Breastfeeding moms, and the families and communities that support them, and organizations like the W.K. Kellogg Foundation recognize the third annual Black Breastfeeding Week as an important time to acknowledge racial inequities within the first food movement, and explore ways to work together to ensure every mother and baby has the strongest chance at breastfeeding success.
Not only do moms and babies benefit from breastfeeding, but also communities as a whole benefit when babies start life healthy and moms stay healthy. Unfortunately, many black mothers, in particular, face complex cultural, social and historical barriers to breastfeeding. This is why three black mothers – Kiddada Green, Kimberly Seals Allers and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka – came together in 2012 to raise awareness of inequities and spur positive change.
Black communities are impacted the most by infant mortality at a rate of 2.2 times that of non-Hispanic whites. And while 75.2 percent of white moms breastfeed at some point, only 58.9 percent of black moms do.
African American communities are disproportionally affected by asthma, heart disease and obesity, all of which breastfeeding can help prevent. Mothers who breastfeed were found to have a lower occurrence of heart disease; babies who breastfeed are less likely to develop asthma; and breastfeeding mothers and their babies both benefit from healthier weights.
Such health disparities have very real consequences on families. Dr. Aletha Maybank with the New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene puts the issue into context, with a story she heard following Hurricane Katrina, when many people – including a mother and her one-week-old baby – were stranded without food. “The reason why the child died was they said they ran out of formula. Mom just delivered [but] nobody thought about putting the child on the breast,” Dr. Maybank said. “How are we so disconnected … as women from what our bodies – to me – are here to do, but what we’ve been doing historically?”
Black Breastfeeding Week is a time to better understand the unique challenges mothers and families within the black community face – and how all of us can lend our support to ensure every mom and baby – regardless of ethnicity or economic situation – has the opportunity to breastfeed. Every one of us can play a role, from showing our support to breastfeeding moms in public places or in workplaces when moms need to take breaks to express breast milk, to advocating for family-friendly policies.