Why Black Breastfeeding Week Is So Important

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This week (August 25 – August 31) marks the 6th Annual Black Breastfeeding Week. You may be asking yourself why we need a Black Breastfeeding Week? How does race affect breastfeeding? I thought it was as simple as putting a baby to breast? Well, race is a factor in most things, and breastfeeding is no different.

The Black Breastfeeding Week website provides a wealth of information on the issues affecting black women who breastfeed, but here are the top 5 reasons why we need this week:

  1. The high black infant mortality rate. In some locales, black babies are dying at two to three times the rate of white babies, due to disproportionate premature births, low birth weight and other medical conditions. The immunities and nutritional benefits of breastmilk could decrease infant mortality rates by as much as 50%.
  2. High rates of diet-related disease. Breast milk is the best preventive medicine for respiratory infections, Type II diabetes, asthma, SIDS and childhood obesity. It is the most complete “first food,” setting the stage for a healthy life.
  3. Lack of diversity in the lactation field. Breastfeeding advocacy is predominately white and female, which reinforces the misperception that black women do not breastfeed. Also, many lactation professionals might not be culturally aware of the distinct cultural issues affecting a black woman’s feelings toward breastfeeding.
  4. Unique cultural barriers among black women: Black women have a unique cultural experience with breastfeeding, stemming from their role as forced wet nurses and caregivers to the children of slave owners (often to the detriment of their own children).
  5. Desert-Life Conditions in Black Communities. Many black women cannot access support for the best first food: breast milk. In other words, “[i]t is not fair to ask women, any woman, to breastfeed when she lives in a community that is devoid of support.”

As you can see, the issues are complex, and require thoughtful and careful consideration. By bringing our attention to these issues, we can find ways to improve conditions for black moms.

This year’s theme is #LoveOnTop “because love encompasses everything we do as parents from breastfeeding to nurturing others.”

Look for local events on the Black Breastfeeding Week website! I’d love to hear your experience with breastfeeding in the comments below.