The City of New Orleans rejoiced when Mayor Latoya Cantrell announced that Mardi Gras was on for 2022. The annual Carnival celebration was passed over in 2021, due the COVID-19 outbreak that sacrificed so many lives. The appropriate public health measure put in place required cancellation of gatherings statewide. This year was refreshing, but one of the best parts was a focus on breastfeeding. Several mamas were breastfeeding in the parade crowds. The temperature swung and the breasts hung, signaling a cultural shift. The moment also proved birthing people in New Orleans are not scared of social stigma, ogling eyes or negative comments. —And though New Orleans is pretty much the most progressive city in the state of Louisiana, it’s rare to see people breastfeeding at parades.
The cultural shift towards public breastfeeding is a strategic win on behalf of advocacy from organizations like Healthy Start and the network of Baby Cafe’s. Impact from waves of collaborative federal and philanthropic funding partnerships have included the Institute for Women Ethnic Studies, National Birth Equity Collaborative and the city-wide Maternal & Child Health Coalition. The past 3-5 years of funding still doesn’t touch the decade of work Sista Midwife Productions and Birthmark Doula Collective has invested into changing the landscape for mamas in the city through programming, community building, holding mamas and catching babies.
Laissez les bon lait rouler—Let the good milk roll!
The joy that comes from bearing witness to the progress of the painstaking work from the birthing community to undo generations of harm and misinformation that convinced Black women that breastfeeding is not for us. The organizations mentioned may not have legacy funding and are working hard to sustain staff while doing this culture-shifting work. Funding cycles take these leaders on a ride chasing the dragon—or rather chasing the float—of fleeting resources. Some prefer to be unbothered and unattached to these temporary waves of funding. The movement of breastfeeding in New Orleans has been led by birth workers and organizations but most importantly, the mamas in the community are creating the experience they want.
Regardless if the shift has come from community-led funding or sheer feminine will, the results are visible. Shout out to new mamas in 2022.
“This is my baby’s first Mardi Gras!” left many mamas lips, while holding 18-month-old toddlers. “Happy Mardi Gras Baby!”
Black Maternal Health Week runs April 11-April 17. Register for National Birth Equity Coalition’s rundown of events and workshops at birthequity.org/BMHW22.