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This organization is dispelling the myth that black mothers don’t breastfeed

Black Breastfeeding Week highlights health benefits and personal empowerment of breastfeeding in the black community

Last week Melanie Jones, a mother of two, learned it was Black Breastfeeding Week through Facebook. When the new mother (age 36) and science teacher found out she was pregnant with her now 2-year-old daughter Maycen, the decision she and her husband Ted made to opt for breastfeeding was a no-brainer, as long as her body would allow. They later welcomed a second daughter, Madycen, who is also breastfed.

“It saves money,” Jones said.

According to the United States Breastfeeding Committee, families who incorporate breastfeeding practices can save about $1,500 that would go toward formula in the first year.

Melanie Jones nurses her daughter Madycen. She is thrilled that Black Breastfeeding Week is an awareness campaign and hopes that numbers of black mothers who breastfeed will increase.

Photo by Jennifer Clements Wells

And the economical outcome is just one benefit.

Despite discouraging numbers, many mothers like Jones see the total benefits of breastfeeding and many organizations are taking time out to bring awareness to the nationwide topic.

Black Breastfeeding Week was established five years ago by Kiddada Green, Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka and Kimberly Seals Allers. The weeklong campaign continues to embrace breastfeeding in black families. The national awareness campaign ran this year from Aug. 25 through Aug. 31 and its goal is to highlight health benefits and personal empowerment of breastfeeding in the black community.

“For years, our communities have been viewed as places of deficiencies and lacks, but we reject that narrative and have full faith and confidence that we can create the solutions and support to improve infant and maternal health outcomes and save our babies,” said Black Breastfeeding Week co-founder and author of The Big Letdown – How Medicine Big Business and Feminism Undermine Breastfeeding Kimberly Seals Allers said in a press release.

Using this year’s theme, #BetOnBlack, the weeklong celebration was created in response to the unacceptable racial disparities in breastfeeding rates that have existed for more than 40 years.

“When we Bet on Black we will always win,” said Green, Black Breastfeeding Week co-founder and founding executive director of the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association in Detroit.

Sangodele-Ayoka said, “We say ‘Bet on Black’ this year as confirmation of the passionate, tireless and innovative work being done by communities and families to protect the first food and this deeply nourishing tradition.” Sangodele-Ayoka, also a Black Breastfeeding Week co-founder, is a nurse-midwife in North Carolina and breastfeeding advocate.

The week included community events and a large social media presence. According the Black Breastfeeding Week, more than 60 local communities participated across the country. This year’s theme speaks to the growing need to create community-partnered solutions designed by the black community. Instead of looking to outsiders, researchers or other traditional “experts” to increase breastfeeding in the black community, the founders of Black Breastfeeding Week are calling on all to #BetOnBlack for solutions.

The trio knows it takes a deeper conversation and will continue to spread the word yearlong.

Meanwhile, other researchers are also in on the conversation. Regina Smith James, director of Clinical and Health Services Research at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, recently wrote an article that stresses the economical and health benefits of breastfeeding.

“When it comes to providing our babies with the best nutrition ever, breastfeeding is not only economical, but it has positive health effects for both baby and mom … Breast milk is uniquely suited to your baby’s nutritional needs, with immunologic and anti-inflammatory properties,” she stressed. “Breast milk not only offers a nutritionally balanced meal, but some studies suggest that breastfeeding may even reduce the risk for certain allergic diseases, asthma, and obesity in your baby, as well as type 2 diabetes in moms.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2011 to 2015, the percentage of women who initiated breastfeeding was 64.3 percent for African-Americans, 81.5 percent for whites, and 81.9 percent for Hispanics.

James added that research shows the racial disparities in the African-American community occur for several different reasons.

“Healthcare settings that separate mothers from babies during their hospital stay; lack of knowledge about the benefits of breastfeeding and the risks of not breastfeeding; perceived inconvenience of lifestyle changes; the cultural belief that the use of cereal in a bottle will prolong the infant’s sleep; and embarrassment — fear of being stigmatized when they breastfeed in public,” James wrote.

Shalandus Garrett, new mother of 4-month-old daughter Logan agrees that breastfeeding is the best economical choice for her household and she appreciates the time spent with mother and baby.

“I like the bond it creates and the closeness,” said the 34-year-old cancer researcher at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. She is employed in a “super mom-friendly environment” that provides a nursing room and supplies for mothers who work and are away from their children but need to periodically pump milk throughout the work day.

While Garrett has an overproduction of milk, she noted that other problems exist for many women who attempt to breastfeed. These issues include low production of milk and infants not latching on.

Shalandus Garrett stores milk she pumps into her freezer. She overproduces breast milk and is exploring ways to donate her extra milk.

Garrett recently connected with her two cousins who are also new mothers at a family reunion. Joi Miller and Jessica Fitzgerald-Torry both opted to breastfeed but had to stop.

“After not breastfeeding my first child [who is 13], I was adamant to breastfeed any children after,” Miller, 33, said. “It was the most bonding experience I’d ever felt, skin-to-skin is a beautiful feeling, but [also] looking down at my nursing baby girl. I never felt so needed or accomplished. Well, until three months passed and I didn’t produce enough, leaving feelings of inadequacy. But now four months later, all she needed was a couple of months and she still latches on to me from the mere smell of me entering a room. For my first child, I just didn’t value the advantages to breastfeeding. But note my son is still very attached and quite brilliant, I must say.”

Jessica, 26, attempted to but had problems with Legend latching.

According to an article posted on National Institute of Health’s website, “African Americans continue to have the lowest rates of breastfeeding initiation, 60 percent, and continuation at 6 months, 28 percent, and, 12 months, 13 percent, compared with all other racial/ethnic groups in the United States.”

Although improvements in breastfeeding rates for African-American women are evident from the 2000–2007 National Immunization Survey, African-American mothers are still 2.5 times less likely to breastfeed than white women. Organizations such as Black Breastfeeding Week are working tirelessly to change the narrative and turn a weeklong awareness event into a lifestyle.

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.