August is National Breastfeeding Month, and a vocal group of moms decided to designate the last week of the month Black Breastfeeding Week. Kimberly Seals Allers of Mocha Manual, Kiddada Greene of Detroit’s Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka of Brown Mamas Breastfeed Project wanted to bring awareness to the low rates of breastfeeding among black women and the importance of raising the rates.
The most recent information from the CDC finds that just 58.9 percent of black mothers have ever breastfed their children, compared to 75 percent of white women. As baby ages, the disparity only grows, even in the wake of so much information about the benefits of breastfeeding. And with black children dying at twice the rate as white infants, breastmilk is even more important for them. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not because black women just don’t care.
Allers and her partners wanted to discuss the unique challenges facing black women, bring attention to the need for black lactation consultants and celebrate women who are able to breastfeed their babies, even if they don’t have much suport. But, perhaps not surprisingly, when Allers tried to gather support for the event through the breastfeeding advocacy website The Leaky Boob, there was a nasty backlash. Why separate black women? It’s racist. And that was only the beginning.
But Black Breastfeeding Week continued, because it’s necessary and “because we said so”, writes Allers:
We, the people who are from and of the black community. Those of us who are respected for leading the charge in increasing breastfeeding rates among black women. Those of us who are on the ground, doing the work and working for change. Those of us who have faced the cultural struggles while breastfeeding our own children and want something better for future mothers and babies. I’m confident that the majority of people who are complaining about Black Breastfeeding Week haven’t seen what I’ve seen. They haven’t driven some 30 miles outside Birmingham, AL just to find a breastfeeding support group–or other urban areas where La Leche League doesn’t exist. They haven’t held a premature baby who desperately needs breast milk but keeps spitting up formula. They haven’t stood on street corners and in front of WIC offices surveying new mothers and fathers, who said that their doctors never even gave them information about breastfeeding. They have likely never stepped into a black community or a black home or a black church to understand the lack of resources available or the negative sentiment and myths that linger about breastfeeding. So until you have walked where I have walked, seen what I have seen and stood where I have stood, please do not have the audacity to tell me and my community what we do and do not need.
Yes, we are all in this together. But some of us need more attention to get us there
Allers is spot on in the reasons for having a week dedicated to helping black women breastfeed and for the reasons white feminists aren’t really in a place to say it’s not necessary or it’s harmful. Find out how you can be part of Black Breastfeeding Week for the last two days of the event.