Reflecting on National Breastfeeding Month: #NBM21 in Review

As National Breastfeeding Month comes to a close today, we reflect on the activities and learnings on promoting breastfeeding intention, initiation, and duration during the month of August 2021. From the first-ever National Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Breastfeeding Week to Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association’s Michigan Community-Based Doula Summit, we are inspired by the stories of resilience, support, and cultural preservation to strengthen breastfeeding across communities.

Our highlights from National Breastfeeding Month include:

  • The Chicago Regional Breastfeeding Taskforce Baby Shower celebrating World Breastfeeding Week on August 7th,
    where HealthConnect One provided baby supplies and information on COVID-19 vaccines and pregnancy/lactation.
  • #FoodFri Twitter Chat on Breastfeeding/Chestfeeding + Food Health, led by Moms Rising on August 13th. View the full conversation here.
  • Completion of Breastfeeding Advocate Training with Cohort 1 The training, a major component of the First Food Equity Project supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, will train close to 100 Black, Brown, and Indigenous individuals serving birthing communities of color. Learn more here.
Breastfeeding Advocate Training for Cohort 1
  • Op-Ed on Why We Need A Black Breastfeeding Week by LaBrisa Williams, the Executive Director of the Tulsa Birth Equity Initiative, a HealthConnect One community-based doula replication site. 
  • LacationLegislation Instagram Live on Ausgust 25th we kicked off #BlackBreastfeedingWeek with a conversation on the impact of legislation on lactation for Black birthing people with Tina Sherman of MomsRising.
  • Breastfeeding Engagement During the Pandemic Twitter Chat on August 26th we discussed Breastfeeding Engagement and Support During the Pandemic alongside our partnersBlack Mothers Breastfeeding Association, Chicago Regional Breastfeeding Taskforce, Reaching our Sisters Everywhere, and the Northeast Mississippi Birthing Project. Read the full conversation here.
  • Lactation Across Borders Roundtable Discussion to close out National Breastfeeding Month we held a roundtable discussion on “Lactation Across Borders: Breastfeeding and Lactation Culture and Practice within Immigrant Communities.” During thediscussion, panelists working with immigrant communities across America to strengthen their maternal and child health outcomes shared their insights on supporting breastfeeding within these communities. Replay will be avaiblae soon here.

Post image credit: Black and Brown Breastfeeding Week Denver Facebook Page

Further Reading

Op-ed "Why We Need a Black Breastfeeding Week" at the top, with an image of the author at the bottom.

Op-ed: Why We Need a Black Breastfeeding Week

August is National Breastfeeding Month, and in the U.S., there’s also a time to commemorate and uplift Black Breastfeeding Week during the last week of the month. As with many similar commemorations, some might question the need for a separate event based on race. All babies can benefit from breastfeeding. Why the need for Black Breastfeeding Week?

Let me answer that question with one word: history. As a Tulsa, Oklahoma native, I’ve spent the months since the 100th anniversary of my hometown’s race massacre considering how tragedies in our past shape our present when it comes to healthcare in America.

Some of my work as Executive Director of the Tulsa Birth Equity Initiative focuses on helping communities understand our history and how we got to this place in our healthcare journey. It’s my job to increase access to Birth Workers of color as a way to address health inequities in Tulsa and build healthier families. 

Health and employment disparities in medical care

Black Breastfeeding Week organizers highlight that 75% of white women have breastfed versus only 58.9% of Black women, with a lack of diversity in the lactation field identified as a key part of the issue. Sadly, health disparities we see today are the result of decades of Black loss and missed opportunities for justice.

For many women, much of the first practical advice they receive around breastfeeding comes in a healthcare setting, at a clinic, or in the hospital shortly after delivery. Though advice and guidance from trusted family and friends is crucial, any problems or deficits are usually diagnosed by a doctor, midwife, or nurse.

For Black women, the chances that this medical practitioner will be a person of color are slim. As of 2019, only 2.6% of the nation’s doctors identified as Black or African-American, and in 2020 these groups accounted for a mere 7.3% of students enrolled in medical school. 

But do you know why these numbers are so low? Some might conclude that Black Americans can’t cut it in higher education, or they simply don’t choose to study medicine at the same rate. History tells a different story.

For example, have you ever heard of The Flexner Report? Also referred to as “Medical Education in the United States and Canada,” it was published in 1910 by American educator Abraham Flexner, with backing from the Carnegie Foundation. The Flexner Report has been credited for transforming and standardizing medical education. It called for significant improvements to medical education, higher admission standards, adherence to scientific methods in research and practice, and oversight by state licensure boards.

Racist beliefs in Flexner Report led to lack of Black hospitals, doctors

However, while it may have helped standardize medical care, The Flexner Report exacted a steep cost for medical schools without the funds to implement the changes.

Five of seven medical schools committed to educating Black physicians closed as a result of The Flexner report. A study published in August 2020 estimated that if those five schools had remained open, an additional 35,315 Black physicians would have entered the workforce in the years that followed, producing a 29% increase in the number of graduating African-American physicians in 2019 alone.

In addition, the medical schools that remained opened were unlikely to admit Black students due to Flexner’s beliefs about Black people and their role in medical education. In November of 2020, The Association of American Medical Colleges renamed their prestigious Abraham Flexner award due to his racist and sexist ideologies. In Chapter 14 of The Flexner Report, titled “The Medical Education of the Negro,” Flexner states that Black people should be trained in sanitation because he believed, “A well-taught negro sanitarian will be immensely useful; an essentially untrained negro wearing an M.D. degree is dangerous,” Flexner wrote.

Where did this lead? A report published in June 2020 by the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a worsened doctor shortage of between 54,100 and 193,000 by 2033.

Changing outcomes

This all equals bad outcomes for Black patients. We know that a diverse workforce, training, and cultural competence are essential aspects of quality healthcare. Studies confirm that communities of color benefit from being seen by doctors of color.

The foundation of the U.S. Medical system was never intended to address our needs, support our families, repair our wounds and nurture our children. In other words, the system works beautifully for the people it was designed to support, and everybody else is on their own. Many people will overlook the role Abraham Flexner played in shaping the trajectory of the physician workforce, but if we continually fail to examine these lessons, we will struggle to move forward.

To solve a problem, we have to understand it. The Flexner Report may not be as violent as many of the historic crimes committed against Black people. Yet, its implications are still being felt today in ways both obvious and subtle, from the shortage of Black doctors to the appalling Black maternal mortality rate.

As we consider the solutions, it will take reflection and discomfort if we want to get at the nuances of the inequities we see today. So, yes, we need a Black Breastfeeding Week and so much more.

This op-ed was written by LaBrisa Williams, the Executive Director of the Tulsa Birth Equity Initiative, a HealthConnect One community-based doula replication site. LaBrisa is a 2021 Aspen Institute Healthy Communities Fellow. This article was originally published in The Black Wall Street Times.

Lactation Across Borders

National Breastfeeding Month | Roundtable Discussion

 

Date: August 30th | Time: 2:00 PM EST | ZOOM Webinar

The declining health status of immigrant groups through generations is varied and complex, as are the breastfeeding practices and available support across communities.

To close out National Breastfeeding Month, HealthConnect One is hosting a roundtable discussion on “Lactation Across Borders: Breastfeeding and Lactation Culture and Practice within Immigrant Communities.”

During this discussion, panelists working with immigrant communities across America to strengthen their maternal and child health outcomes will share their insights on supporting breastfeeding within these communities.

Speakers

Charlene McGee | REACH Program Manager @Multnomah County Health Department
Charlene McGee, MPA serves as the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) Program Manager. REACH is a five-year funded program by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address chronic disease disparities. In this capacity, she leads targeted policy, systems, environmental and communication strategies to redress chronic disease disparities and informs division-wide goals, monitors program performance, and assess outcomes to eliminate health disparities and cultivate a culture of Black Health for Multnomah County Black and African immigrant residents. A self-proclaimed Liberian-Oregonian, Charlene’s experience as a survivor of the Liberian civil war and a Black immigrant has heavily influenced her career trajectory. Her career spans more than 20 years, serving in a variety of roles

To-wen Tseng | Volunteer Blogger @San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition
To-wen Tseng is a TV reporter turned independent journalist and author. She writes about parenting, education, and family lifestyle for a variety of publications. She is an award-winning blogger and has authored six books. To-wen is also a passionate breastfeeding activist. She received a rude awakening when returning to her previous newsroom after giving birth to her first child in 2013 and was denied breastfeeding rights, which eventually resulted in her separation from that company. Since that experience, To-wen has dedicated her career to advocating for family-friendly policy and gender equity at the workplace and speaking out about breastfeeding barriers in Asian-American communities and beyond. She writes for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition and MomsRising; co-founded API Breastfeeding Task Force and AANHPI Breastfeeding Week.

Monica Esparza | Executive Director @New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force
Monica Esparza is currently the Executive Director of the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force. She is a trained CLC and Community Interpreter who previously served families as a breastfeeding peer counselor for more than 10 years, providing peer-to-peer support to lactating families through the WIC program both individually and in the hospital setting. She participated as a Leader in the Health Connect One Birth Leadership Academy and the NM Women of Color Leaders in Non-profit. She has served on different boards and currently sits on the National College of Midwifery Board. As a Mexican, Immigrant woman living in the south valley of Albuquerque, she brings a grassroots community approach and an equity lens into her work. She understands the importance of centering families and BIPOC communities in everything that we do. She enjoys hiking and gardening with her husband and 2 children.

Maya Jackson | Executive Director @MAAME, Inc.
Maya Jackson is a mother, community organizer, breastfeeding advocate, full-spectrum doula, and the founder and Executive Director of MAAME, Inc. (Mobilizing African American Mothers through Empowerment). A native of Durham, North Carolina, she graduated from North Carolina Central University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Sociology. She has over ten years of working in nonprofit leadership in the arts and public health. In 2018 Maya became a birth doula and Milky Mommas International Lactation Peer Counselor. She eventually founded and launched MAAME, Inc. MAAME, a community-rooted maternal health organization whose mission is to support Black and other birthing people of color. This fall, Jackson will begin working towards her MPH and MBA at Benedictine University.

Stevie Merino
Stevie Merino is a community organizer, mom, anthropologist, birthworker, and proud islander woman–CHamoru (Guam) & Boricua (Puerto Rico). Much of Stevie’s work has been in efforts to uplift the voices of Pacific Islanders, who are often afterthoughts in discussions, resources, and invitations to the table. Stevie’s research in anthropology focuses on Pacific Islander birth traditions and birth disparities specifically on Chamorro’s in Southern California. Stevie presents her research at various academic conferences around the country, where she centers the experience and voices of Pacific Islanders that are often left out of these spaces. She is the co-creator & trainer of The Birth Workers of Color Collective and Long Beach doula of Color training. Stevie holds various positions in the community and in academia, including holding the Gender Equity Seat for the American Anthropological Association Members Programmatic Advisory and Advocacy Committee.

Announcing the First Food Equity Project

Diversifying the breastfeeding lactation support workforce will reduce breastfeeding disparities among BIPOC communities.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE // July 30, 2021

Chicago, Illinois — Through $1.2 million from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, HealthConnect One will increase access to community-based peer-to-peer breastfeeding support, critical to increasing breastfeeding rates and driving down infant mortality rates in Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities.

Breastfeeding is critical to young children’s health. Yet, years of disinvestment and systemic racism within the health care system created an untenable situation for low-income Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened this inequity as our health care systems are being pushed to the brink. HealthConnect One continues to put communities in touch with their own strengths and skills to augment years of systemic racism and neglect through collaboration, shared learning, and ongoing support for community-led work.   

The First Food Equity Project aims to improve the initiation and duration of breastfeeding rates among low-income communities by expanding community-based, peer-to-peer support models that diversify both the maternal and child health workforces rooted in these communities. 

“For new parents and babies, nothing compares to having lactation support that is from your community and shares your cultural background. W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s generous grant for our First Food Equity project provides us with the outstanding opportunity to grow the community-rooted lactation support in communities across the nation where the need is the greatest,” said Dr. Twylla Dillion, executive director of HealthConnect One. “For the communities we are working with, the option to work with someone with shared lived experience can be life-changing.”

  • Increase breastfeeding intention, initiation, and duration to improve mother and baby immunity and overall health.
  • Utilize the First Food Equity project to increase breastfeeding support by diverse, community-based peer-to-peer providers, resulting in increased breastfeeding rates.
  • Provide financial assistance and technical support for 15+ community-led initiatives and projects focused on increasing breastfeeding intention, initiation, and duration at six weeks.

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Media Contact: Zainab Sulaiman, HealthConnect One Director of Communications & Advocacy
Tel: (202)440-1576 Email: zsulaiman@healthconnectone.org

12 Organizations Supporting & Celebrating Black Moms Breastfeeding

In celebration of Black Breastfeeding Week (Aug. 25 through Aug. 31), we compiled a list of organizations and online groups that provide breastfeeding support for moms. If you’re an expectant mom who wants to learn more about lactation or you’ve already delivered your baby, it’s important for you to get the support you need to breastfeed successfully.

There are many health benefits for breastfeeding moms and their babies including antibodies found in breast milk. These antibodies help babies fight off bacteria/viruses and lowers the risk of asthma, allergies, and respiratory illnesses. Breastfeeding moms also lower their chances of breast cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

Recently, data on breastfeeding children indicated that “83% of U.S. mothers breastfed their babies at birth. However, when the research was broken down by race 85% of white mothers breastfed more than Black mothers who only breastfed 69%.”

This disparity is attributed to systematic racism within hospital networks who don’t encourage breastfeeding initiation to Black moms and often promote formula. The other obstacle moms face is dealing with the possible stigma of being shamed in public for breastfeeding their child. These things can impact a mom’s breastfeeding confidence and discourage her to breastfeed.

We honor and support organizations and online groups who are working hard to show off Black families representing breastfeeding. We support them in their efforts to promote and protect Black families and their desire to provide only the best for Black families.

Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association

Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE)

African American Breastfeeding Network

Black Breastfeeding Week

BirthMatters Spartanburg

United States Breastfeeding Committee

National Association of Professional Peer Lactation Counselors

MoDaBa (Fatima Muhammad Roque)

Early Dawn Birthing Services (Chelesa Presley)

Blooming Moon Midwifery Services (Toni Hill)   

Northeast Mississippi Birthing Project (Natasha Enos)

Southern Birth Justice

(Photo credit: Flint Chaney 08)

Power of Breastfeeding Reflection

I had my son and the hospital told me to go straight to the WIC office and that’s what I did.  I needed to figure out how to feed him. I can recall when I got to the WIC office they asked me for insurance and proof of income. I didn’t have any of this paperwork and they told me they were unable to give me any formula for him. I sat in the waiting room and began to cry. The lactation counselor, asked me why was I crying? I said I couldn’t feed my baby and they (WIC) wouldn’t give me any milk for him. She said to me: “you can feed your baby!” I asked, how?  She pointed to my breasts and began to teach me in the waiting area how to breastfeed my child. That is how my breastfeeding journey began for me and my child. In my community, no one I knew breastfed.

If the lactation counselor was not there that day, I would have gone home, and my grandmother probably would’ve given my son Carnation milk and Karo Syrup or Similac with iron, which is also a staple in the African American community. Sometimes, I would feed my baby in the bathroom because I felt embarrassed about breastfeeding at home when relatives were present. I did not have the education or support which is widely available today. I thought of my breast as sexual objects which is another reason it was uncomfortable for me to nurse in front of others. However, today I recommend breastfeeding with the same confidence and assurance as the lactation consultant did with me!

Infant Mortality Rates (IMR) is much higher among African Americans 4.7% Non- Hispanic White we need to give our babies a chance and it starts by putting them to our breast. If you need help learning to breastfeed your child a breastfeeding support counselor can help you latch your baby on today. Here is a list of organizations that are providing breastfeeding support or you can send us an inquiry at info@healthconnectone.org and we can refer you. – Tikvah Wadley, HC One Lead Doula

World Breastfeeding Week: Interview with Cata Contreras Guajardo on Breastfeeding

In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, we wanted to share a short interview with Cata Contreras Guajardo, the woman featured in the powerful photo above. We thank Cata for taking the time to share her thoughts on breastfeeding.

Why is breastfeeding important to you and your family?

Breastfeeding is not just food. For me and my children, it’s been caresses, shelter, and comfort. It’s also important to us because it’s consolation on nights when they are sick.

What was your breastfeeding experience like with your child?

The first few months of breastfeeding my second daughter was complicated. I didn’t enjoy breastfeeding. I would get in a bad mood and this impacts babies. As time went by, things began to improve and only positive things came from breastfeeding.

What kind of event were you participating in when you were breastfeeding your child?

Throughout my pregnancy, I had participated in the traditional Tinkus dance. On this day, I went to the festival early to rehearse and breastfed my four-month-old son during the break. My parents came with me and took the photo before the performance began. Amaru is going to be five-years-old and since he was a baby has been going to the festival and Andean ceremonies

What advice do you give moms who are trying to breastfeed?

To the moms reading this post: Don’t give up! Breastfeeding is our natural right. Sometimes, it hurts, makes us tired, and can overwhelm us but it’s not impossible. If you’re struggling with the process, find a breastfeeding/lactation peer counselor to help you with any breastfeeding issues.

Photo credit: Parents of Cata Contreras

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Entrevista con Cata Contreras Guajardo sobre la lactacion materna

¿Por qué es tan importante la lactancia materna para usted y sus hijos?

la lactancia no es sólo alimento. Para mí y mis hijos han sido, caricias, cobijo y consuelo. Es importante para nosotros, fue la base de la alimentación, el consuelo de caídas y noches de enfermedad.

¿Cómo se han visto afectados usted y sus hijos por la lactancia materna?

Los primeros meses de lactancia de mi segunda hija fueron complicados, tuve heridas y no era agradable lactar, me ponía de mal humor e irritable y eso también afectaba a los bebés. Pasando los días fue mejorando y sólo fueron cosas positives.

Cuéntanos sobre la foto de ti con tu hijo

en esta foto mi hijo tenía 4 meses, había bailado Tinkus todo mi embarazo y este carnaval en específico me encantaba, así que mis padres me acompañaron cuidando a Amaru y me tomaron la foto ensayando antes de partir a bailar. Amaru está por cumplir 5 años y jamás ha dejado de asistir a carnavales y ceremonias andinas

 ¿Por qué es tan importante la lactancia materna para usted y sus hijos?

Mamá que estás leyendo esto: No te rindas !! La lactancia es nuestra naturaleza !! A veces duele, cansa y agobia, pero no es imposible! Buscar asistencia profesional puede resolver todos los problems!

(Autor de la photo: Padres de Cata Contreras) 

Eng Span webinars

Apoyando a Familias | Supporting Families During COVID-19 and Emergencies

“Supporting Families During COVID-19 and Emergencies led by Lourdes Santaballa, Executive Director, Alimentación Segura Infantil (ASI) in Puerto Rico (PR) presented their approach to supporting families during emergencies and this public health pandemic.

“Apoyando a Familias Durante COVID-19 y Emergencias” presentado por Lourdes Santaballa, Directora Ejecutiva de, Alimentación Segura Infantil (ASI) en Puerto Rico (PR) compartió su enfoque para apoyar a las familias durante emergencias y durante esta pandemia de salud pública.

Resources/ Recursos

Guía Operativa para el Personal de Socorro en Emergencias del IFE  | Operational Guidance for Emergency Relief Staff and Programme Managers of the IFE Core Group

Global Health Media Video (in English only) Extracción Manual de Leche/How to Express Breastmilk

Guía express para la Alimentación Segura en Emergencias | Express Guide for Safe Infant Feeding During Emergencies

woman in lavender blouse speaks from audience at Chocolate Milk screening

Chocolate Milk Photo Gallery

In August 2019, HealthConnect One partnered with UIC’s Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health and EverThrive Illinois during Black Breastfeeding Week. They hosted a film screening of CHOCOLATE MILK, a documentary on the racial divide in breastfeeding. HC One’s Tikvah Wadley, led a successful post-show discussion with the audience. Here are a few photos from the evening!

Supporting My Community as a CLC

by Ambar Rivera

I don’t know when exactly I saw the opportunity to apply for a scholarship to take the CLC (Certified Lactation Counselor) certification. What I do remember is that I didn’t apply right away. Probably very busy, as usual. I set it up for later.

Then, at the almost very last minute, I was posting on my Facebook profile asking for testimonials from people whom I had helped in their breastfeeding journey. The response was so humbling. I got so many, and from people I didn’t even know I had helped. I had simply answered their questions, provided them with information, and to me, it was minimal, but it was definitely crucial for them. At that moment, I knew I HAD to take the course. I wasn’t even aware of the impact I was already having in my community. There was the woman who was nursing right after a C-section, the mother nursing her toddler all throughout her pregnancy, the mom with Raynaud syndrome, the one who worked full-time and benefited from my own experience exclusively breastfeeding and working full-time away from home, and many, many more. Again, thank you!

I applied, waited to hear results, and this I remember clearly…. I GOT IT!! I was sitting in the parking lot waiting to go pick up some mail and then, the e-mail came! YES!! I will never forget that excitement.

I felt like I would now be more and better equipped to help those families in my community on their breastfeeding journeys. I have always believed and stand by the notion that breastfeeding is a choice parents make, but when parents decide to breastfeed, I want to make sure that they get all the information and support possible, starting from providing prenatal education to assisting them once they have their baby.

I particularly enjoyed that the training was based on very recent scientific evidence and how knowledgeable and accessible the faculty was. It was an experience I truly enjoyed and will cherish for a long time.

I am so thankful for HealthConnect One and the Birth Equity Leadership Academy (BELA) for making this dream a reality. I can now continue serving my beloved Puerto Rico.