is met, feed the cereal using a spoon.
Can I breastfeed if I’m sick?
Illnesses like the common cold, flu, and even stomach virus/diarrhea, cannot be passed through breastmilk. As long as you’re practicing good hygiene by washing your hands, you shouldn’t pass anything to your baby.
The great thing about breastfeeding, is that when you are sick, you pass on antibodies to your baby through your breastmilk, protecting them from getting sick.
I take medications. Can I still breastfeed?
There are very few medications that you can’t take while breastfeeding because so little of the drug passes through the breastmilk that it has any affect on your baby. If you are ever concerned about a medication you are taking, contact Infant Risk Monday-Friday from 8am-5pm CT at 1(806) 352-2519.
I don’t understand why there needs to be a black breastfeeding week. Why isn’t there a white breastfeeding week? We all need help with breastfeeding.
*Sigh* Please go back and start from the beginning…
The Last Thing You Need to Know about Black Breastfeeding Week
As of July 2020, the infant mortality rate has reached an all time low in the US. In fact, according to the CDC, it has gone down 2% since 2017 putting it at 5.67 deaths per 1,000 live births. It has been slowly decreasing since 1995.
Let’s not get too excited though. The IMR for black infants is still the highest at 10.75 per 1,000. SO while we have improved, there is still so much work to do.
How can you help? If you’re a non-POC, spread the word and celebrate with your black counterparts. Educate yourself on the disparities that are faced in the community, acknowledge them. Each year, when this week comes around, there is always a handful of women asking why there needs to be a Black Breastfeeding Week. The statistics are deafening.
If you are a black woman that is interested in lactation, start your journey to become a lactation consultant and even a doula. Milky Mama LLC will soon be offering a scholarship to support aspiring black lactation consultants. Make sure to follow their Instagram to get all the details once released!