Celebrating Black Breastfeeding week:
What it is and why it matters
August is Global Breastfeeding Awareness Month. It is a month dedicated to highlighting the importance of breast milk as the primary source of nutrition for infants. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies should consume breast milk exclusively for at least 6 months. Sadly, this is not the case for a lot of babies around the world. Statistics show that only 24% of infants in the US are exclusively breastfed by the time they turn six months old. Less than 55% are fed any breast milk at all by this age.
Breastfeeding rates are even lower in minority groups. And according to the CDC, among minority groups, black families have the lowest rate of breastfeeding, with black women experiencing a disproportionate number of barriers to breastfeeding.
Because of this, Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, Kimberley Seals Allers, and Kiddada Green created Black Breastfeeding Week. Celebrated in the last week of August, Black Breastfeeding Week seeks to highlight the disparities in breastfeeding among black women. It also seeks to raise awareness of the challenges that black breastfeeding mothers and black families face.
Why do we celebrate Black Breastfeeding Week?
Black Breastfeeding Week is important for many reasons. In the US, black women have the lowest rate of successful breastfeeding. Black women also tend to breastfeed for the shortest amount of time when compared to other racial groups.
BBW seeks to correct the barriers that exist in our society that undermine the breastfeeding success of black women. Such barriers include decreased access to healthcare and workplaces that are not breastfeeding-friendly.
BBW also aims to normalize breastfeeding among black women. It seeks to get the word out that breastfeeding your little one is the healthiest decision you can make for them.
And it’s working! More and more black women are choosing to breastfeed their children, with breastfeeding rates that are growing naturally every year. They are making conscious choices that are reducing the disparity that they face in the US.
The Black Breastfeeding Week mission has led to a change in direction in the US that is gradually normalizing breastfeeding among black women in the US, ensuring that black babies have a healthier start in life.
For many years, black women have not gotten the support, tools, and resources they need to breastfeed their babies. Maternity wards in black communities are more likely to offer formula than lactation support. Black women often also have to go back to work sooner than women from other races after giving birth. These are just some of the examples of the historic and systemic hurdles that black women and black families face when trying to breastfeed.
Racial inequality has always been an issue in breastfeeding. According to the CDC, less than 60% of black mothers breastfeed, compared to over 75% of white mothers. Because breastfeeding is an excellent source of nutrition for infants that also builds their immunities, this leaves black babies in an unfortunate situation:
- Health inequality: Black babies die at a rate that is up to three times higher than white babies. According to the CDC, increased breastfeeding has the potential to reduce infant mortality by up to 50%. Breastfeeding also reduces the risks of health issues such as SIDS, respiratory illnesses, type II diabetes, asthma, and other illnesses that disproportionately affect black children.
- Access to healthy first foods that support breastfeeding may be limited in black communities, which in turn affects the health of the entire population, not just babies.
- Fewer black women breastfeed due to the lasting effects of a dark cultural legacy and a lack of diversity. Black women played the role of wet nurses during slavery, and in the years that followed there was a lack of role models and multi-generational support along with a dire lack of diversity in lactation education and support. All this together contributes to the situation we’re currently in.
Black Breastfeeding Week was launched to meet the need to promote awareness and highlight the special challenges of breastfeeding black women.
Promoting breastfeeding in Black communities is important for many reasons. First, it is one of the ways of addressing health disparities by promoting the health of mothers and their babies and reducing some of the health issues that black women have to deal with. Through breastfeeding, mothers will also be able to bond with their little ones, eat healthier, reduce their weight (thus lowering obesity rates), and reduce the incidences of health issues like breast cancer and diabetes. This leads to a much healthier population in black communities.
Through Black Breastfeeding Week, black women also get the support to overcome most of the barriers around breastfeeding. There is a massive lack of education and information about breastfeeding in black communities. There is also a need for family support, confidence, and community support to overcome these barriers to breastfeeding.
Why do we celebrate Black Breastfeeding Week?
2022 will be the 10th year since the inception of Black Breastfeeding Week. BBW22 focuses on celebrating black families- past, present, and future. Racial equity, cultural empowerment, and community engagement take center stage in this proud display of the collective resilience of black mothers.
Breastfeeding has a lot of benefits: in babies, it leads to lower infant mortality rates, reduces the risk of childhood obesity, and boosts the baby's immunity. For breastfeeding mothers, it is highly cost-effective, leads to better perinatal health, and reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancers. This is why it is so important to amplify the message of Black Breastfeeding Week.
Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, breastfeeding statistics for black communities have started heading in the wrong direction again. According to the BBW website, while breastfeeding rates are increasing, the racial disparity gap is not closing and in some cases, it is widening. COIVD-19 has brought forward the impact of racial inequities in health for black communities, resulting in black communities being disproportionately affected by the virus. COVID-19 also disrupted a lot of interventions for black breastfeeding support, such as peer-led support and community-based interventions.
Therefore, we need to celebrate Black Breastfeeding Week because of:
- The high infant mortality rate in black babies: Black babies are dying at two to three times the rate of white babies. A lot of black babies are born too small, too sick, or too soon. Such babies need the nutritional and immunity benefits of breast milk. This is why according to the CDC, increasing breastfeeding rates could lower infant mortality rate by up to 50% in black communities.
- The high rates of diet-related diseases in black children: Black children experience a higher rate of all the diseases that breast milk has been proven to reduce the risk of. This includes asthma, Type II diabetes, SIDS, childhood obesity, and upper respiratory infections.
- The lack of diversity in the field of lactation: Breastfeeding advocacy is white female-led. Many lactation professionals are also not culturally competent or sensitive enough to deal with black moms. BBW seeks to open up the discussion about the lack of diversity among lactation consultants.
- The unique cultural barriers among black women: Black women not only experience breastfeeding barriers common to all women but also have to deal with unique cultural barriers and the complex history of breastfeeding among the black community.
- The conditions in black communities: Most black women cannot access support for the best first-food breast milk. These women have a tough time breastfeeding because they live in communities without any support for breastfeeding, which makes them more likely to fail.
Among black communities, baby formula is marketed as a source of convenience. This means that black moms are made to see breastfeeding as an inconvenience. When this happens, lack of breastfeeding is passed down from generation to generation. When an entire generation only formula feeds, this is what passes down to their daughters and no one learns what is truly best for infants. In the end, a lot of mothers stop breastfeeding earlier than they should because there is no support from their families and friends.
The last week of August marks the beginning of Black Breastfeeding Week this year. As Momanda, we believe that Black Breastfeeding Week was pioneered to revive, restore, and reclaim breastfeeding among black mothers. Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, Kiddada Green, and Kimberly Seals Allers came up with the idea as a means of educating, advocating, and celebrating black breastfeeding for a whole week. The idea has been largely successful, resulting in a gradually changing narrative around black breastfeeding. It has also started to reduce the gaping racial disparity in breastfeeding rates. This is why it is so important to celebrate it.
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