Black Babies MATTER!!!

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.

Representation Matters!

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!!!!



Becoming a Birth Parent is hard AF!!!!

Being a birth parent is hard. It is isolating. It is exhausting. It is frustrating and so much more! We need to start being honest with birth parents and their partners too, of course. Yes, it is earth-shattering and glorious too, but it is essential to the sanity of birth parents  everywhere that we do a better job of discussing the many challenges of becoming a parent.

Sure, not every birth parent will experience the crazy rollercoaster of raging emotional highs and lows and not every parent will have difficulty; but personally in fourteen years of maternal child health private practice and public health work in Northern New Jersey and New York City, I do not know any birth parent that has not struggled physically, emotionally or psychologically on this beautiful and complex journey.

Breast Or Chest Feeding Support

We are telling birth parents what classes to take, what gear to buy, which care provider and birthing place to choose, but we are not taking them out to lunch or dinner and being truthful about our own experiences. We need to tell them what was hard and how we survived it. We need to give them information on all the nearest support groups like La Leche League, the number to a local IBCLC, and even the number for a great therapist who specializes in helping birth parents navigate the postpartum period. If you live in Hudson County, NJ, where I practice, our local La Leche League group is amazing and meets in Hoboken and Jersey City each once a month. LLL of Jersey City even has a monthly evening meeting for lactating parents who work outside the home. Pregnant parents are welcomed to LLL meetings.  LLL meetings are open only to lactating parents. I believe every parent who births should have access to nurturing and knowledgeable professionals  to ensure their healthy mental state while navigating this new and overwhelming role as the primary care giver to a newborn human.

What To Get Your Pregnant Friend

I, for one, refuse to buy anything on a registry list for anyone I know. Instead, I would rather pay for postpartum doula hours, a gift certificate for a lactation consultant, arrange for nutritious meals to be delivered after the birth, get them a gift certificate for a grocery delivery service in their area like FreshDirect, make a meal train for the first six weeks, pay for house cleaning, pay for a wash and fold service to pick up and deliver their laundry for the first 4-6 weeks after the birth, or find a greatly recommended mother's helper on one of the FaceBook parenting groups local to the new parents and gift them as many hours as you can afford (you can even get multiple family members or friends to pitch in and multiply those hours).  For parents in Hudson County, you can check Hoboken Mommies or Jersey City Moms for local resources. 

If you know someone who just gave birth, whether it is a relative, friend or neighbor - even if you barely know them - please take the time and text, call, or email to let them know that you understand the insanity of it all. Tell them that you are arranging for two days worth of meals to be delivered. Let them know that you are bringing over a care package and that you will only stay for 15 minutes, unless they are all alone and need a nap, in which case you are happy to stay for three hours so they can eat a meal, feed the baby, then sleep soundly while you nurture the babe in your arms.

Giving Birth Is The Hardest Thing We Do As Humans

Next time you see a pregnant person or a new birth parent whom you know, tell them that it is harder than anything that they will ever, ever do; but that in their darkest moments they must remember that they WILL make it. Let them know that they are stronger than they had ever imagined possible and that having their heart fully exposed for the rest of their living days will make their life sweeter, kinder, and more colorful than they could have ever known.

If you approach parenthood with intention and the reverence it demands, the experience will gift you an opportunity to know your truest self and you will be inspired to make our world a better and kinder place. If you have read this far, please know that I understand your joys and pains and I salute you for embarking on one of the most courageous of all human experiences.

I SEE YOU and all that you do and give!!!  XOXO