Black woman breastfeeding old black and white image

Black Breastfeeding after a History of Trauma

by Mekha McGuire

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In the conversation on Reproductive Justice and Birthing Equity, the climate is one of immense urgency.

With public breastfeeding now legal in all 50 states as of July this year, there’s a lot of momentum around birth equity, breastfeeding, and the rights of mothers in both the private and public spheres, but with every institutional reform and public shift, the question begs to be asked: Where does this leave Black mothers?

In the context of reproductive justice and the history of our communities in this country, the answer is non-extractable from the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the practice of slave breeding in the Americas. This Black Breastfeeding Week, like many others in the past, meets the crucible forged by white supremacy, medical racism, and heteropatriarchal state violence against the bodies of Black mothers and their children.

The history of the controlled reproductive capacities of Black and afro descended women is the foundation on which this country is built. The legacies of terror, oppression, and gendered dehumanization still impact the ancestors of those who survived the vast grief of enslavement. The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities reported in 2017 that 64.3% of Black American parents breastfed, in comparison to 81.9% of Latino and 81.5% of White parents breastfeeding. Now, those statistics can look very different when breaking down the racial variations within the Latino statistic (as people can be both Black and Latino as well as any race and Latino.) The enduring legacies of slavery are part of this equation.

Certified Nurse Midwife Stephanie Devane-Johnson of Greensboro, North Carolina conducted research as to why Black women weren’t breastfeeding and found that, “The echoes of slave women being forced to give up their milk still resounded. And black women didn’t talk to their sisters, daughters and granddaughters about how to feed their babies; the bottle was just assumed. And for some women, breast-feeding was a ‘white thing.’”

Devane-Johnson’s Findings

As part of her research for a doctoral degree at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Nursing, Devane-Johnson held focus groups to ask Black women about breast-feeding. She presented her research at the annual UNC-Chapel Hill Minority Health Conference, held recently at the Friday Center. Devane-Johnson described how she recruited 39 women ranging in age from 18 to 89 years old and asked them what conversations they’d had with family members. Turns out, many hadn’t had conversations at all.

“In the formula-feeding group, it was just assumed,” she said. Some women who had breast-fed said it was a topic that couldn’t be addressed in their families. “If they did breast-feed, they didn’t breast-feed at, say, their aunt’s house, they would tell them, ‘You can’t do that in my house. Breast-feeding is nasty,’” Devane-Johnson said. “You don’t talk about ‘boobies,’ because breasts are sometimes seen as sexual and not as functional.”

And then there was the enduring legacy of slavery. “There were some older black women who wanted to disassociate themselves from the past, from slavery and the wet-nursing,” she said, explaining that often young slave women were pressed into giving their milk to white infants. “That image of a ‘mammy’ when people would say that,” reads one of the quotes Devane-Johnson collected from her focus groups. “It did conjure up those pictures of the women feeding the white babies and all that.” And the cultural memory has been passed down even to younger women. “It really was amazing…. In my 18-to-29-year-old breast-feeding group, there was a young lady in there who said, ‘Yeah, the white men used to steal the slaves’ milk,’” she said. Devane-Johnson explained that often slave women had to be away from their own children, at the cost of their own children’s lives.

“A lot of slave babies died during slavery because they weren’t breast-fed. They were fed concoctions of dirty water and cows milk,” she said. Meanwhile, those children’s mothers were giving white children their milk. And women reported that oral histories have been reinforced by modern technology. “These pictures are all on social media,” Devane-Johnson said. “Then someone gets pregnant and people talk about breast-feeding. They’ll say, ‘You don’t have to do that anymore.’”

A study on Enhancing Breastfeeding Rates Among African American Women by Angela Johnson, Rosalind Kirk, Katherine Lisa Rosenblum, and Maria Muzik included this graphic for mapping and understanding the various factors that influence breastfeeding in Black American mothers. (Fig 1.)

Within the realm of influences that contribute to the comparative low numbers for breastfeeding amongst Black Women are slavery, racism, implicit bias, and discrimination from care/treatment providers. What creates a more nuanced and complex take on this data is also the influence that mental health and personal history have on the breastfeeding parent. When we consider the material realities and sentiments around mental health that exist inside our community, as well as the structural violence we face, a completely different picture around Breastfeeding is painted.

To center the history of these legacies, material realities, and subjectivities, I talked with a Black mother named Christena, who is based in Washington, D.C. and has a two year old son named Thiago. I wanted to center her experience with Breastfeeding, discuss some of the situations, structures and resources she had in place that made her feel supported and NOT supported, and learn what would make breastfeeding a better experience for her and for other Black mothers in her community.

Christena has been nursing her baby for two years and counting!

She’s a working class mother who has been though the ringer — having been illegally reprimanded for pumping at work, and having nursed through postpartum depression. Hopefully, her truth and her experience dealing with the structural inequalities around feeding her baby and mothering can provide a mirror to support other Black mothers who may be doing really well but need inspiration to go further; or mothers who are struggling with trauma or resource capacities (emotional, financial, and otherwise) and need some honest affirmation in their journey.

Christena Nataren, 27 | Breastfeeding her son Thiago 2 years+

My decision to breastfeed was both a financial and deeply personal choice. I knew breastfeeding was incredibly important to infant health and it lowers rates of infant mortality. The anxiety around keeping a baby alive and thriving was only slightly eased by breastfeeding. I’m thankful for the connection I was able to establish with my baby through breastfeeding. I left my OB/GYN halfway through my pregnancy and opted with a birthing and family center in my area instead. I didn’t feel supported by my OB and that changed when I switched to midwives. Even then, I felt a little hostility from medical professionals and I can only assume it’s because of my race and low income status.

I have a lactation consultant available to me through the birthing center and they offer a lot of help and literature. Outside of the medical structure, I have no support besides my partner. I don’t know anyone that has ever breastfed, so I was met with skepticism from my family. My baby’s birth wasn’t easy and I didn’t feel supported during and labor. The hospital’s lactation consultant was hostile and impatient with my questions. The nurses assigned to me also pressured me to use formula, so I did.

There were many times I wanted to stop, but the convenience and zero cost of nursing was a major factor to continue to nurse my baby.

I suffered an extreme bout of PPD. I suffer from PTSD from CSA (Childhood Sexual Abuse) and it was really hard to associate a sexualized part of my body with functionality. These are no longer parts of my body where I feel shame, but parts of my body that I feel sort of proud of — I have a healthy, bouncy baby that thrives on my breast milk. I feel so much pride in that.

When I had to eventually return to work, I was harassed by management about pumping breast milk at work. I was eventually fired and accused of wage theft over my 15 minute breaks on $2.77 an hour.

My experience with breastfeeding has been traumatic, overall— but I’m still nursing my son at 2 years old. I don’t feel ready to stop nursing and he doesn’t seem ready either, so I’m okay with extended breastfeeding. I’ll be ready to stop when he is. I’m hoping to make my next pregnancy and experience with breastfeeding an infant better than my first experience. I wish I had more emotional support and understanding from both medical professionals as well as coworkers and family members who were purely ignorant on the subject.

I don’t believe Black women are supported enough to breastfeed. Based on my experience, there are no conversations that are had with us from OB/GYNs or other medical professionals. More importantly, there isn’t access to this knowledge.

This inspired me to start a new project to help other mothers. I’m currently working on an app and a website that does the work of mapping out breastfeeding-friendly areas in the DC, Maryland, Virginia area — had I known, I would have ventured out with my baby more. You should be able to feed your baby anywhere you are, but I personally like to know when I’m going to feel safe. That’s where the idea for my project came from.

Christena is an essential part of the community we resist for, support, work with and build with to close these structural trenches. Her story highlights a truth that endures over many centuries of life in diaspora. It’s a truth that propelled our ancestors while they endured inconceivable dehumanization.

Together, our dreams, hopes, resistance, and survival will always drown out the labor of empire to keep us where we are. In the words of Gwendolyn Brooks “We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

My hope is that other Black parents who are breastfeeding — and struggling to be in congress with themselves through this time of immense repression — can read these words and be supported.

This Black Breastfeeding Week, let’s uplift breastfeeding LGBTQ parents, and breastfeeding parents who have postpartum depression, mental illness, or traumas, and aren’t routinely represented in birthing community conversations and support models.

#BBW #LoveOnTop


Mekha McGuire’s transdisciplinary labor is informed by her work with Black girls as an educator and community worker, as well as her service as an abortion doula and Black birth equity advocate. Her research and organizing is built on ethnographic and Black feminist frameworks that analyze and center conversations around Black girlhood, collective memory, femme genealogies, Reproductive Justice, solidarity politics and intergenerational gendered trauma within the African diaspora. Ms. McGuire is a leader in HealthConnect One’s Birth Equity Leadership Academy (BELA).

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Read Sustainable Funding for Doula Programs: A Study

Community-based doulas have been increasingly recognized in recent years for improving health, reducing costs, and effectively addressing health disparities. However, their services have continued to be underfunded, which has plagued the ability to make them available on a broad scale.

In light of this potential to positively impact health and the existing barriers to sustainable funding, HealthConnect One (HC One) commissioned TRP Health Policy (TRP), a nationally recognized bipartisan policy firm, to research potential sustainable funding streams, policy opportunities, and strategies for sustaining community-based doula services.

This publication is a summary of that research, which focused on doulas but is also applicable to breastfeeding peer counselors, community health workers, and others working to improve maternal, infant, and family health outcomes.

Download Sustainable Funding for Doula Programs

Freedom

by Milkah Jackson

Flat on her back
Legs spread far apart she lays
And no matter how uncomfortable
Still and fearful she humbly obeys

I cannot even begin to tell you the numerous occasions I’ve seen this
The countless times this image has played in my head
Back and forth…forth and back
But somehow this particular scene I can never seem to lose track of
I’ve tried completely erasing it from my mind
But how could I when deep down inside I knew…

I knew this is only the beginning of a long journey
With the same script different cast of a mentally enslaved woman
Whose fate was in the hands of her slave masters
With a role simply of domination
And they gave code words such as sedation, starvation, and augmentation
Then one day I suddenly realized that fear not only possesses the ability to institutionalize, but that it specialized
In causing her to become completely mentally paralyzed

See, the funny thing about history is that it has a way of repeating itself

You know, Harriet Tubman freed a thousand slaves and would have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were enslaved
While I cannot free every mentally enslaved woman
I can indeed show her how to break this vicious cycle of mental imprisonment
As she brings life into this world
And like Rosa Parks, I simply refuse to take a back seat on this issue of African American mothers and babies dying at 2x the rate of their white counterparts
No, I’m certainly not trying to pull the race card here
But in the cards that we’ve been dealt, RACE is written in Black Bold letters

So I promise, I promise to remain committed to boldly joining a coalition with doulas and health workers in my community
We will educate, nurture, and support marginalized women which in turn will foster unity
Reducing racial disparities through empowerment
Taking voices back, no longer being subjected to birthing while lying flat, but in fact…

Standing strong and firm with birth plan in hand,
Using visualization and a gentle massage as sedation
We will take birth back, no longer sitting on the sidelines
But right in front holding space until one day
These disparities will eventually be completely erased
And we start one community at a time
one birth at a time
one mother at a time and
one baby at a time.

Ebony “Milkah” JacksonEbony “Milkah” Jackson is the CEO and owner of In “2” This World Birthing Services. Being the mother of 8 caused her to realize her purpose in life. As a doula, Milkah’s mission is to serve women and their families by providing sincere and qualitative birthing services. She strongly perceives her role as nurturing and believes it is of utmost importance to preserve the mother’s birthing experience. She is also a founder and board member of Bold City Doula Coalition, which is a nonprofit organization that provides pro bono doula services for marginalized women in the Jacksonville, Florida community.

For Black History Month 2016, HealthConnect One invited partners and allies to share how they have been influenced or inspired by Black women who made history.

We hope you will share with us, too!

We invite you to join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #BlkHerStory.

On Sojourner Truth, Motherhood and Trust

For Black History Month 2016, HealthConnect One invited partners and allies to share how they have been influenced or inspired by Black women who made history – women like Sojourner Truth. ~ Editor’s Note

by Phyllis Brown

phyllis brownSojourner Truth traveled telling the truth. She also had some of her children taken away from her.

As a community-based doula, I have some understanding of both of these circumstances.

I want to talk about my experience with a client and her pregnancy, which pushed me to stand up and advocate for services to help ease her stress, anxiety, and feeling of overwhelm.

I wanted to make sure I could support this young lady to find her voice and communicate with her providers concerning her wants and needs. I went with her to a meeting with her case management agency, for support, so that she would know someone was with her and walking alongside her regardless.

This mother was so stressed about her pregnancy and wanted to make sure her pregnancy was not in vain. She wanted a crib, a car seat, a bathtub, equipment that would make her feel like a mother, equipment that was given to other mothers without hesitation.

I began to tell the case management agency the truth about this young mother and her anxiety concerning infant equipment, and why it was important to her, but the agency did not see the importance of it as we did. I continued to speak the truth. If we could provide this young mother a chance to speak, if we could simply listen with compassion and affirm her needs by providing her with the equipment she desired, then if her pregnancy ended up in the loss of custody of her child after birth, she could still be part of caring for her baby. She could still help to make sure everything would be fine. The equipment was one of the ways this mom could feel her pregnancy was real and be acknowledged by others as a mother.

I wanted to make sure this mom felt supported and had the opportunity to go through “nesting” as other moms do, regardless if her baby was staying with her or not. I gave equipment to the mom from our agency, to help her have her nesting moment.

We set it up together.

This has built trust between the mother and me.

Phyllis Brown works as a community-based doula for UCAN in Chicago. She has been in the business of supporting others through the birthing process for more than 35 years and began doing this professionally 12 years ago. She was working with a population of young people who were in need of the service and it was bestowed upon her to assist. She has formal training as a community-based doula and has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a minor in Organizational Psychology.  

 Now we want to hear from you!

 

Please comment connect on Facebook or join us for a Black Herstory Twitter Chat TODAY – Thursday, Feb 25th, at 1:00 p.m. ET (12 noon CT, 11a MT, 10a PT) – using the hashtag #BlkHerStory.

 

Black Babies Matter

by Stacy Davis

I am here to free you just as Harriett Tubman freed the slaves,
To free your mind and body from the damage that made you feel no better than yesterday’s trash,
To free you from the plagued mindset that black lives did not matter,
To free you so that you can freely nourish and nurture your child wherever you are.

I am here to show that you need to be Bessie Coleman to take flight in your community,
To show you how you can conquer your fears and take your sisters and brothers on the flight with you,
To show you how making waves will create stronger communities, men, women and children,

To provide you with the tools to be the next Misty Copeland,
To support you, as you stand on your points to create a better life for yourself, family and community.

I am here to shout the truth as Sojourner Truth did until breastfeeding is normalized, racial equity has been achieved, and the lives of black babies and residents of Flint matter.

 

Stacy Davis 2Stacy Davis, program coordinator at Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association, is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), with 16 years of community-based health care experience. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Health Administration from Davenport University and is currently pursuing her Masters degree in Public Health. Stacy is a 2015 Ecology Center Health Leaders Fellow and committee member for the National Association for Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color. Mrs. Davis is the mother to four sons: Lawran (15), Devahn (12), Jessie (6), and Jace (3). As one of the few African American lactation consultants in the state of Michigan, Stacy is committed to providing families of color with culturally-competent breastfeeding support.

For Black History Month 2016, HealthConnect One invited partners and allies to share how they have been influenced or inspired by Black women who made history.

We hope you will share with us, too!

Join us on Twitter this Thursday, Feb 25th, at 1:00 p.m. ET (12 noon CT, 11a MT, 10a PT) for a Black Herstory Twitter Chat, using the hashtag #BlkHerStory.

Convinced

by Stacy Davis

She says she wants to breastfeed her baby,
But I’m not convinced.
She says she’s going to help me breastfeed my baby,
But I’m not convinced.
She says it’s too hard and her baby doesn’t like her breasts,
But I’m not convinced.
She says, “It’s okay and we’ll try again next time,”
But I’m not convinced.
She says her nipples hurt and she’s just too tired,
But I’m not convinced.
She says that she understands and is here to support and help me breastfeed my baby,
But I’m not convinced.

What she doesn’t know is that this is the first loving touch I’ve felt in my bruised and battered life,
But I’m not convinced that she understands what I’m feeling.
Maybe if she looked more like me or came from my neighborhood or my situation I could open up to her and she would be more convinced.

But I’m convinced that my baby and I will get through this.

Stacy Davis 2Stacy Davis, program coordinator at Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association, is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), with 16 years of community-based health care experience. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Health Administration from Davenport University and is currently pursuing her Masters degree in Public Health. Stacy is a 2015 Ecology Center Health Leaders Fellow and committee member for the National Association for Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color. Mrs. Davis is the mother to four sons: Lawran (15), Devahn (12), Jessie (6), and Jace (3). As one of the few African American lactation consultants in the state of Michigan, Stacy is committed to providing families of color with culturally-competent breastfeeding support.

We honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today with two guest posts on “Birth Work for Equality.” Thank you to Stacy and to Dr. Joia Crear-Perry for sharing your work and your passion.

On Working for Breastfeeding Equity

Interview with Joia Crear-Perry, MD

We caught up with Dr. Crear-Perry over email to learn about her work with the National Birth Equity Collaborative and how she came to be such a strong advocate for moms. Here is what she shared:

What is your name? How many children do you have and what are their ages?
I am Joia Crear Perry, and I have 3 Children – 22, 19 and 5. I am the full reproductive spectrum 🙂

When did you begin your work to support breastfeeding?

I am an OB/Gyn. When I trained, they taught us nothing about breastfeeding and how to support women to ensure that they are able to breastfeed. When I went into private practice, I began attending seminars and trainings on how to encourage and support breastfeeding as a physician and member of the community.

You help so many families. Can you share a little about the help you provide?

Having worked in private practice, in public health and inside of managed care companies, we often see that the needs of poor women and women of Color are not adequately met. Having a Doula support the birth and breastfeeding of our babies can be reserved for those who are more well resourced. We are currently working to ensure Doulas are covered on Medicaid and insurance plans so that this disparity does not continue. These systemic shifts in resources are critical to us reaching any equity.

How does inequality show up in the work you do with families?

Our Vision at the National Birth Equity Collaborative is that every African American infant will celebrate a healthy first birthday. The fact that black babies die at two to three times the rate of white babies is inexcusable. It is the canary in the coal mine of our times. The coalminers used to bring caged canaries into the mines with them. If the canaries became sick or died, this was a sign that something was seriously amiss and that miners needed to get out. We need to make the U.S. not be a coal mine for black babies. The structural inequities that contribute to this must end.

Do you remember a time when a family you were working with was treated unfairly?

Speaking with large health systems and insurers about the importance of breastfeeding for communities of Color, we are often met with the statement, “They just don’t want to do it.” We are able to show data that Black women have high intention rates to breastfeed but significant work and structural barriers that they can address to improve those rates.

Birth work is often challenging, especially when we are faced daily with racism or other bias. Where do you find support?

I have found my tribe. I have a community of fellow OB/Gyn’s, midwives, doulas, reproductive justice activists who fight with and for each other. We know this is a battle for justice that has been going on for generations and that together, we are continuing to push forward towards equity.

What does this support look like?

Anything from phone calls to 3 day spa retreats. ( Need more of those 🙂 )

What advice would you give to other birth workers who face racism, bias and inequity?

Make sure you find your tribe. We cannot do this alone.

What is one thing the person reading this can do to support equity in birth and breastfeeding?

Make sure any person you know is supported when they are pregnant, giving birth and breastfeeding. Ask them if they have someone to go to their appointments and hospital with them. Be a safety net for them. What we all need to have a safe, healthy baby is to be valued and supported.

Anything else you want to share?

We are living in a very exciting time. Equity and justice are parts of daily conversations in the United States today. The impact of structural, institutional, interpersonal and internalized racism on our health over the lifespan must be ameliorated.

Dr. Joia Crear-Perry is the Founder and CEO of the National Birth Equity Collaborative. Previously, she served as the Executive Director of the Birthing Project, Director of Women’s and Children’s Services at Jefferson Community Healthcare Center and as the Director of Clinical Services for the City of New Orleans Health Department.

After receiving her bachelor’s trainings at Princeton University and Xavier University, Dr. Crear-Perry completed her medical degree at Louisiana State University and her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Tulane University’s School of Medicine. She was also recognized as a Fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Dr. Crear-Perry currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Community Catalyst, National Medical Association, and the New Orleans African American Museum. She is married to Dr. Andre Perry and has three children: Jade, Carlos, and Robeson.

Her love is her family; health equity is her passion; maternal and child health are her callings.

We honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today with two guest posts on “Birth Work for Equality.” Thank you to Dr. Joia and to Stacy Davis for sharing your work and your passion.

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Read The Perinatal Revolution report (2014)

The Community-Based Doula Program provides low-income mothers with someone from their community who can help make breastfeeding easier, and guide them toward a healthy pregnancy and a baby who has the ultimate nutritional advantage. This study shows that community-based doulas can change the way our country cares for our most vulnerable moms and babies, and it can save taxpayer dollars.

Download a one-page summary of the Perinatal Revolution

U.S. breastfeeding rates are particularly low in disadvantaged communities, where babies are more likely to face health problems. The World Health Statistics in 2010 revealed that 40 countries had better neonatal mortality rates than the United States and 32 had higher rates of exclusive breastfeeding at six months. Furthermore, according to the CDC1, Non-Hispanic Black babies were almost twice as likely as Non-Hispanic white babies to be born at low birth weight, and Black babies were twice as likely as white babies to die before their first birthday.

Community-based doulas change this trajectory, with an approach that consistently results in high breastfeeding rates and low c-section rates. A community-based doula is a woman of and from the same community who provides emotional and physical support to a woman during pregnancy, birth and the first months of parenting, through home visits and center-based activities. The effectiveness of the program emerges out of the trusting relationship between a community-based doula and her participant, the duration of their relationship, and the continuous presence of the doula during labor and birth.

The study, supported jointly by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), looked at 8 community-based doula sites around the country assisted by HealthConnect One, and found that 87% of community-based doula clients were breastfeeding at 6 weeks, as compared to 61% of a similar sample. Even at 3 months, 72% of community-based doula clients were still breastfeeding, as compared to 48% of the broader sample.

The Community-Based Doula program has since been adopted by multiple organizations and was named a best practice by AMCHP’s Innovation Station in 2015.

Download The Perinatal Revolution

Shared Voices for Equity in Birth and Breastfeeding

 

Summit 2015 BabiesLast month, HealthConnect One hosted a National Action Summit to explore birth equity – and many other topics. We asked participants what stood out to them about this gathering:

“The real commitment to reflecting on and improving community based models of care was so refreshing and inspiring,” said Kayla Harvey Nasca. “How comfortable the group was,” offered another participant. “The women clearly felt comfortable sharing and being together. There was a palpable trust in the room that bought warmth to the learning.”

Summit-015We also asked about the experience of peer-to-peer learning, which is the core of every meeting, every training, and everything we do.

Kayla shared:

I learned a lot of ways that Bold City Doula Coalition can enhance and improve our community-based doula program. I gained insight as to what my peers and colleagues are dealing with their work and how I can better support them. I learned techniques to improve my own leadership skills in order to help my organization be more successful.

I think peer-to-peer learning is much more valuable than theoretical knowledge so this summit was an amazing educational opportunity for me and my organization.

Another participant told us:
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I learned that community health workers heal themselves as they help women avoid what many of them experienced. I realized that the work is sacred not only because of what it does in the community, but because of the bonds that are built and the healing that happens within the women that do the work. I learned that it is the healing and the deep sisterhood in the work that propels women to push beyond the difficulties of the position.

It was the best learning because traditional power dynamics that are associated with learning are not present and/or openly discussed. There was an ability to be open and build trust and exchange not just words: histories, hopes, frustrations, and, positive energy.

It was a blessing to be in the space.

This is what happens when you hold space, raise questions, and wait. This. Right here.

Fathers and Breastfeeding… What Can We Do?

by Randi McCallian, MPH, CPH, CLC, CD(DONA)

“I think it’s such a high-risk deal, and you sacrifice a lot more by breastfeeding, but people don’t understand the benefits. Like saving money, their kid is gonna be a lot healthier, the mom is going to recover faster, reducing cancer risk. A lot of parents don’t know things like that, especially like us, the younger parents. And if we aren’t informed about it, we won’t want to do it. And we’ll take the easy way out.
“I think it’s such a high-risk deal, and you sacrifice a lot more by breastfeeding, but people don’t understand the benefits. Like saving money, their kid is gonna be a lot healthier, the mom is going to recover faster, reducing cancer risk. A lot of parents don’t know things like that, especially like us, the younger parents. And if we aren’t informed about it, we won’t want to do it. And we’ll take the easy way out.”

Men often wonder what they can do to support breastfeeding, sometimes saying they feel left out when a mother breastfeeds.

What they don’t often know is…

The support of the baby’s father is the most important to a breastfeeding mother.

At MHP Salud, we surveyed and interviewed almost 100 migrant Latina mothers who are successfully breastfeeding and they said that the baby’s father was the most important person that supported them.

Many breastfeeding programs and messages focus on the mother, but now it might be time to put some of that effort into helping men know how important they are to breastfeeding success, and how they can help.

Why support breastfeeding?

Babies fed infant formula are not as healthy as babies fed breastmilk.

Breastfeeding helps protect babies* from:

  • Sickness and diseases
  • Obesity
  • Asthma and allergies
  • Some cancers
  • Dying from SIDS

And helps protect moms** from:

  • Ovarian and breast cancers
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoporosis

It’s important for dads to be “supportive with public breastfeeding, even holding the blanket to help cover her. Because public breastfeeding is going to happen... be supportive and don't be embarrassed about it
It’s important for dads to be “supportive with public breastfeeding, even holding the blanket to help cover her. Because public breastfeeding is going to happen… be supportive and don’t be embarrassed about it.”

Ways to support a breastfeeding mother: 

Breastfeeding mothers say these are a few ways you can show your support and help them breastfeed!

✔   Encourage her to breastfeed.

Babies should eat only breastmilk for the first 6 months and continue breastfeeding for at least one year. There is no limit to how long breastfeeding should last, so mother and baby can breastfeed for as long as they desire.

✔  Congratulate her for breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is hard work, and you can help her keep going!

Tell her you are proud of her!

✔   Help her breastfeed in public.

Breastfeeding in public makes many women uncomfortable. Try helping mom cover up, or go with her to a private spot to breastfeed.

✔   Burp the baby after a feeding.

Hold them on your shoulder and pat gently.

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REFERENCES:

* “Breastfeeding Benefits Your Baby’s Immune System.” HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics, updated August 20, 2015. Web. October 21, 2015.

** “Healthy Milk, Healthy Baby: Benefits of Breastfeeding”. National Resources Defense Council, updated March 25, 2015. Web. October 21, 2015.

MHP Salud - Randi McCallianRandi McCallian, MPH, CPH, CLC, CD(DONA)
Randi’s passion for maternal and child health has been cultivated for over a decade. She has received certifications as a birth doula, lactation counselor, and completed a Master’s Degree in Public Health. Currently, Randi directs a Breastfeeding Program with MHP Salud and has conducted some of the only known Positive Deviance Inquiry research with breastfeeding mothers in local, Latino, migrant communities. Her most recent accomplishments include the birth of a daughter and her own breastfeeding journey, as well as sitting for the IBCLC board exam.

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