In 2011, the United States Breastfeeding Committee established August as National Breastfeeding Month to celebrate breastfeeding and address its unique challenges. In 2014, Kimberly Seals Allers, Kiddada Green, and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka founded Black Breastfeeding Week, which takes place during the last week of National Breastfeeding Month. Sangodele-Ayoka said that she and her co-founders “created the week as a way to promote breastfeeding and let black moms know they’re not alone.”
According to the CDC, “Fewer non-Hispanic black infants (74.0%) are ever breastfed compared with non-Hispanic white infants (86.6%) and Hispanic infants (82.9%),” but despite lower breastfeeding rates among black mothers, we’re continually asked the question: Is Black Breastfeeding Week necessary?
As a black breastfeeding mother, I wholeheartedly say, “Yes!”
On the website for Black Breastfeeding Week, Seals Allers lists the “Top Five Reasons We Need A Black Breastfeeding Week.” Reading through her list, I find myself nodding in agreement; she acknowledges challenges that I personally have faced in my breastfeeding journey with my three children.
Number three on the list, “Lack of diversity in lactation field,” stands out to me and brings up great concerns about representation and why it matters. Just this week, my third-grade son was told by a classmate that he couldn’t be Santa Claus on the playground during recess because 1) he wasn’t fat, and 2) he was black. She had never seen a black Santa Claus before; therefore, in her mind, they (black Santas) couldn’t exist. Now, of course, we as adults have a more complex way of thinking, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still important to be able to see ourselves in different roles.
Besides me, the only other member of my family known to have breastfed was my great-grandmother, who did so only out of necessity in the rural South. The hospital lactation consultants and support groups I encountered were all comprised of women who looked nothing like me. I felt alone and sad that I couldn’t find myself within a community I desperately wanted to be a part of. The breastfeeding world became another place tarnished by misconceptions and generalizations.
I wonder how many black mothers decide that breastfeeding isn’t for them because they don’t see themselves reflected in the lactation field. I also wonder about mothers from different races who might believe black women don’t breastfeed because they don’t often see black women in the lactation field. Other races and cultures need the voices and faces of black women in breastfeeding as much as black women themselves do.
Black Breastfeeding Week is an opportunity for black women to have a voice at the table. If you’re a black breastfeeding mother, celebrate this week and its acknowledgment of you and your voice. If you’re a different race, celebrate your friends and acknowledge that although they may sometimes be overlooked and underrepresented, you love and hear them.
This year, Black Breastfeeding Week is August 25 -31, and the theme is The World is Yours: Imagine. Innovate. Liberate! You can view a list of events here.
To learn about some of the challenges facing the black community, watch our Facebook Live, Why We Need Black Breastfeeding Week: