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  • Writer's pictureChardá Bell, IBCLC, CBE, CD

Black Breastfeeding Week 2022 - A New Foundation : Ignite the Liberation!

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

Black Breastfeeding Week is a time of celebration, reflection, affirmation, and empowerment. During this annual gathering, (the revolution is not a one time event) we take it as an opportunity to show the world that we are reclaiming the tradition of breastfeeding from our ancestors.




But when I Google Black Breastfeeding Week this happens…


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It’s disheartening that we have to justify the reasoning behind eliminating racial health disparities. Many people think this week is only essential to the short-term and long-term health of Black families, that’s simply not true this crisis impacts us all. The U.S. would save $3 billion in medical costs alone if we focused on improving support for Black breastfeeding mothers.


I trust in the words of the great Angela Davis… “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” Let’s change the narrative and reframe the focus by asking the question of “how”.


The mission of Black Breastfeeding Week is to work on addressing the inequities faced by the Black community in maternal, child, and family health. Increasing Black breastfeeding rates would have a positive impact on maternal and infant health mortality and morbidity rates.


This week was birthed by three courageous and passionate Black women, Kimberley Seals-Allers, Kiddada Green, and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, advocates and activists. Thanks to these admirable pioneers, we celebrate this week in a collective focus to encourage, promote & uplift Black breastfeeding culture.


August 25th - 31st, this year, 2022, is the 10th year of celebration and more events are happening now more than ever with the addition of online gatherings. Even our UK sisters and brothers have joined the party. Last year the theme was “The Big Pause–Collective Rest for Collective Power”. A time to honor the power of rest in social justice, lactation and Black maternal and infant health. Us advocates, community members and organizations, took our rest, but now we are recharged and this thing is just getting started!


I’m going to take a plunge at “the how” by providing ways of celebrating & showing support. Let’s jump right in!


Support

Celebrate

3. Host


How to: Support & Celebrate Black Breastfeeding Week

7 Ways To Support


“Black women have unique cultural barriers and a complex history connected to breastfeeding.”

—Kimberly Seals Allers


The complex history in which Seals Allers speaks of has to do with colonization, slavery and white supremacy. A history that continues to control the reproductive capacities of Black and Indigenous women is the foundation on which this country is built. You could see why some Black families choose not to breastfeed as a form of rebellion against white patriarchy. But I say, let’s change that negative to a positive and if this is the route we are taking, instead let’s make the choice to breastfeed be a tool of liberation against white privilege and supremacy.


“Within the realm of influences that contribute to the comparative low numbers for breastfeeding amongst Black Women are, slavery, racism, implicit bias, and discrimination from care/treatment providers.” —Mekha McGuire

Historical trauma has far reaching effects in the Black community. Black people have endured a century of violent oppression, and another century filled with hostile legal discrimination and prejudice that continues to hurt generations. Racism is still the most prevalent and preventable factor in the health statistics of Black mothers and babies in the U.S.


1. Love & Listen

And read this story about Serena Williams traumatic birth experience, almost losing her life due to medical racism when no one listened to her and countless other Black mothers who did lose their lives due to this crisis, like Kira Johnson and Dr. Shalon Irving


The history of wet nursing during slavery is unnerving to say the least. “A lot of slave babies died during slavery because they weren’t breast-fed. They were fed concoctions of dirty water and cows milk” Forced to feed the oppressors' baby over their own.


“Being oppressed means the absence of choices”

bell hooks


But what scares me more is how formula companies continue aggressive marketing campaigns targeting Black families--Black babies are 9x more likely to be offered artificial milk in hospital settings as opposed to white babies. This ideology has been persistent since the 1940’s by the introduction of formula through the company ‘Pet’s Milk’, who indecently used four beautiful Black babies, known as the Fultz Quads, to promote their product. Since then, Formula companies often prey on Black families by making Black women the target audience by over emphasizing the use of Black families in their advertising.


These predatory actions often go with lack of repercussion or oversight. The international code of marketing of breastmilk substitutes, a resolution by the World Health Organization since 1981, is a set of recommendations for member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) designed to regulate the marketing of breast milk substitutes, feeding bottles and teats. It is referred to as the ' WHO Code'.


So let’s consider the optics when we discuss infant feeding. Before the mass oppression of Black people in the US began, breastfeeding was the optimal infant feeding choice for our babies and by continuing this tradition we honor our ancestors. By spreading these types of positive messages we reignite the love for Black breastfeeding, we change the lens and context of Black mothers in media exposure. This is not meant to erase history or diminish the lived experiences of others and carried generational traumas that Black families hold, and we must listen and validate when someone divulges their trauma. Passing down images and stories of Black breastfeeding is one way to show we reclaim our bodily autonomy as a people.


2. Acknowledge The Disparities

Stats & Facts




  • Black mothers weaned their infants 10.3 weeks earlier than did white mothers. (McKinney et al 2016).


  • Black infants in the US are twice as likely to die during their first year of life compared to white infants. (NCHS)

Institutional barriers are what keep Black women from breastfeeding for the first six months or longer. According to UNICEF, out of all possible solutions for preventing infant and young child death, increasing breastfeeding rates overall could prevent 800,000 child deaths per year—which is more than any other single strategy, even more than such key benefits as the provision of safe water, sanitation, immunization and medical care.


Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is the most common, serious gastrointestinal disease affecting newborn infants. Healthcare providers consider this disease as a medical and surgical emergency. Racism-related stress may help explain why Black women in the United States are over 50% more likely to deliver a premature baby than white women. NEC disproportionately affects Black infants and the best way to help prevent NEC is with human milk.


“One of the most highly effective preventive measures a mother can take to protect her child and her own health, is to breastfeed.”

—Lisa Leslie


3. Encourage and facilitate structural & systems change
  • Fight against racial inequality & medical racism

  • Eliminate racial & gender based wage disparities

  • Support paid family leave

“It’s definitely harder to keep breastfeeding while at work. Even tho laws support this, the environment can be hostile.”

—Brandy Norwood


Black families are often overlooked by hospital lactation consultants and Black lactation consultants, like myself, are severely underrepresented in this area of health care. The low pay and lack of entry for non nurse-IBCLCs restrict job opportunities in this profession for women who do not have additional sources of income.


Race-based discrimination in employment is still looming, causing job insecurity and barriers to economic security and advancement for Black and Brown people.


Black women suffer the most from the intersectionality of these disparities. Black women are also more likely to have jobs that aren’t flexible about pumping at work. Policies that allow for at least 12 weeks' maternity leave would help improve breastfeeding duration for employed Black women, a challenge I help the majority of my Black clients navigate. However, it will take deeper interdisciplinary research to address health and economic issues of maternity leave to eliminate racial disparities.


Lack of access to economic support makes it more difficult for Black families to absorb the financial shock of a serious family or medical need. Due to discriminatory policies that persist and prevent or exclude families of color from accessing public programs that helped build the middle class, such as financial aid for higher education and affordable mortgages to build home equity for generational wealth. For example, the FHA (Federal Housing Administration) refused to insure mortgages in and near Black communities until 1968. Black people are still more likely to be denied conventional mortgage loans than white people with similar qualifications. So much for the American dream and liberty and justice for all.


Overall lack of resources and support for Black women contributes to significantly lower economic well-being for them and their families.


Black women are more likely to be the sole breadwinners and primary caregivers for their family, so opting out of the labor force is not an option for most Black women.

  • 81% of Black mothers, 67% of Native mothers and 52% of Latina mothers are the sole breadwinners for their families, compared to 50% of white mothers.

  • Black women are typically paid just 63 cents, Native women just 57 cents and Latinas just 54 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.

Systems Change Efforts:


  • Job Protection: Paid leave programs should include job protection so that Black and brown workers can take paid leave without fear of losing their jobs.


  • Anti-Discrimination Protections: Black and Brown workers continue to experience disproportionately high rates of discrimination and retaliation over race, color and national origin despite federal law prohibition.


  • Progressive Wage Replacement: To make paid leave accessible to Black employees, the wage replacement rate should be as close to 100% as possible and made progressive by providing greater wage replacement to people with lower incomes. No different than the state paid short term disability or unemployment insurance.


  • Portability and Coverage Across Multiple Jobs: Paid leave should be attached to the employee not the employer, it should be transferable from job to job and eligibility should be based on work and earnings history, not employer size.


  • Meaningful and Comprehensive Leave: Adequate leave would look like a true full 12 weeks of unbothered parental leave, family care or medical leave as desired.


  • Dedicated Funding for Outreach, Education and Enforcement: Bring Black and Brown voices to the table during development and implementation of such equitable program planning. We need to create pathways for folx of color to learn about the benefits, how to qualify and apply for such support.


4. Create more accessible, equitable & inclusive spaces for lactation support groups

“As natural and as wonderful as breastfeeding is, it is not so easy…Every woman needs the support for the choice to breastfeed.”

--Christina Milian


First let's have a short history lesson. Per LLLI, The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners® (IBLCE®) was founded in March 1985 using a $40,000 loan from La Leche League International (support group and advocacy) as start-up funding. La Leche League International was formed in 1956, in Franklin Park, IL by a group of seven (white) mothers who wanted to provide breastfeeding help and support to interested women. This was a response to the need for standards in the emerging profession of lactation consulting. A new profession that rose during the 1970’s and 80’s at the request of mothers for specialized breastfeeding care.


Many groups like LLL, still remain mostly led & organized by white cisgender heterosexual females. After volunteering for a few years with my local LLL chapter, I saw a major lack of representation in leadership that made my community feel like this wasn’t a place of support for them because they didn’t feel comfortable not seeing anyone who looked like them there. So I created my own support group, called Melanin Milk. This is the first black organized & led support group in San Diego county, that focuses on supporting black moms and families in person and online—including overseas for our military parents. I’ve also teamed up with my mentor, Jarrah Foster, first independent non-RN Black IBCLC in San Diego, and another Black colleague, Dr. Shani Cooper (acupuncturist & CLEC) and we started a support group at San Diego Community Birth Center, the only Black owned birth center in town.


At a recent ROSE (reaching our sisters everywhere) conference, they acknowledge that the organizations that built the field of professional lactation have been historically white therefore, and “these providers may not be appropriately equipped to meet the breastfeeding support needs of Black families. Cultural competency training simply isn't enough. Breastfeeding disparities among Black mothers persist due to systemic factors such as lack of quality support, non-baby friendly hospital practices, predatory marketing of breast milk substitutes and insufficient local, state, and national policies that address social determinants of health.” The CDC continuously cites lack of support as a major barrier to improving Black breastfeeding rates year after year.


Seeing others who look like you breastfeed past six weeks, past six months, and over a year can help normalize breastfeeding in any community. See a list of Black breastfeeding support groups here and don’t forget to check out mine!


"Black breasts have entered the US cultural imagination anew. Black breasts are increasingly viewed as in need of support through seemingly benign state interventions to encourage Black breastfeeding."

--Jennifer C. Nash, Birthing Black Mothers


5. Support diversity in the field of human lactation

As Kimberly Seals Allers, journalist, author and one of the founders of Black Breastfeeding Week, states, “Can white certified lactation consultants help bridge the racial gap in breastfeeding rates? Perhaps, with a lot of cultural training. Could more African American consultants get us there much faster? Absolutely.”


The lack of diversity in the lactation field, especially among IBCLC’s—International Board-Certified Lactation Consultants—only less than 4% of IBCLC’s are Black. An IBCLC specializes in the clinical management of chest/breastfeeding and is located everywhere from hospital or clinic setting to private practice or non-profit work. Additionally, they hold roles in leading advocacy efforts, leadership, teaching continuing education and professional development and some are even researchers.


I have experienced this journey towards my IBCLC as a Black woman first hand, so I live to tell the tale and mentor others. There is an insane amount of barriers placed in front of Black women that prevent or delay us from being able to reach the top of the lactation field.


Janiya Mitnaul Williams, MA, IBCLC, RLC, CLC, is an trailblazing Black IBCLC who saw the need for increasing Black leadership in the field of human lactation so she did something about it. Thanks to her, there are now two HBCUs in the United States to establish Pathway 2 lactation consultant training programs campuses of historically Black colleges and universities. Greensboro’s North Carolina A&T State University (NCAT) and Charlotte’s Johnson C Smith University (JCSU) are among the first, and hopefully there will be more. I'm down to help with this effort if any HBCU connections may be reading this! Mitnaul Williams reached out to her Alma Mater at NCAT and began a collaboration with the Caroline Global Breastfeeding Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They gathered a year of start up funding and in 2021 and graduated their inaugural cohort of eleven students. NCATSU has since embedded the program into the university. What a win!


We need to be creating success stories like this in other higher education institutions throughout the country. The blueprint is there, we need to use it, no time or reason to reinvent the wheel. Let’s start working more collaboratively, because it’s often these silos within the community that hold us back.


We can start by creating more access through scholarships, mentoring and removing any barriers that are culturally unique. Welcoming African American Women into Your Practice, recommends that “professionals who work in communities of color find their replacement from the communities they serve. Even if you only mentor one Black woman to become an IBCLC, you can have a tremendous impact in the community.” If we all do the same, we can change the face of this field. Read and watch more about this from the amazing Black lactation consultant, Sherry L. Payne on Fighting Breastfeeding Disparities with Support.


6. Stand with Black moms, babies and families!

“If you’re looking for a place for excess milk, why would you come to the community that has the lowest breastfeeding rate.” —Kiddada Green, one of the founders of BBFW


In September of 2014, a company in Oregon (Medolac Laboratories) that processes human milk, focused an initiative to purchase pumped breast milk from African-American mothers in Detroit, Michigan. This predatory initiative to target a vulnerable population sparked a movement by Blacktavists (Black Breastfeeding Activists) who used social media as an action tool to make their concerns heard to protect their community. Several valid points on the historical legacy of Black labor for White interests, the economic value of that labor and Whiteness as a racial category, were made to dismantle the hunt. We must continue upward with this type of successful advocacy in an effort to challenge normative mothering rhetorics and bring about positive social change.


The blog on Parenting Decolonized points out that “Black parents have only been able to raise their own children for less than 160 years in America. For most of U.S. history, generation upon generation upon generation of Black families were torn apart. Black mothers were often not allowed to nourish and raise their own babies, but were forced to nourish and raise the babies of their enslavers. For most of U.S. history, Black breastfeeding meant wet nursing white babies, sometimes at the expense of a Black woman's own children.”


7. Show black families and black breastfeeding in a positive light

"If Black breasts have been culturally and scientifically constructed as deviant, excessive, pornographic, and desirous, they have largely been uncoupled from an identification with nutrition—from the capacity to sustain and feed babies—except their connection with wet nursing and their conscription into maternal labor for white children."

--Jennifer C. Nash, "Black Lactation Aesthetics: Remaking the Natural in Lakisha Cohill's Photographs."


Did you know that Breastfeeding is public in all 50 states, yet it’s difficult to nurse in public when your body is already hypersexualized, so I (a Black woman and professional birth worker) create content for my social platforms in a societal effort to destigmatize Black breastfeeding.


Black women and girls have some of the highest reports of sexual assault, as society seems to believe our bodies are community property, a message that was acquired during slavery when Black women stripped of our bodily autonomy and subjected to brutal acts of rape, experiments and mutilation.The impact of racism didn’t just go away simply when slavery ended or when the Civil Rights Act passed.


However, we must also acknowledge that the historical effects stemming from slavery is not the only reason Black Breastfeeding Week is around. What was once an important tradition is no longer “the norm” for raising children today. Non-reassuring information is then passed down generationally because we aren’t supported in discussing the benefits of breastfeeding in our community. Hospitals, care providers and advertisements tell us both subliminally and blatantly that “breastfeeding isn’t for Black families” and culturally insensitive consultants irresponsibly assume "Black families don’t want to breastfeed", so they don’t provide the appropriate help. It’s a vicious cycle of unsupportive messages. Like many other Black moms, I was never told where or how to seek lactation support if needed upon discharging from the hospital.


Fortunately, I had good breastfeeding role models in my family and it established my confidence in breastfeeding which plays a large part in the success of the journey and it is my hope that we will replicate this for future generations. We must continue to highlight Black breastfeeding in the media and social networks to normalize the Black breastfeeding experience.


“I tell people to nurse their baby, It tightens up your uterus. It brings everything back in places very quickly. And it cuts down on buying milk and going to the grocery store. Milk does a body good, and if you can make it yourself, then why not?”

—Essence Atkins



3 Ways to Celebrate

“Black women have on one hand always been highly visible, and so, on the other hand, have been rendered invisible through the depersonalization of racism. I do not want to be tolerated, nor misnamed. I want to be recognized.”

--Audre Lorde


1. Sponsor an event

Did you know? In 2014-2018, philanthropy devoted $42 million for breastfeeding issues, with only 10.5% ($4.4 million) of that being explicitly designated for Black people. The majority of all the funding came from W.K Kellogg Foundation. Even for Black people, Kellogg is the biggest funder by a long shot, funding 95% of the breastfeeding-related work explicitly designated for Black parents.


According to Mitnaul Williams, if philanthropy contributed to lactation training programs at HBCUs, the number of Black IBCLCs would increase, not only diversifying the field, but also encourage more Black families to feed their infants with healthier, human milk instead of formula. I believe in this effort and agree with it wholeheartedly. Whether you support national or local efforts for awareness of this campaign, all support matters, so donate some coin to this cause if you have it or petition those who do have it.


2. Volunteer at an event

Show up and show out! No matter who you are, what you look like, or your breastfeeding status or personal opinion, you can always show your support by volunteering at a BBFW celebration. Every year, with my workplace, I host a breastfeeding swag bag giveaway drive thru event that was born out of the pandemic rules, we only meet once monthly to plan it. Going on 3 years now, it’s not too intense of a time commitment and it’s been a huge success, mostly thanks to community partnerships and volunteers of everyone from dads and grandmas to our fraternities and sororities.


Need help finding a celebration? Try here or social media, check your local support groups and get your google on keywords ‘Black Breastfeeding Week events’.


3. Host an event

If you are a black led or owned organization, consider hosting an event during Black breastfeeding week. If you are an ally, allow the use of your space & time for these events to take place and continue spreading positive messages to the community. One of the biggest challenges we face when community organizing is finding a decent and accessible location.


By hosting an event you bring awareness to the cause of increasing interpersonal support for those who may lack breastfeeding role models in their social networks and be more likely to face negative perceptions of breastfeeding among their peers and communities.


How can we protect and support Black families right to choose breastfeeding?

This is a reproductive justice issue that needs a social justice approach which is at the core of breastfeeding protection, promotion and support. The framework conceptualized by Paige Hall Smith, PhD, MSPH, " A social justice approach could help us address the gender, race, and sexuality-based inequities and injustices in opportunities, resources, status, and power that are influencing the patterns of breastfeeding we see today." Let's draw upon this idea and use it in our work to increase Black breastfeeding rates.


If you are an ally, remember to check in on your own privilege and bias. Appreciation comes with stand with or next to but not in front of us. I have encountered many 'well meaning' white women in humanitarian spaces, who have interjected guilt as a means to saving the culture. Black women should be able to use their own voices to battle the forces of discrimination. Many just want to do or say things for us but this is not helpful. Trust Black women be the voice leading advocacy and social justice efforts that pertain to the well being of Black families.


“Mainstream communication does not want women, particularly white women, responding to racism. It wants racism to be accepted as an immutable given in the fabric of your existence, like evening-time or the common cold. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower. When I speak of change, I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tensions, nor the ability to smile or feel good. I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration in those assumptions underlining our lives. Guilt is only another way of avoiding informed action, of buying time out of the pressing need to make clear choices, out of the approaching storm that can feed the earth as well as bend the trees. I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” -Collective Excerpts from Audre Lorde


Summary

I’m a cisgender heterosexual Black woman from the middle class with both city/urban and rural/suburbs roots. I hold a distinct viewpoint of the way socioeconomics and race work in the United States. I empathize with black families, and while I don’t know everyone’s story, I share many of the lived experiences of Black people in America.


The intersectionality of race, class and gender, goes hand in hand with the lack of support, resources and fighting a discriminatory medical system. We must all be willing to have candid conversations around Reproductive Justice, Rights, Birthing Equity and we have to act with a sense of urgency because this is a crisis and the pandemic only further exacerbated these systemic issues. We must do better to improve breastfeeding outcomes for marginalized parents because that is when we will see a resounding positive impact overall as a society.


"Among those of us who share the goals of liberation and a workable future for our children there can be no hierarchies of oppression. Without community there is no liberation.” --Audre Lorde

BBFW 2022, affirms that ‘the new foundation of lactation support is built on racial equity, cultural empowerment, and community engagement and is powered by our collective resilience.’ Best and easiest thing you can do is share this information and help spread the word through social networks of your own by reposting, sharing and liking. I look forward to celebrating this week and I hope you do too!


“Whatever your choice, know that you can do it. We nursed this nation.” —Aketa Washington

Need more ways to celebrate or support…visit the Black Breastfeeding Week website.


Here are some notable mentions to learn more about Black Breastfeeding Support, Groups and Advocacy...

Share any others I missed in the comments!

















“No black woman writer in this culture can write "too much". Indeed, no woman writer can write "too much"...No woman has ever written enough.” --Audre Lorde


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