If you felt supported in finding breastfeeding help, have you ever wondered whether this was in part due to the color of your skin?
Breastfeeding is not easy for many. The ones who usually want to do it Need assistance, Understanding and education. If you were able to find these things and the care went well for you, have you ever wondered if this could be partly due to the color of your skin? The fact is, the rate of people who start and hold on to breastfeeding varies greatly, and that’s not okay – which is why Black Breastfeeding Week was born. (This year it’s August 25th to 31st.)
Eden Hagos is a Toronto-based public health promoter who focuses on maternal health through an anti-racial, intersectional approach. Her academic work and her lobbying are based on her experience as a black mother of three children, who is almost four years old and has been breastfeeding for over six years. We asked Hagos why breastfeeding advocacy is so white, what it means for blacks, and how Black Breastfeeding Week helps.
What are the special challenges when you are black and breastfeeding?
There are many factors that make breastfeeding difficult for black people. The following is not an exhaustive list, nor do the factors apply to all individuals.
For starters, the historical oppression of enslaved black women as wet nurses across North America continues to impact the perception of breastfeeding in some black communities and, therefore, may result in lower social support for breastfeeding parents and increased stigma about breastfeeding or complete breastfeeding – term breastfeeding.
One of the most important factors, of course, is the institutional racism that black people giving birth experience. During pregnancy and labor, Black people giving birth face higher experience opportunities obstetric violence. Immediately after birth, when breastfeeding support is most critical, black parents are less likely to be offered support from a lactation consultant and are more likely to be pressured to use feed by health care providers. All of these can hinder breastfeeding and lower the success rate in setting up breastfeeding.
There is a perception that black women will not or will not breastfeed. Why do you think is that so?
I think the only real explanation for this perception is racism. The truth is, black Canadians are more likely to start breastfeeding than any other breed. The evidence shows that nine out of ten parents who give birth to black begin breastfeeding.
However, in the general Canadian population, including Black Canadians and all other races, fewer than one in four babies are exclusively breastfed up to the recommended age of 6 months. This indicates a need for more support for breastfeeding people, as community support, employee equality and good maternity leave are known to increase the rate of exclusive full-time breastfeeding.
Advocacy for breastfeeding is led by white women, and the lactation field is predominantly white. Why is that a problem?
The over-representation of heterosexual, cis-white women in this area is, as in any other area, exclusive. Black parents deserve it supported by other black parents. When I was a young mother, I joined a number of parenting groups where my child and I were the only black members and I always felt uncomfortable. I was lucky because I finally found one La Leche League That had a black peer supporter who invited me to my first meeting, and I’ve since introduced her to other black mothers. She and my other parents have helped me with so many breastfeeding problems over the past four years, and I believe that all black parents deserve to find culturally appropriate support from other blacks.
The black community is resilient and culturally diverse, and that diversity is often not reflected in breastfeeding advocacy or in breastfeeding professionals such as lactation consultants. This lack of representation is problematic because it continues to perpetuate the myth that blacks do not breastfeed. Additionally, the lack of black lactation counselors means black parents are less likely to receive care that focuses on their culture. Finally, anti-black racism from lactation advisors of other races could lead to poorer care for blacks.
Why is Black Breastfeeding Week important?
Black Breastfeeding Week is important because it promotes breastfeeding among black parents and celebrates it too! This year is the 8th annual BBW and the theme is Revive. Restore. Reclaim! This week social media is flooded with stories and images of black breastfeeding experiences. It also focuses on the work of black people, including obstetricians, lactation consultants, parents, and breastfeeding advocates.
The reason I attend Black Breastfeeding Week is the same reason I share photos of my breastfeeding children on my social media. As an experienced black mother who breastfed three children, breastfed through numerous pregnancies, breastfed tandem toddlers and newborns, and breastfed one child at the same time Food allergiesI share my experiences to encourage others and to show that while breastfeeding is not easy, it can be a rewarding experience.
International Black Breastfeeding Week highlights events across Canada and the United States that focus and celebrate black experiences. It also offers community grants for those looking to host events. This year there will be numerous online events every day until August 31. visit blackbreastfeedingweek.org Additional information, including resources for blacks seeking information and support on breastfeeding.
Follow Eden Hagos on Facebook or IG @Blacktivistmommy
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