Breastfeeding is an important part of the cycle of birth and motherhood, providing infants with essential nutrients and encouraging bonding during a crucial period of infant life. However, studies have revealed that systematic and socioeconomic factors can act as a barrier to recommended levels of breastfeeding. Even worse, mothers of color are disproportionately prone to facing these barriers, impacting the tragically high mortality rate of Black babies.
Learn more about the breastfeeding inequality and why it matters at We The Parents.
August is a month long-devoted to the important pursuit of breastfeeding education and the end of breastfeeding inequality, and the month's final week is all about elevating Black mothers and infants and bringing awareness to their plight. This happens during Black Breastfeeding Week, a campaign championed by expert professionals and lactation advocates Kimberly Seals Allers, Kiddada Green, and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka. The event, which is in its eight year, acknowledges the issues facing Black mothers and children and focuses on how to eliminate these barriers.
Event coordinator Allers reflects on five key issues facing mothers and infants of color, noting that they are central to the mission of Black Breastfeeding Week and are some of the most significant barriers to good infant health outcomes in the black community.
The rate of infant mortality for black babies is staggeringly high compared to other races, and are two to three times higher than those for white babies in some areas; this is often attributed to premature and low-weight births in which babies would benefit from the nutrients and antibodies in breast milk
Diseases like diabetes, asthma, obesity, and SIDS have greater prevalence in African American communities, but breastfeeding is linked to reduced risk of these health concerns later in life
While many Black mothers want to breastfeed, a lack of women of color in positions of maternal and lactation advocacy can lead to a lack of cultural confidence and leave
Black moms feeling like they don't have a place at the table
A complex historical relationship with breastfeeding exists in the Black community, as women of color were forced to act as wet nurses for children other than their own, creating a negative association with the practice; though this perception is less prevalent now, a lack of familial support and advice still impacts breastfeeding success
Communities that don't facilitate breastfeeding, referred to by Allers as 'first food deserts', create barriers by lacking places for public nursing and educational lactation outreach that's accessible to the whole community.