Happy Black Breastfeeding Week!
For those of you who didn’t know—yes it is a thing. Actually, the entire month of August is set aside to celebrate breastfeeding. The last week of the month is designated to highlight black moms who breastfeed and/or encourage them to do so. This week is often met with some criticism that stems from lack of knowledge and a fight for inclusivity. The best way to get people in “the know” and eventually have a cohesive celebration for such a natural journey is to bring awareness. The good news is more people are starting to not only pay attention to the disparities in the black community as it relates to breastfeeding, but many are starting to understand why a week like this is so important. As true as this is, we still have major room for improvement. If you are in any of the social media groups that focus on breastfeeding moms, you will know several people wonder why is this week necessary. Honestly, it brings on such a frustration that the real focus often gets tainted within the tread of comments. Don’t take my word for it. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fewer non-Hispanic black infants are ever breastfed. When you tie that to the eye opening reality of the direct link to infant mortality amongst black babies and breastfeeding, you can’t help but wonder why. Domestically, for every 1,000 births nearly 10 babies die. The hard truth is babies are dying from something that could be prevented. How do we make it better? A white paper from Breastfeeding Medicine (Volume XX, Number XX, 2019) concludes:
“In an urban area with high infant mortality and low breastfeeding rates, initiation of breastfeeding was significantly associated with reductions in overall infant mortality, neonatal mortality, and infection-related deaths. Breastfeeding promotion, protection, and support should be an integral strategy of infant mortality reduction initiatives.”
Ding! Ding! Ding! Promotion, protection and support are important keys to decreasing infant mortality in black communities. Every mom has her own specific reasons why she breastfeeds. Personally, I chose to breastfeed my babies for economical reasons and convenience factors that were important to me. Most times, understanding your why will help you as a mom to maintain and meet your personal goals for breastfeeding. Let’s dive into how we can collectively help rid the community of any shame or unnecessary backlash by focusing on promoting, protecting and supporting a black mom who breastfeeds.
This can simply be asking a mom or mom-to-be, “ Have you considered breastfeeding?” That question alone can get someone to at least consider the option. Another great way to support is to share any success stories that you have experienced or know from other moms. There is absolutely no judgment (from me) against moms, who use formula, but Similac was first sold as a powder in 1923 and Enfamil was introduced in 1959. Breastfeeding use to be all there was. Why so different now? Either way, promotion directly ties to support. There is absolute power in empathy. Making a strong attempt to break the cycle of negativity or knee jerk comments or reactions could make all the difference.
Be an active participant in observing a breastfeeding mom’s surroundings. This especially holds true for moms who choose to breastfeed in public places. I’m sure you have seen the videos or read the articles of someone who has protested a mother feeding her child openly in public places. The strangest thing (to me) is that a lot of the opposition comes from other women. That’s a problem within itself. A breastfeeding mom does not care if your husband or significant other is so distracted by the sight of a side boob. If he is, that’s more so a problem that the two of you haven’t addressed yet in your relationship. Don’t wait until a situation gets so out of control that it distresses the mom who is simply trying to feed her child. In addition, there are several states that exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. A nursing mom could certainly do without your citizen’s arrest and public policing. My best advice is to step aside and move along without voicing your unsolicited opinions to a mom who doesn’t know you. It’s simply not your place. Check out the link from the National Conference of State Legislatures to know your rights:
If a new mom decides that she wants to breastfeed, here are some things you do NOT say:
- That is not necessary.
- You really want your baby hanging on you like that?
- No one wants to see you doing that.
- They sell formula at the store for that.
- Just give the baby formula.
- It's going to hurt.
If you have ever said any of these things, stop it. A huge factor in why studies have to be performed, blogs written and a special week set aside have a lot to do with the taboo of breastfeeding within our own community. Most of the moms in my generation are daughters of breastfeeding mothers. The thought pattern around breastfeeding changed to all of a sudden be less of an option for no good reason that I have heard. Most of the reasons are centered on someone else’s comfort level, which has absolutely nothing to do with the benefits to the child or mother. So, again your comfort level does not supersede a mother’s right and choice to feed her child.
Instead, try saying…
- I support your decision.
- That’s great!
- How can I help?
- What are your favorite snacks? You will need them to keep your energy up.
- You can totally do this!
- Don’t forget to drink your water.
It doesn’t take much to be a positive support system for those who want to take this journey. It is highly counterproductive to meet someone’s aspirations of breastfeeding with negative comments or tones. Keep in mind this is their journey, not yours. If you find yourself not being able to support, the best thing you can do is stay silent until you can provide positivity at a later time. There are tons of resources available to help you do that. As a family member or friend, your support holds value and not everyone is able to vocalize their goals and stick to them despite outside opinions. Some of my favorite Instagram pages that give a wealth of inspiration and knowledge for black moms and breastfeeding are: @blackmomsbreastfeed @blackmomsblog @pregnancybeyond @blackmomskillingit
As a mom, ask for help. Not all hospitals and doctors are created equally. So, you may not get a conversation that is initiated by a healthcare provider that focuses on breastfeeding. Many may unfortunately function on the automatic assumption that you are not interested. From personal experience, I nursed my son for 3 months (my goal was a year) because his pediatrician convinced me that he was allergic to my milk. Imagine my devastation when I made the choice to throw out 5 months worth of my milk stash because I thought I was harming my baby. Then imagine my anger when I later switched pediatricians to learn that my son only had eczema. Talk about being upset! Unfortunately, I didn’t think to ask or reach out to get a better understanding for myself because I trusted what the doctor said. It’s the unfortunate climate that has been created. Find out (for yourself) before hand if your hospital offers a lactation specialist or consultant. You also may want to contact your insurance provider to see if one is covered and can be appointed to you. Even companies have gotten better with providing a consultant. Check with HR just to make sure. Reach out to your closest friends who have breastfed before and totally pick their brains on how they made their journey a successful one.
As a black mom who just recently ended her breastfeeding journey of 30 months (that’s 2 ½ years), I have an extreme compassion for anyone who wants to breastfeed her child. Yes, she is a toddler and I still nursed her. That's an entirely separate blog that could be done. However, I don't feel the need to justify it and neither should any other mom. Check out some of the benefits to extended nursing per a 2018 Mayo Clinic article that still holds true.
I am a huge supporter and advocate for all moms who even think that breastfeeding is the route they want to go. I don’t want to paint the picture that it is the easiest, but it is definitely worth it. Every single mom has the right to choose the way she wants to nurture and feed her baby. I am not here to say one is better than they other. What I am saying is respect the choice--especially for a black mom. We need your support to help close this gap.