Black Breastfeeding Week Seeks To End Institutional Racism That Discourages Bonding Between Black Women And Their Babies

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April V. Taylor

For the third year in a row, pediatricians, parents and breastfeeding advocates have teamed up to spread awareness about breastfeeding among Black mothers via social media and in community centers and hospitals across the country as part of Black Breastfeeding Week. While the rate of breastfeeding for Black mothers has been on the increase in the last decade, lactation specialists report that there is still a lot of ground to be gained as Black mothers are still 20 percent less likely to breastfeed their infants than their white and Hispanic peers.

Experts say that misconceptions about breastfeeding as well as historical institutional influences contribute to the disproportionate rates. Institutionalized racism that has sought to discourage the natural bonding between Black mothers and their infants has also played a role.  However education, as well as networking that allows Black mothers to connect and talk about their experiences are helping to dispel myths and provide support for Black mothers. Black Breastfeeding Week has also worked to hold medical professionals accountable for their role in not encouraging women to breastfeed.

Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka is one of the founders of Black Breastfeeding Week. She is a Yale midwifery student and nurse, and she hopes that the focus on Black mothers will encourage more Black mothers to discuss breastfeeding and support each other.  She also hopes that the health initiative will raise awareness about the overall food injustice faced by Black communities.

Sandodele-Ayoka points out that progress is being made because major Black publications such as Essence and Ebony, who were previously unwilling to discuss breastfeeding as a social justice issue, have now become involved. Ebony recently hosted conversations on Twitter in conjunction with Black Breastfeeding Week and also hosted a lactation station at this years Essence Fest.

The history of wet nursing during slavery has placed a hard to break stigma on breastfeeding in the Black community, with many Black women seeing nursing as demeaning.  The lack of breastfeeding in the Black community has also left new mothers without role models or family and friends who can offer support and encouragement.

The benefits of breastfeeding, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, includes a lower risk of cancer, heart disease, sclerosis and juvenile diabetes.  Mothers also benefit from a stronger bond with their infants due to the release of hormones such as oxytocin.

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