This week, August 25-31, is Black Breastfeeding Week. This week we are focused on how we can make the changes to the healthcare system that we need to better support Black women to breastfeed.
Black infants and adults suffer from health disparities in many areas, with increased rates of asthma, sudden infant death syndrome, obesity, and metabolic disease- conditions that breastfeeding is known to protect against. However, breastfeeding initiation and continuation rates are significantly lower for Black Americans. There are a variety of reasons for this: a lack of education and support from the community, the workplace, and the healthcare system, increased rates of poverty, a lack of diversity in the healthcare system and the lactation profession, as well as a complex cultural history of breastfeeding in Black communities stemming from slavery when Black women were forced to serve as wet nurses to slaveowners' children. These issues that led to the creation of Black Breastfeeding Week are better discussed here.
The problems behind this health disparity are complex and will require a combination of efforts from the government, public health departments, education systems, hospital systems, and the community at large, but there are still things we can do as individuals to help. Here are a few ideas:
Increase the availability of breastfeeding education for the public: There are a variety of classes offered through hospitals and by private lactation consultants and parent resource centers. We offer a "Breastfeeding 101" and "Breastfeeding and Working" class every couple of months, visit our events page and follow our Facebook page to see our upcoming schedule.
Increase awareness, education, and diversity in health professionals: Healthcare professionals can learn more about how to support breastfeeding families here and can help increase diversity by mentoring and teaching Black health professions students. There are some incredible Black health professionals out there that we can follow, support, and learn from, here is one podcast I can recommend that is co-hosted by one of my former colleagues. We can also demand more representation of black and brown skin in medical texts and contribute to this effort by submitting examples. It is important for healthcare professionals to learn examination findings on a variety of skin tones, but medical texts are still overwhelmingly lacking in this area.
Provide community support for breastfeeding families: Anyone can do this!
If you see someone breastfeeding in a public space, give them a supportive smile or wave (and maybe offer to pick up the toy their infant may have thrown across the room). Don't stare, make comments, or ask them to cover up, and stand up for them if you see someone else doing this. Breastfeeding in public is legal in all 50 states anywhere the breastfeeding parent is legally allowed to be.
If a friend or family member wants to breastfeed but is struggling, help them find professional help. Their doctor or the USLCA is a great place to start. Don't say discouraging things like "why don't you just give them a bottle" or "breastfeeding isn't that important," this demeans the hard work they are doing and undermines their goals.
If you previously breastfed, consider helping other families on their breastfeeding journey by becoming a peer counselor for WIC or La Leche League. Both of these organizations offer free peer counseling to new families.
Employers- make sure you know the laws about breastfeeding rights for your employees and seek to exceed the requirements to make your workplace breastfeeding-friendly.
Educate yourself about Black history in the United States so that you can better understand the issues that led us to where we are today. This list contains a wealth of resources to help you do this.
Vote for elected officials who support policies to close the gaps that create these health disparities, and contact your elected officials to let them know that these issues are important to you.