Black Breastfeeding Week – A Time To Pause And Reflect
Black Breastfeeding Week is celebrating its ninth year, and this year’s theme is The Big Pause: Collective Rest for Collective Power. Held annually on the 25th-31st August, this health awareness campaign reflects the growing need to address the disparities in maternal healthcare for Black women.
This years theme recognises the need to pause and take in your journey and that of others sharing the same experiences after the challenging circumstances of living through 18 months of the Covid-19 pandemic. The unique lived experiences of Black mothers during this difficult time, and the benefits of rest, slowing down and reflection have been brought into focus.
The Big Pause
The Covid-19 pandemic has put huge strain on early motherhood – a time where support and rest is so vitally important. Combined with the Black Lives Matter movement, rest for Black families must be honoured and recognised as restorative and revolutionary.
Black breastfeeding support including peer-led support and community-based interventions have faced disruption, and in some cases discontinued during the pandemic. During such times of crisis breastfeeding can be the most reliable and safest forms of feeding your baby. During those early days and months studies confirm breastfeeding provides essential support to the developing immune system.
Now, more than ever Black communities require the tools and support to increase breastfeeding rates. Support during antenatal checks, those vital first few hours after birth and continuing through to exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months.
Black Breastfeeding Week UK
Ruth Dennison, Doula and maternal health educator brought Black Breastfeeding Week to the UK in 2017. Coinciding with the US BBW, founded by breastfeeding advocates Kimberly Seals Allers Kiddada Green, and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka. In the UK Black families suffer the highest rates of infant mortality, but with the right breastfeeding support it is believed that these numbers could be reduced.
Although it has been documented that Black families have some of the highest breastfeeding rates initially (96% compared to 79% of White women) other factors within the Black community are coming into play. It is very common for mothers in Black communities to introduce alternative foods early, from 2-4 months, against advice recommended by UNICEF and WHO.
Exclusive breastmilk up to 6 months has enormous benefits to both parent and baby, including the development of a healthy immune system and reducing the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). As well as celebrating the success of Black breastfeeding mothers, BBW hopes raising awareness of the health benefits and personal empowerment improves the outcome for Black infants and families.
Promotional images of breastfeeding heavily feature White mothers, while Black lactation specialists are highly under represented. Black families deserve to be supported by people who understand the complex and unique social, economical, cultural and historical factors that all play a part in the low exclusive breastfeeding rates. To make breastfeeding the norm within Black families, it is so important young Black mothers see themselves represented and receive culturally appropriate support.
Historical breastfeeding trauma may still be affecting breastfeeding rates within Black families today. Many Black women turn to their family elders for support and advice on parenting, rather than seeking professional breastfeeding education.
This advice can stem from the view that breastfeeding was historically seen as self-demeaning, with White mothers exploiting Black mothers as “wet-nurses”. In the 1700’s enslaved Black women were forced to breastfeed the children of slaveholders, often at the detriment and even death of their own babies. With generations of mothers holding this trauma it is difficult for the cycle to be broken, and breastfeeding to be seen as empowering and a positive way to feed your baby.
Health and Social Care Information Centre, IFF Research. Infant Feeding Survey 2010. https://sp.ukdataservice.ac.uk/doc/7281/mrdoc/pdf/7281_ifs-uk-2010_report.pdf
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