This month, women across the country and around the world will celebrate several important occasions and week-long themes marking the impact and importance of breastfeeding. For instance, World Breastfeeding Week was held between August 3 and August 7. In addition, on August 12, Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared that it was Breastfeeding Awareness Month in the state of Michigan. And finally, on August 25, Black Breastfeeding Week will begin.
Some individuals may wonder why there are so many events promoting lactation. But the answer is simple. According to the World Health Organization, breastfeeding is a public health imperative, central to achieving racial equity and a key strategy for combating the maternal and infant mortality crisis.
Here in Michigan, 88 percent of families initiate breastfeeding. However, systemic barriers such as unsupportive health care providers, lack of paid family leave and lack of access to supportive employers and child care providers contribute to a steep decline in duration and exclusivity rates.
The situation is even worse for Black mothers, who face racial and health-related disparities on top of these barriers. A blog post from the organizers of Black Breastfeeding Week expands on these issues and explains why Black mothers would benefit from breastfeeding support:
Issue #1: The high Black infant mortality rate.
Black babies die at twice the rate of white babies. The high infant mortality rate among Black infants is mostly due to being disproportionately born too small, too sick or too soon. These babies need the immunities and nutritional benefits of breast milk the most. According to the CDC, increased breastfeeding among Black women could decrease infant mortality rates by as much as 50 percent.
Issue #2: High rates of diet-related disease.
Breast milk has been proven to reduce the risks of several diseases that are common in Black communities including upper respiratory infections, type 2 diabetes, asthma, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and childhood obesity. Breast milk could be the best preventative medicine for these ailments.
Issue #3: Lack of diversity in the lactation field.
Not only are there racial disparities in breastfeeding rates, there is a disparity in breastfeeding leadership as well. Breastfeeding advocacy is mainly white female-led. This is a problem. For one, it unfortunately perpetuates the common misconception that Black women don’t breastfeed. It also means that many of the lactation professionals, though well-intentioned, are not culturally competent or sensitive enough to properly work with Black moms.
Issue #4: Unique cultural barriers among Black women.
While many breastfeeding issues are universal, Black women also have unique cultural barriers and a complex history connected to breastfeeding. From their role as wet nurses in slavery, being forced to breastfeed and nurture slave owners’ children, to the lack of mainstream role models and multi-generational support, to stereotyping within their own community— Black women have a different dialogue around breastfeeding and it needs special attention.
Issue #5: Desert-like conditions in Black communities.
Many Black communities are “first food deserts”—a term coined to describe the desert-like conditions in many urban areas where women cannot access support for the best first food, which is breast milk. It is not fair to ask women, any woman, to breastfeed when she lives in a community that is devoid of support. It is a set up for failure.
For these reasons, the Macomb County Health Department is working to support mothers, and more specifically, Black mothers, on their breastfeeding journey. It’s also why the department and its WIC program breastfeeding team will celebrate and promote Black Breastfeeding Week between August 25 and August 31.
A part of the celebration will include trivia hosted on facebook pages with gift baskets and prizes purchased from Black-owned businesses. Eligible participants (pregnant or breastfeeding families living in Macomb County) can enter for a chance to win a gift basket during the allotted time by writing their answer in the comments.
All participants with correct answers will have their names entered into the 'wheel of names' and a winner will be selected at random. Visit the following Facebook pages and groups to participate: Breastfeed Macomb, Marvelous Milky Mamas, and The Marvelous Milky Mamas Collective. Outside of trivia, the department will engage with communities of color and share information and materials with its following.
Learn more about this important occasion by visiting the Black Breastfeeding Week Facebook page. You can also access information on breastfeeding and support services for local mothers on the Macomb County Health Department WIC program website. In addition to breastfeeding counselling, the WIC program provides no-cost healthy foods, infant formula and support services to families enrolled in the program. Other services provided by WIC include nutrition education, nutrition counseling and referrals to community programs and offerings. To enroll, interested applicants should contact the WIC office at (586) 469-5471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.