It's Black Breastfeeding Week and here's why that matters
Worldwide, there’s a racial disparity in the rates of people starting and sticking with breastfeeding
It's Black Breastfeeding Week and events are taking place around the world to encourage and support Black parents in their breastfeeding journeys.
Eden Hagos is a Toronto-based public health promoter whose work focuses on maternal health through an anti-racist, intersectional approach. She's also a Black mother of three (soon to be four) who has been breastfeeding for more than six years.
Speaking to Canadian family website Today's Parent, Hagos explains why a focus on support for Black parents in breastfeeding is so vital: "The historical oppression of enslaved Black women as wet nurses throughout North America continues to impact the way that breastfeeding is viewed in some Black communities, and thus may result in less social support for breastfeeding parents, and increased stigma towards breastfeeding or full-term breastfeeding."
Describing the challenges that face black parents she says, "one of the most significant factors of course is the institutional racism that Black birthing people experience. During pregnancy and labour, Black birthing folks face higher chances of experiencing obstetric violence. Immediately postpartum, when breastfeeding support is most critical, Black parents are less likely to be offered support from a lactation consultant and are more likely to experience pressure by health-care providers to formula feed. All of these can discourage breastfeeding and decrease success rates with establishing breastfeeding."
Beastfeeding advocacy is white-female led, and the lactation field is overwhelmingly white. Hagos explains why this is a problem: "The over-representation of straight, cis, white women in this field, as in any other, is exclusionary. Black parents deserve to be supported by other Black parents. When I was a new mom, I joined a number of parenting groups where my infant and I were the only Black members and I always felt uncomfortable. I was fortunate because I finally found a La Leche League that had a Black peer supporter who invited me to my first meeting, and I have since introduced her to other Black moms. She, along with the other parents, have helped me through so many breastfeeding challenges throughout the last four years, and I believe all Black parents deserve to find culturally appropriate support from other Black folks.
"The Black community is resilient and culturally diverse, and this diversity is often not reflected among breastfeeding advocacy, nor among breastfeeding professionals such as lactation consultants. This lack of representation is problematic because it continues to perpetuate the myth that Black folks don’t breastfeed. Additionally, the lack of Black lactation consultants means Black parents are less likely to receive care that centres their culture. And finally, anti-Black racism from lactation consultants of other races could result in worse care for Black folks."
Explaining why Black Breastfeeding Week is so important, Hagos goes on to say: "It encourages breastfeeding among Black parents, and it also celebrates it. The reason that I am participating in Black Breastfeeding Week is the same reason that I share photos of my children breastfeeding on my social media. As a veteran Black mom who has breastfed three children, breastfed through numerous pregnancies, tandem nursed toddlers and newborns, and breastfed a child with food allergies, I choose to share my experiences to encourage others, and to show that while breastfeeding is not easy, it can be a rewarding experience."