Kimberly Seals Allers, Kiddada Green and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka are three mothers who are passionate about breastfeeding. In fact, they are so passionate about it that they founded an entire movement and a week to be delegated to a purpose: National Black Breastfeeding Week.
Why is it necessary to have a week that’s devoted to one ethnicity and breastfeeding? Because, the women say, being a black woman who chooses to breastfeed may be more challenging than for other races. Breastfeeding is challenging enough even with support, as most women know, but adding a cultural disdain to the picture makes it nearly impossible.
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The women say they each experienced a lot of negativity from their cultural communities over their choice to breastfeed. For many years, which may relate to slave-oriented demands such as being commanded to “wet nurse” their slave owners’ children, many women in the black community have felt that breastfeeding is not the best choice for their babies. Science has firmly proven otherwise, with children who are breastfeed enjoying higher IQs, lower lifetime risk of diabetes, obesity, and some cancers, as well as that special protection through the passage of antibodies from mother to child which keep babies from getting ill while their brand new immunological systems develop.
Even knowing all of these benefits, as well as benefits to the mother which include weight loss and a lower lifetime risk of breast cancer, the rates of breastfeeding for black women in the United States are abysmal. Allers, Green and Sangodele-Ayoka know why – it’s because there is constant pressure from sometimes well-being but uneducated friends and family to wean to a bottle. Allers says she suffered many questions, comments and sidelong, disapproving glances when she breastfed her child, and realized the support of this special obstacle black women face is not available. She wanted to change that. August 25 – 31 has been declared national black breastfeeding week to raise support and awareness to the cause.
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Anayah, a certified nurse midwife, said progress has been made, but there’s a long way to go for optimal health and wellness for both mother and child.
“There is immense joy from the feeling of empowerment and accomplishment you get from knowing that you overcame cultural barriers, unsupportive work environments, the insidious marketing of infant formula and perhaps little or no family support along the way. Happiness is a form of resistance. It is a joy for black families to know that by breastfeeding they are helping to rewrite our cultural narrative and defying the stereotypes that say we don’t breastfeed and that we give our babies artificial, inferior food. Changing black history is a true joy.”
Understanding the reason why change is needed is paramount to any cultural shift, and it’s important to remember that change often comes slowly. There are very good reasons to support this endeavor, according to Black Breastfeeding Week.org.
First is that black infants have a higher rate of infant mortality and that reason isn’t entirely understood, but it is known that breastfeeding lowers the risk for infants of sudden death. Secondly, African-American children have a higher rate of obesity, hypertension and diabetes, which breastfeeding helps to lower. The third reason is the disparity in the black breastfeeding advocacy field. Almost all are white, so giving black women a voice is a matter of utmost importance. Lastly, expecting any behavioral change in n environment of no support is setting one up for failure. The disparities and challenges must be acknowledged and strategies set into place in order to deal with breastfeeding opposition. With these support systems in place, women are given the tools needed to breastfeed their babies.
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