When I was pregnant, many of my friends told me how wonderful it is to breastfeed your child. Constantly referring it to “liquid gold” and its endless health benefits. But when the time came, I felt tremendous anxiety. I had so many questions that I ultimately found myself sharing my struggles with my friends, upon which they responded with answers and encouragement.
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 Latino babies. One organization that works towards addressing these disparities 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 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 lack the support network to breastfeed.” To fill this need, AABN has developed breastfeeding community gatherings. AABN provides spaces for a group of women to gather and have “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 recommend to 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 Latina 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), [is] 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 groups that also 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. These formal and informal support networks open a new community of help to Black mothers looking for answers and pep talks, similar to what 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