Why do we need a Black Breastfeeding Week?
Statistically, there are lower rates of breastfeeding initiation (58.9%) and duration (any breastfeeding at 6 months, 30.1%; any breastfeeding at 12 months, 12.5%) in the Black community, versus in the White (75.2%; 46.6%; 24.3%) or Hispanic (80.0%; 45.2%; 26.3%) communities. The racial disparity increases over time so that approximately twice as many White and Hispanic babies are still getting breast milk at one year than their Black counterparts.(1)
“High breastfeeding initiation rates show that most mothers in the U.S. want to breastfeed and are trying to do so. However, low breastfeeding rates among infants who are 6 and 12 months of age indicate that many mothers do not continue breastfeeding as recommended. These rates suggest that mothers, in part, may not be getting the support they need, such as from healthcare providers, family members, and employers.” – USA Breastfeeding Report Card 2016 (2)
There are higher rates of prematurity, low birth weight, and infant mortality in the Black community (13.60%) than in the White (5.66%) or Hispanic (5.55%) communities. (3,4)
“Breastfeeding has been shown repeatedly to be the single most effective way to prevent infant death; it plays a major role in children’s health and development, and significantly benefits the health of mothers.” – Dr. Felicity Savage, chairwoman of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) (5)
There are many cultural barriers to breastfeeding specific to the Black community.
- There are far fewer lactation professionals who are women of color.
- There are fewer lactation professionals serving areas with higher populations of Black mothers.
- There are fewer breastfeeding role models in the Black community.
- Fewer women of the previous generations breastfed so familial support can be really hard to come by.
- Often breastfeeding is thought of as a “White thing” resulting in ridicule for WOC who do breastfeed.
- There are deep rooted cultural barriers stemming from the days when Black women were forced to wet-nurse White babies as slaves.
Black women DO breastfeed, but they face unique challenges. (6)
According to the CDC, “Black mothers may need more, targeted support to start and continue breastfeeding.”
I present to you, Black Breastfeeding Week!
Support is not like pie! We can offer more support to the Black community for one week without taking anything away from other communities. Pretending race doesn’t factor in, or “not seeing color” may sound good on the surface, but what it ends up doing is not acknowledging the real-world, lived experiences of women of color. Supporting “all races equally” doesn’t actually lead to equity among all races. (7,8)
More on equality vs equity…
What does this mean? It means that targeted efforts like Black Breastfeeding Week help provide equitable support for Black mothers. These efforts improve their breastfeeding outcomes by sharing their stories and images of breastfeeding, which combats cultural myths, and provides Black breastfeeding role models in the community. Black Breastfeeding Week proves that Black women DO breastfeed, and allows us the opportunity to examine, by listening to the lived experiences of Black Women of Color, what challenges and barriers exist and how we can work to remove them.
In doing this, Black Breastfeeding Week and similar efforts work to bring the Black community up to the same rate of success as White and Hispanic mothers. While general breastfeeding efforts like World Breastfeeding Week work to bring up the breastfeeding rates among all racial groups, Black Breastfeeding Week works to assure that Black mothers have the specific support needed to decrease their unique cultural barriers.
Removal of Systemic Barriers means increasing access to lactation care and support for all women, and also specifically increasing Women of Color in the lactation field for equitable representation, increasing access to lactation care in areas with a higher concentration of Black mothers, and working towards racial reconciliation.
How can White and Hispanic women celebrate black breastfeeding week?
This is our opportunity to LISTEN first and foremost, to other Milky Mommas who are Black Women of Color, celebrate the breastfeeding victories they’ve reached and acknowledge the hurdles they’ve overcome.
This week is about letting Black women take the lead, listening to their experience, and creating spaces to amplify their voices so that their needs can be met.
We should also be mindful that Black women don’t owe us an education. When treated like ambassadors of their race, it can become exhausting. And they should be able to celebrate the week without spending the whole time helping White women understand why it’s needed in the first place. We can educate ourselves by reading articles and blogs about Black Breastfeeding Week and seeking out communities specifically dedicated to educating about racism and racial inequity as well as how to become bridge builders to racial unity. (9)
Happy Black Breastfeeding Week!
Download these images to share your support for Black Breastfeeding Week on social media!