When I was pregnant I heard from many of my friends how wonderful it is to breastfeed your child. They talked of the “liquid gold” that is breast milk and rattled off an endless list of health benefits. What no one really prepared me for was how many questions I would have when it was a supposed natural process. And even more so, the anxiety I felt about properly feeding the tiny baby in my arms. The questions and struggles were daily and I found myself spreading my questions out to my friends who responded with answers and pep talks.
For Black women in America, this crucial support is often missing. According to a 2013 C.D.C report Black babies consistently have lower breastfeeding rates from birth to a year old compared to White and Hispanic babies. One organization that works towards addressing these disparities and better supporting Black women is the African American Breastfeeding Network of Milwaukee (AABN). AABN’s mission is to promote breastfeeding as the best nutrition for babies, provide accurate information about breastfeeding and to provide support for women and their families.
Dalvery Blackwell, the co-founder and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) explains, “Black women are the least likely to breastfeed and have the support network to breastfeed.” To fill this need, AABN has developed breastfeeding community gatherings. She explains this includes a group of women having “kitchen style conversations to normalize breastfeeding. Fathers go into their huddles and then rejoin the group for continued conversation.” AABN also does hospital and home visits for further support.
Currently the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended exclusively breastfeeding for six months. In 2013, the C.D.C. reported that 30% of Black women are breastfeeding at six months compared to 47% of White women and 45% of Hispanic women. According to Blackwell, economics can play a big role in continuing to breastfeed. She states, “If a mom has a decent maternity leave (at least 3 months) supported financially by a husband or partner, is able to return to work, have access to quality food, fresh air, quality health care, she will have a positive breastfeeding experience.” For many women this means that crucial support is needed when they return back to work or school. AABN addresses this with a curriculum that includes a class on preparing for pumping and education on breastfeeding rights in the workplace.
AABN is part of a growing network of breastfeeding education, advocacy and support which includes the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association based in Detroit, Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE) based in Georgia and a growing community of Black mothers and lactation consultants actively helping each other on Twitter though #BlkBfing. This formal and informal support network hopefully opens a new community of help to Black mothers looking for answers and pep talks like I needed in my first few months of breastfeeding.
By Kelly Titus, M.S. Candidate in Change Management at the New School of Public Engagement