August 25-31, 2017 is Black Breastfeeding Week in the United States. This is an annual event that focuses on supporting Black families in breastfeeding their babies. This year's carefully chosen theme is "Bet on Black". This is the fifth year that Black Breastfeeding Week has been recognized. It was established by Kimberly Seals Allers, Kiddada Green and Anaya Sangodele-Ayoka, all leaders in the field of maternal child health, with a focus on families of color. Black Breastfeeding Week is a collaboration between Kimberly Seals Allers' MochaManual.com, Black Mothers' Breastfeeding Association, and FreetoBreastfeed.com.
Black families face additional challenges as new parents in establishing and maintaining breastfeeding. Just like the disparities that exist during pregnancy and birth, there are many inequities after the baby is here. Challenges, like lack of leave from employment, paid or otherwise, access to breastfeeding classes prenatally and postpartum, health care providers who are are uninformed and uninterested in supporting the parent-baby dyad in their breastfeeding goals, difficulties in finding and affording lactation consultants and limited access to breastfeeding support groups. The rate of Black infant mortality in the USA was 11.11 deaths per 1,000 live births compared to 5.06 for white infants. Breastfeeding can help reduce neonatal and infant mortality and morbidity.
What can a childbirth educator do to help Black families succeed in their breastfeeding goals?
Have lots of images of Black families breastfeeding. Look over your videos, posters, teaching aids and handouts to be sure that they reflect of families of color. Some of my favorite materials include:
- Teach Me How to Breastfeed video
- BabyBabyOhBaby breastfeeding video (free instructor preview here)
- Free to Breastfeed: Voices of Black Mothers book
- Knit a breast or two using brown flesh tones to use as teaching aids.
Include online and hard copy resources for Black families in the materials you share. Some things to consider including:
- “It’s Only Natural,” – CDC & Office of Women’s Health breastfeeding guide for African American families
- Normalize Breastfeeding
- Black Women Do Breastfeed website & Facebook page
- Mocha Manual
- Your Guide to Breastfeeding for African American Women
- Sister-to-Sister, Let's Talk Breastfeeding tear pad
- Black Mothers' Breastfeeding Association
Support programs that focus on and provide scholarships for training Black lactation consultants and childbirth educators. There are many people of color who want to learn and train to become lactation consultants but finances stand in the way. You can make a donation to many organizations that support this learning to help them fund qualified individuals in meeting their goals. Here are some places to give your financial support.
- International Center for Traditional Childbearing - run by Shafia Monroe
- Commonsense Childbirth - run by Jennie Joseph
- National Association of Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color (NAPPLSC)
- International Lactation Consultant Association - designate your funds for diversity scholarships
- Uzazzi Village Lactation Science Certificate - run by Hakima Tafunzi Payne
Offer scholarships and financial assistance to families of color in your community to attend your childbirth and breastfeeding classes. When cost may be a barrier for a Black family to attend your course offerings, do what you can to offer a discounted price or remove the fee altogether. You are holding the class anyway, so adding another family or two might not make much difference for your bottom line, but might mean the world to that particular family.
Mentor educators, doulas and lactation consultants of color in your community. Help people of color in training to become childbirth educators, doulas, and lactation consultants by offering your mentoring services. Include them in your professional visits with families, bring them to births with you and have them observe and share teaching responsibilities in your classroom to develop skills. Help connect them with families, health care professionals, and others so they can grow professionally. Share the textbooks and resources they need to complete their training. There are many ways you can help those who will be practicing alongside you.
Do your part
To read the 2016 Breastfeeding Report Card as well as previous years, check out this page from the CDC. Black babies deserve our efforts to reduce neonatal and infant morbidity and mortality. Breastfeeding can help. We all need to lean in to support Black families in breastfeeding their babies, especially in the beginning and when families return to work. Childbirth professionals have many opportunities to help Black families and Black lactation consultants. Today's blog offers some suggestions on action steps you can take now. If you have additional ones to share, please let us know in the comments section below.