Breastfeeding, because of its important health benefits, is recognized both nationally and globally. In the United States, August is known as Breastfeeding Awareness Month. Every year we celebrate World Breastfeeding Week across the globe from August 1st - 7th. Everyone seems to agree with both of these celebrations and the important health impact these measures deliver.
Black Breastfeeding Week
Six years ago, a group of three black mothers, Kimberleigh Seals Allers, Kiddada Green and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, made the crucial decision to use the last week of Breastfeeding Awareness Month, August 25h -31st, to bring specific, targeted awareness to black breastfeeding. Co-founder Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka described Black Breastfeeding Week’s conception to the Huffington Post: “World Breastfeeding Week is typically at the beginning of National Breastfeeding Month (which) had already existed for a few years to be the entirety of the month,” says Sangodele-Ayoka. “So we said, ‘You know what, we don’t need anybody’s permission. We’re just going to take the final week and let everybody know now that’s Black Breastfeeding Week and go from there.’ And that’s how it happened.”
There are some that argue that we do not need to bring special attention to black breastfeeding because "all breastfeeding matters" and "breastfeeding is not about race." Sound familiar? EXACTLY!!! This is pretty much the white privileged outcry, or even at times racism, against #BlackLivesMatter! Only racism or blatant ignorance can lead to the conclusion that Black Breastfeeding Week is redundant or unnecessary.
Black Infant And Maternal Morbidity And Mortality
In the United States, black infants die at a disproportionately HIGHER rate than any other race or ethnicity. Black babies, in our country, are TWO to THREE times more likely to die than white babies. Let that sink in!! For every white baby that dies at least 2-3 black babies die. It is no secret that healthcare disparities as well as the impact of institutionalized racism have a direct impact on the morbidity and mortality of black babies, children, women, and men. Black women die during or after childbirth at THREE times the rate that white women die. These statistics apply across socio-economic backgrounds.
Serena Williams, who undoubtedly has unlimited resources and access to the best care available, almost died after childbirth because of the inherent racism in our healthcare system. Studies have shown that healthcare providers do NOT listen to women and they especially do NOT listen to black women. Had Serena not been a strong, knowledgeable advocate for herself the story would have likely ended tragically.
Black women face unique cultural barriers to breastfeeding. We can NOT ignore the impact that slavery, YES slavery, had on black women and how they see and relate to their bodies. In addition, the rapidly growing field of epigenetics clearly shows us that our sustained history of racism in the US does cause transgenerational genetic change that adversely impacts health outcomes for people of color, particularly black infants, children, women and men.
Another reason we do need Black Breastfeeding Week is that representation does MATTER. We know that cultural and ethnic representation in healthcare facilitates better health outcomes. In fourteen years that I have practiced in maternal child health, in both public health and private practice, serving New Jersey and New York City families, I have only ever met FIVE black International Board Certified Lacation Consultants (IBCLCs), and one of them moved back to her homeland of Kenya. Of the FOUR remaining IBCLCs that I know personally, two are in private practice and the other two work for WIC. The communities around me do not reflect this abysmally low number of IBCLCs. We need to do BETTER to empower black women to become IBCLCs by removing the unique barriers that they face.
I wholeheartedly SUPPORT Black Breastfeeding Week because black babies, black women and black families DO MATTER!!!! To help change a broken system please consider supporting organizations like The Perinatal Health Equity Foundation headed by powerhouse Nastassia Davis, RN, IBCLC, NYC Baby Café, Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association, or Black Women Do Breastfeed, among other important organizations and local efforts to promote awareness about black breastfeeding.
HAPPY Black Breastfeeding Week 2018 #LoveOnTop!!!!