August 25th - 31st is Black Breastfeeding Week. 2018 is the sixth year that Black families have been celebrated and supported with a week dedicated to breast/chestfeeding in the Black community.
Founded by three Black maternal-infant health professionals, these women have dedicated their careers to supporting Black families during the perinatal period. Kimberly Seals Allers, Kiddada Green, and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka are leaders, authors, presenters, program directors and academics who work both on the ground and on a larger national level to support Black families and babies.
Research indicates that Black families experience lower breast/chestfeeding initiation rates, lower exclusive breast/chestfeeding rates and terminate the breast/chestfeeding relationship earlier than their white counterparts. Interventions specifically addressing barriers to breast/chestfeeding for Black families are needed. Black Breastfeeding Week is just one small part of an overall awareness campaign to offer support and information on this important topic.
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, research demonstrates that some of the factors that impact Black breast/chestfeeding rates include:
- African American parents tend to return to work earlier after childbirth and are more likely to work in environments that do not support breast/chestfeeding.
- Healthcare settings that provide supplemental feeding to healthy full-term breast/chestfed babies during the postpartum stay decrease the likelihood of exclusive breast/chestfeeding.
- Healthcare settings that separate parents from babies during their hospital stay.
- Lack of knowledge about the benefits of breast/chestfeeding and the risks of not breast/chestfeeding.
- Perceived inconvenience—a breast/chestfeeding parent may have to give up too many habits of their lifestyle; (6) the mistaken belief that “big is healthy,” leading parents to introduce formula early.
- The cultural belief that the use of cereal in a bottle will prolong the infant’s sleep.
- Embarrassment—fearful of being stigmatized when they breast/chestfeed in public.
Lamaze International is raising awareness on Black Breastfeeding/chestfeeding in many ways. Today at 1 PM EST,
Stephanie DeVane-Johnson, PhD, CNM, is presenting "A Qualitative Study of Social, Cultural, and Historical Influences on Some African American Women’s Infant-Feeding Practices" which will be available live and then as a recording.
If you are wondering why Black Breastfeeding Week or this issue needs any attention at all, Kimberly Seals Allen wrote a blog post that specifically addresses this issue. You can read Top Five Reasons We Need a Black Breastfeeding Week here. It is clear that with lower breast/chestfeeding rates at all stages of the feeding relationship, the Black community deserves awareness and support on every level.
Five things that childbirth educators can do to support Black breast/chestfeeding this week and every week in their communities?
- Offer childbirth educator workshops in Black communities so that there can be more educators of color to support people of color
- Be sure to include images, graphics, and videos that include Black parents and babies. (here are some of my favorite videos: "Teach Me How to Breastfeed" and "Baby, Baby, Oh Baby Breastfeeding DVD".
- Have a resource list that includes lactation consultants of color, so that Black families can receive support from their community.
- Be aware of and share lactation support groups that are taking place in areas of town that are easily accessible to families of color. Helping families to build networks of support in their own community is critical for success.
- Online communities like "Black Women Do Breastfeed" and their corresponding social media pages are great resources to share that are available 24/7 and are not location dependent.
Black Breastfeeding Week is deserving of attention and time, to help bring awareness, support, and information to Black communities and those who support them. Sharing information about the importance and health benefits of breast/chestfeeding, where to get assistance if things are rough, and encouraging Black families to make the choice to breast/chestfeed their babies with the knowledge that help is available if they face challenges.