By: Monesha Woods, M.A.
Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association
This August, Black Breastfeeding Week is celebrating its 10th year of operation. Themed BBW 2022: 10 Years, A New Foundation, Black Breastfeeding Week will honor the strides the organization has made in championing racial equity, cultural empowerment, and community engagement in lactation support for Black women. The work of this particular week goes far beyond a 7-day celebration. Instead, it serves to spur a domino effect in fueling the resilience of mothers and changemakers in the field of maternal-child-health. Breastfeeding should be normalized, so why isn’t it?
Since the beginning of time, mothers have given life to their babies and sustained it by breastfeeding them, ultimately fostering a tender connection that transcends infancy and childhood. The benefits of breastfeeding for babies are well-known: heightened immunity, lowered risk of illnesses including asthma and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and improved brain maturation, essentially supporting an infant’s overall development throughout their lifetime. As the release of oxytocin, otherwise known as the “love” hormone, strengthens a mother’s bond with her child as she nurses, the mother simultaneously experiences health benefits of her own. From the decreased risk of certain cancers to reduced likelihood of postpartum depression and gestational diabetes, breastfeeding is as emotionally impactful as it is nutritionally beneficial.
Yet and still, breastfeeding remains stigmatized in society. Concerns about decency when publicly nursing and discussions on the safety of breastfeeding in open spaces continue to underscore the shame some mothers feel when breastfeeding. Professional obligations and workplaces that do not yield to easy pump access affect initiation and duration, and the lack of educational resources for moms is another barrier that prevents many from reaching their breastfeeding goals.
Additionally, glaring racial disparities exist in breastfeeding rates throughout the United States. According to the CDC, Black infants have an initiation rate of 75.5%, lower than that of Asian infants (92.4%), white infants (85.3%) and Hispanic infants (85.0%). An exclusivity rate of 39.3% through three months for Black infants, Asian infants (50.6%), white infants (50.0%) and Hispanic infants (42.6%), is reflective of the need for culturally appropriate support and diversity in the lactation field.
Having celebrated Black Breastfeeding Week for the last 10 years, Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA) bases its mission on reducing racial inequities in breastfeeding support. Through its initiatives including its signature work, Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Club, Community-based Doula Program, and BMBFA B’Right Hub, a social platform for parent clubs and their members, BMBFA recognizes that peer support is critical in bettering birth and breastfeeding outcomes for Black women and their babies. The organization’s newly launched Birth & Breastfeeding Leadership Institute further works to eradicate racial disparities in healthcare by fostering the leadership skills of professionals in the field, grooming them to effectively facilitate and manage equitable change in maternal-child-health for Black families.
With increased attention on human milk feeding and relactation given the current infant formula shortage, never has it been clearer that society must embrace breastfeeding, loudly and unabashedly. This is why Black Breastfeeding Week matters. Mothers advocate for this experience, highlight its importance, and uplift the sisterhood to be found in a community of other nursing moms.