Black Breastfeeding Week is A Celebration of Sisterhood
Chardá Bell, CLEC, CBE, CPE, FSD
Perinatal Health & Wellness Consultant
Owner, Melanin Milk SD Doula & Lactation Support www.melaninmilksd.com
As a Black mother and birthworker, I look forward to encouraging others to acknowledge groups and/or individuals for the outstanding work to support, promote and protect Black breastfeeding. In 2012, birth equity champions, Kiddada Green, Kimberly Seals Allers, and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, paved the way to create this week as a national recognition to support Black breastfeeding efforts and to better understand the racial disparities in breastfeeding that has existed for over 40 years.
This is a time to discuss the systemic factors that contribute to our high maternal and infant mortality rates, such as culturally incompetent lactation support, historical trauma of wet nursing, and first food deserts within our marginazlied communities. Improving breastfeeding support can drastically improve black maternal health outcomes and mortality, which are still far behind all other groups in the U.S. Black women are three to four times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth related complications compared to white women.
When Black breastfeeding families run into a challenge we get formula instead of support, not to mention barrier after barrier being placed in front of us like a tumbling pile of blocks. We are told things like, we need a certain type of insurance or pay out of pocket in order to see a lactation consultant—the board certified & licensed clinical professional you would see in regards to chest/breastfeeding health. These are few and far between in cultural competency, which is one of the many reasons I decided to pursue my license and degree to become an IBCLC. I strive to help the African American population benefit from breastfeeding to help decrease the rate of infant deaths and encourage bonding that contributes to strong familial ties and healthier adults across a lifespan. The benefits of breastfeeding could improve the overall health across generations.
I kicked off my week hosting an amazing drive thru BBFW event free to the community in support of Black Breastfeeding Week—The positive radiating energy I’m still living off for the week had me thinking about for us Black moms out there, this truly about sisterhood through this journey we call motherhood. This type of social support allows us to empower and encourage each other to reach our breastfeed goals and choices. It’s also about the transferring of knowledge about breastfeeding within family units and social circles, and having real life breastfeeding role models that you can learn from through imitation. Positive social support has the capability to foster confidence in a person’s choice to breastfeed.
This is a moment to uplift, amplify, and support Black women’s needs around a concept that can reframe the narrative around breastfeeding, which can be life saving for Black moms and babies across America. This isn’t a Black problem, this is an all of us problem. It is a public health crisis that requires a sense of urgency and massive community efforts to continue eradicating these egregious disparities in perinatal health. We can all benefit from the task of promoting and supporting the choice of breastfeeding, here’s why and how:
Benefits for Mom:
Lower risks of ovarian and breast cancer, both more aggressive in black women,
Increases your natural “happy” hormones of oxytocin to promote tranquility and keep postpartum depression at bay. I like to say, one breastfeeding a day keeps the baby blues away!
Mitigates the effects of stress on the body from systemic racism endured as a black mother.
Prolonged breastfeeding also helps with optimal child spacing and keeping that period away due to ovulation being kept at bay by hormones from milk making. Though less of a factor in the western world, sufficient birth spacing helps with the survival of the older sibling and the new infant.
Benefits for Baby:
Lower risk of diabetes, obesity, asthma and allergies in breastfed children—Black babies are also more likely to be born prematurely than white babies due to systemic racism experienced while in utero by way of the mother’s psychological and physiological reactions to these adverse experiences. Breast Milk is considered the safest choice in feeding a premature infant, in which it supports better health and development of their immature immune system.
Less chances of getting ill in the first years of life which means less trips to the doctor and less time off work—which is important because according to the CDC Black women are more likely than others to need to return to work earlier than 12 weeks—Breastfeeding reduces the number of sick days that families must use to care for their sick children and therefore reduces absenteeism in the workplace overall.
Better vaccine effectiveness, the COVID-19 vaccine it’s considered safe among breastfeeding people. In a recent study on breastfed infants, it showed a better serum and secretory responses to peroral and parenteral vaccines than the formula-fed, whether with a conventional or low protein content.
Benefits of Breastfeeding for Family
Psychological impact helps with bonding and increases family acceptance through real life teaching moments and exposure.
Breastfeeding is a component of attachment parenting which is something to be promoted in the black community, especially due to the traumatic events of family separation during slavery times in the United States. We deserve to feed and care for our children how we see fit, in a time when we were once used as wet nurses to feed people’s children other than our own, this is a time to reclaim our bodily autonomy and freedom of choice.
By promoting breastfeeding we are protecting the black family and we can begin to have resounding impacts on the health and well being of future generations.
Saves a lot of money! Concentrated and ready-to-feed formulas are even more expensive than powdered formulas. The cost of artificial feeding has increased steadily over the last 10 years. The cost to supply artificial baby milk (ABM) to one child is between $800 and $1,200 per year depending on the brand and area of the world.
Benefits of Breastfeeding for the Country
Breastfeeding has a positive impact for the healthcare system and which leads to overall societal health benefits.
Policies that enable taking paid leave after giving birth, flexible work schedules, and support for breastfeeding or expressing milk at work might help improve breastfeeding intention, initiation, and duration.
The importance of promoting the value and practice of breastfeeding to our policy makers and health insurance companies could reverse some of these negative trends. We must equip all families who choose to breastfeed with the tools they need to sustain their infant feeding decision. I say equip because oftentimes it is not lack of education in Black families it’s lack of access to resources—This comes into a deeper level of societal issues reflecting the lack of or level of prenatal care black mothers receive.
It’s a huge financial savings to the government and families; Breastfeeding reduces the cost of healthcare and the need for costly health services that must be paid for by insurers, government agencies, or families. Reduced tax burden on communities and government to ensure children are properly fed.
Foster the establishment of community breastfeeding support groups in areas with high populations of marginalized people.
Benefits of Breastfeeding for our Planet:
The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is a global effort launched by the WHO and UNICEF to implement practices and policies that protect, promote, and support breastfeeding in hospitals. However, even in Baby-Friendly hospitals, fewer Black women breastfeed compared to women of other races.
We must collect all breastfeeding data from Baby-Friendly hospitals in one large data set categorized by race/ethnicity and other identity groups—Increase research on the impact of the BFHI on African American women's breastfeeding behaviors.
Breastfeeding requires no packaging, and its production does not harm the environment.—There’s an environmental impact of less cans of formula and the processing and handling of artificial baby milk. Breastmilk is a more ecological choice as it does not waste scarce resources or create pollution. It’s a naturally-renewable resource with less use of natural resources (glass, plastic, metal, paper) and also less waste for landfills reducing global pollution by decreasing the use of resources and energy required to produce, process, package, distribute, promote and dispose of materials created by the manufacturer and use of artificial baby milk.
According to CDC research, labor and delivery departments of hospitals with greater black populations are less likely to help black families initiate breastfeeding in hospitals and to offer lactation support during their postpartum stay or recovery visits. These facilities often encourage staff to offer black babies formula based on preconceived notions or the saying “this is what we’ve always done.” with the biased and outdated assumption that Black women have no interest or education in breastfeeding.
Citations & References
University of Michigan Undergraduate Journal of Public Health Volume 2 titled "Mother Nurture: Making Baby-Friendly Hospital Policies More Health Equitable for African American Women.
Bartick, Schwarz, Green, Jegier, Reinhold (2016). Suboptimal breastfeeding in the United States: Maternal and pediatric health outcomes and costs. Maternal & Child Nutrition.
Eidelman, Schanler, Johnston, Landers, Noble, Szucs, Viehmann (2012). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development—Social Policy Division—Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs. (2009) Breastfeeding rates. https://www.oecd.org/ els/family/43136964.pdf
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. Data, Trend and Maps https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpao/data-trends-maps/index.html.
Merewood, Mehta, Chamberlain, Philipp, & Bauchner (2005) Breastfeeding rates in US Baby-Friendly Hospitals: Results of a national survey. Pediatrics.
One Hospital at a Time Overcoming Barriers to Breastfeeding. (2011) http://www.calwic.org/storage/documents/factsheets2011/2011cabreastfeedingratereport.pdf
Philipp, Merewood, Miller, Chawla, Murphy-Smith, Gomes, Cook (2001). Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative improves breastfeeding initiation rates in a US hospital setting. Pediatrics
Spencer, & Grassley, (2013). African American women and breastfeeding: An integrative literature review. Health Care for Women International, Reeves, E. A., & Woods-Giscombé, C. L. (2015)
Infant-feeding practices among African American women: Social-ecological analysis and implications for practice. Journal of Transcultural Nursing 2016
Jennifer Hahn-Holbrook, assistant professor in psychology at Chapman University and co-author of the study “Racial and Ethnic Differences in Breastfeeding.”