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When I decided to breastfeed my daughter, it was an informed decision. I mean I wasn’t against formula per se. But my principals were. I was a vegan, and I didn’t want to introduce anything I thought was unnatural to my baby. More importantly,I also knew that I had trouble bonding with my first child, and both my doula and therapist told me that breastfeeding was one activity that would not only help me and baby girl bond, but would also help balance my hormones, help me heal quickly, and improve my sleep.

But breastfeeding was a challenge on so many levels. Once my milk came in, I found my left breast engorged and painful. I was told that I had mastitis and the best thing I could do was nurseher more. But with a breast-shaped like two footballs, shooting pains that felt like little knife stabs, little to no sleep, no role models, and little education on how to overcome these challenges, I often thought about giving up.

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While my daughter and I initiated breastfeeding within the first hour after she was born, I was never quite sure that her latch was perfect or that she was getting enough. The hospital lactation consultant was not very helpful. When I asked if she was latched properly or if I looked uncomfortable, she just said that the baby looked like she was doing just fine. What did just fine mean? Was she getting enough? How do I know? When do I pump? How do I pump? Should I pump? Do the foods I eat really give the baby gas if I have gas? There are so many questions that new mothers have about breastfeeding, yet they are unlikely to get answered without proper resources.

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And if you are even lucky enough to receive support from a lactation consultant in the hospital it may feel much like a rushed doctor’s visit that provides conflicting and often confusing information.

Experts agree that black women and their families are often misguided on breastfeeding more often than their white counterparts. According to Shanna Williams, founder of SWDOULA LLC, doctoral candidate, doula, therapist, and Certified Lactation Counselor, evidence suggests that Black mothers and families often aren’t offered the support of a lactation counselor. Instead, they are offered formula and receive little and often misguided education about breastfeeding.Furthermore, cultural barriers related to the historical legacy of slavery and a lack of multi-generational role models add to the challenge of initiating and sustaining breastfeeding.

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Most black mothers feel the same. Tamika Burrell, a single mother of three, attempted to breastfeed all her children. “In the hospital, all three of my children latched on with no help from anyone. But once we got home, I had trouble maintaining a proper latch and my milk supply went down. With my youngest daughter, I was able to get a lactation counselor but with work and home, I just couldn’t maintain. I didn’t know how to pump and store and keep my milk up. I just gave up.

Falise Alexander, mother of five said and model for the Philadelphia Inquirer’s When the Water Breaks initiative, “They offered me formula (in the hospital). And they offered me a lactation counselor, but I told them I was good. But then I got home, and my nipples were sore and bleeding and I was in despair. I didn’t realize the challenges I’d face at home.

Lactation counselors often provide about 30 minutes of consultation in a hospital setting and often don’t look like you. According to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), only 2 percent of lactation professionals are people of color. So, it’s even harder to receive support from someone who may understand the cultural dynamic around your breastfeeding journey.

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But the breastfeeding obstacles for moms begin at home. If ongoing support was available and affordable and culturally sensitive most black moms would surmount those challenges. Breastfeeding is not just about a successful latch, it’s a lifestyle change that requires knowledge and the support of a strong educated village.

And this support is crucial, especially for black moms. The evidence clearly shows that when mothers breastfeed there is a decrease in maternal and infant mortality and morbidity rates.The World Health Organization reports that breastfed babies face a lower risk of developing ear, respiratory or digestive tract infections, asthma, obesity, and diabetes, conditions more common in babies born to black mothers. Breastfed babies are also likely to have higher IQs. According to the Journal of the American Heart Association, breastfeeding is proven to reduce reproductive cancers, cardiovascular complications (the number one reason for postpartum complications in black women) and the risk of developing a perinatal mood disorder. Yet, according to the CDC, only 76 percent of Black women initiate breastfeeding which is below the national average of 84 percent.

And yet, knowing what we know, the racial gap in breastfeeding persists, which is why Kimberly Seals Allers, founder of the IRTH app and author of the Mocha Manual series created Black Breastfeeding Week (August 25-31). 

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