For the typical woman, the first moments of finding out that a small human has begun growing inside of them, are riddled with questions. Questions about whether the child will resemble them, or when the baby will arrive. Questions about how large or how small the baby will be, or possibly where or how the baby will be born. All questions with a wide range of answers. For the average Black woman, there is one question in particular that may bring on a complex wave of cultural-historical and even sexual challenges. That is the question of breastfeeding. *Cue dramatic curtain drop*.
For many Black women, the knowledge of a pregnancy, planned or unplanned, is accompanied by a parade of unique questions, thoughts, and concerns.
- Is this pregnancy valuable?
- Will I be able to provide for my child while being a good mom?
- Will my child be born into a world that is riddled with the same types of racism myself and generations before me have experienced?
- Will I find a provider who respects my specific experiences as a (insert age, demographic, sexual orientation adjective) black woman?
- Will both my child and I survive childbirth?
After first acknowledging these questions, a Black woman may then begin considering the way she will choose to feed her baby and variations of these same questions may ring in her head.
- Is this pregnancy valuable enough for me to make a what could be a year long investment with my body, even after birth?
- Will my job be accommodating to my choice to breastfeed?
- What types of ideas will people think about me as a (insert age, demographic, sexual orientation adjective) breastfeeding Black woman?
- How will I afford to breastfeed if I have to take my baby to a childcare provider and I do not have a pump?
- What if my doctor doesn’t support breastfeeding?
- Though these questions are common to most women, they may come with an extra layer of complexity for Black women given the statistics that show their place as consistently last or secondary in many social and economic rankings.
In 2017 the CDC updated it’s research on breastfeeding disparities by race to add that Black women have continued to rank with the lowest breastfeeding initiation rates. The research identified specific barriers that are uniquely experienced by Black women:
- Needing to return to work earlier
- Poor breastfeeding education from healthcare providers
- Lack of professional breastfeeding support
Despite the increase in breastfeeding supportive initiatives and programs nationally, research also shows that black communities are more likely to not see a positive impact on breastfeeding rates due to the lack of these specific supportive practices in hospitals like early initiation of breastfeeding, limited use of supplements like formula, rooming-in, limited use of pacifiers, and post-discharge support.
After considering the many barriers posed against Black women as it relates to breastfeeding, one may begin to see a need for a specific, targeted initiative towards increasing Black women’s breastfeeding rates. In 2012, 3 Black mothers saw the need and chose to make a move! Kimberly Seals-Allers, an award-winning journalist and author, Kiddada Green, the founding executive director of the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association, and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, writer, birthworker, and breastfeeding advocate, came together and established the last week of August as Black Breastfeeding Week.
Black Breastfeeding week has consistently been a celebration of more than just a choice of infant feeding, but a gathering of women united through all the colorful parts of motherhood; Black motherhood. Every year during Black breastfeeding week, thousands of women gather to not only raise awareness of Black breastfeeding rates, but to strategize on how to create better health outcomes for Black women and Black infants beyond breastfeeding. These communities have gathered to host summits, conferences and roundtables to discuss, to embrace and to unite around a central part of true Black motherhood; breastfeeding. The week is spent honoring the cultural and historical strength of Black motherhood, examining the complexities of Black mother’s experiences surrounding breastfeeding and creating a strong representation in the public eye to normalize and increase Black breastfeeding.
This year Black breastfeeding week will take place August 25th-31st carrying the theme “Love On Top”. In the face of challenges, mama’s must remember to place love on top of every part of motherhood, womanhood, and of course breastfeeding. If you are currently breastfeeding, have breastfed, or are in support of Black women breastfeeding, be sure to find events in your community to support, raise awareness via social media using the hashtag #BlackBreastfeedingWeek2018.
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