Black Breastfeeding Week marks its 5th year of inception this month. Three sistas, Kimberly Aller Seals, Kiddada Green and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka created a movement during World Breastfeeding Month to highlight maternal-child health care disparities and neglect in the promotion of breastfeeding to black communities, and to also celebrate the women who push through and provide Liquid Gold (breast milk) to their babies by any means necessary. Black Breastfeeding Week aims to show that black women do indeed breastfeed.

Breastfeeding matters to the health of babies, mothers, and families.  Both the initiation rate and the duration rate of breastfeeding in black families have been lower than the rates in white families for more than forty years. Low birth weight, preterm deliveries and maternal complications such as preeclampsia are all higher in black women and the black infant mortality rate is more than twice that of white babies. The health risks associated with formula*feeding and early weaning from breastfeeding is well documented in the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding.

This year’s Black Breastfeeding Week (August 25th-31st) theme is Bet on Black. Black women are supporting each other to overcome the obstacles of limited breastfeeding support from the government and healthcare organizations. With the rise in support groups on social media such as Black Women do Breastfeed, that has close to 167,000 followers, and non-profits such as Reaching our Sisters Everywhere and Black Mother’s Breastfeeding Association, aimed at training women to give mother to mother breastfeeding support and providing breastfeeding support groups, Black women are gearing to come up on top of ominous breastfeeding statistics.

My wife in the crib feeding the kids Liquid Gold. – Jay-Z, Family Feud

A study published in 2014 by the CDC, found in neighborhoods where the black population is higher than average (above 12.2 percent) key practices that support breastfeeding are much less standard including hospital efforts to start breastfeeding within an hour of birth, limited use of infant formula, and no separation between mother and baby. In Brooklyn, New York, data shows in the African American dominant communities of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville that only, 3% and 1% respectively were exclusively breastfeeding at six months.[1]

Jennifer Hahn-Holbrook, Ph.D., assistant professor in psychology at Chapman University, found Black mothers were nine times more likely to be given formula in the hospital[2] than white mothers already putting Black mothers at a disadvantage to reach breastfeeding goals set by Healthy People 2020 and The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding at least until the child’s first birthday. Despite this, roughly half of U.S. children are no longer breastfed by six months.

Black women need support to breastfeed successfully. Encourage your family members to initiate and continue breastfeeding for as long as she and the baby desires. Help her find and pay for breastfeeding help, if she needs. Consider supporting legislature to make air travel easy for the breastfeeding family.

For the traveling family, breastfeeding makes feeding the little one easy. There is always clean milk ready and available for a cranky, sleepy and hungry baby. Public breastfeeding is expected and accepted in most places around the world however in the US, it’s not always welcomed or accommodated. Federal aviation rules do not restrict carrying breastmilk on planes but individual airlines might. Here is a great resource for families who need to travel with expressed breastmilk and keep that liquid gold flowing for the babies.

Black infants consistently have the lowest rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration and the highest rates of infant deaths and sickness. Black Breastfeeding Week is aimed at promoting and encouraging mothers to breastfeed. It doesn’t matter if a breastfeeding mother is collecting passport stamps, is a stay at home mom, or works at a chain retail store, she needs the support and protection of the community. As the African proverb states. “It takes a village to raise a child.”

How will you support a mother to reach her breastfeeding goals?

To find breastfeeding support contact a local International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), doula, breastfeeding/WIC counselor, or La Leche League Leader.

 

NOTES

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Comparison of Breastfeeding, TV Viewing and Smoking in Household by Community District, Children Aged Less Than 5 Years.” Unpublished raw data: Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System, Table 7F. CDC Report Prepared for New York Department of Health, 2011.

[2] Racial and Ethnic Differences in Breastfeeding Chelsea O. McKinney, Jennifer Hahn-Holbrook, P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, Sharon L. Ramey, Julie Krohn, Maxine Reed-Vance, Tonse N.K. Raju, Madeleine U.Shalowitz, on behalf of the Community Child Health Research Network Pediatrics Jul 2016, e20152388; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2015-2388

 

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