It’s a Tuesday evening, and Kiddada Green, an elementary school reading specialist, and her family are busily preparing a meeting space at a community center in Detroit’s East Side. Green’s husband, Asante, arranges chairs in a circle; their 5-year-old daughter, Anaiah, assembles a rubber floor mat that goes together like a big jigsaw puzzle in the center of the circle; Green, with her four-month-old daughter, Kaiah, in one arm, lays out pamphlets, books and a sign-up sheet on a long table and hangs a purple banner that reads “Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association.”
Thirty minutes later, Green and five women are seated in the circle, catching up on each other’s lives and sharing the challenges and joys of parenting and breastfeeding. Nissheana is here with her nursing baby and her mother, Monica, the baby’s grandmother. Danielle is 22 weeks pregnant with her third child. Stacy, also pregnant, and Jayne have toddlers with them. One little boy plays on the floor mat, pulling rubber numbers from it and putting them back. The other runs around the outside of the circle. Green nurses Kaiah and hands her to Asante for gentle burping.
Creating a new cultural norm around breastfeeding
This is a monthly gathering of the Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Club, one of several regular activities sponsored by Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA). It might not look transformative – a handful of mothers and children, a father and a grandmother sitting in a circle in a nondescript second-floor meeting area of a brick building near the corner of Harper and Gratiot ¬– but this is what change at the grassroots level often resembles.
The beauty of BMBFA lies in the simple but profound power of peer-to-peer support, women from the community helping each other in a comfortable setting, creating a new cultural norm around breastfeeding, one family, mother and child at a time.
One mother’s vision
Green can give you the numbers off the top of her head and tell you why she thinks breastfeeding rates for African American women generally are lower than for other Americans. But her passion for improving breastfeeding rates in her community isn’t founded on statistics. Breastfeeding was something she really enjoyed with the birth of Anaiah in 2007. “I thought that everyone should enjoy that experience,” she says.
With a clear mission – to increase awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding throughout the African American community ¬– and a can-do attitude, Green took advantage of opportunities offered in the state of Michigan to learn how to start a nonprofit, and then she and two friends launched BMBFA.
BMBFA offers information, support and encouragement to mothers and mothers-to-be. The group also welcomes fathers, support partners and family members. BMBFA annually holds a community baby shower, summit and fair; members pass out information at community events and facilitate an active Facebook page with daily check-ins for nursing mothers; but the heart of BMBFA remains the monthly meetings.
A model for peer-to-peer support
BMBFA’s membership includes nearly 100 mothers and around 100 professional members. In addition to attending monthly support meetings, members regularly participate in community events, as breastfeeding advocates, educators, supporters and information experts. Women are referred to BMBFA by local hospitals, WIC peer counselors and Maternal Infant Health Programs. Others hear about BMBFA from friends or family. Regulars continue to attend the monthly meetings even though they’re no longer nursing a child.
The key to BMBFA’s grassroots model is to draw on experience from within the group. “We value the knowledge of Lactation Consultants, invite them to participate and often refer mothers to them for their expertise,” Kiddada says. “We also respect the knowledge of our mothers in the community. In BMBFA, you’re respected because you’re a mother, you’ve done it, your story is valued.”
“Breastfeeding is the ultimate first food for your child,” says Kiddada. With more women breastfeeding, she believes, our country will raise healthier, stronger, happier children. “Happy, loving families,” Kiddada points out, “lead to healthy communities.” Working at the community level to make that connection is what BMBFA is all about.