Feature: Supporting Black Breastfeeding In Wichita

For many Black birthing families across the country, breastfeeding intention and initiation continue to pose a challenge. From the presence of infant formula in maternity wards to the failure of healthcare providers to encourage Black Breastfeeding to the lack of community support for Black Breastfeeding, the breastfeeding inequity gap continues to widen. At HealthConnect One, our First Food Equity project tackles this issue head-on, by strengthening resources and support within Black communities that will increase available breastfeeding support by diverse, community-based peer-to-peer providers.

HealthConnect One identified over 20 organizations to support community-led projects from identified Black, Brown, Indigenous, and People of Color leaders WBBC, based in Wichita, Kansas. As a part of the First Food Equity project, WBBC’s objective is to motivate Black and Brown women in Wichita to begin contemplating breastfeeding initiation in the antenatal period. During Black Maternal Health Week, we spoke with Joyea Marshall-Crowley, the coalition coordinator for WBBC, to understand the coalitons work and its vision for Black maternal health.

What’s the origin story of WBBC? 

Wichita Black Breastfeeding Coalition was started in October 2020 under the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition non-profit organization. The creation of this coalition serves the purpose of giving black and brown mothers a safe place to get resources and support when it comes to breastfeeding. 

What issues are facing the Black communities WBBC serves in Kansas? 

The current issue in Wichita is representation and normalization. Black and brown women are not being asked about breastfeeding and their healthcare providers assume they are going to formula-feed compared to their racial counterparts. They are not offered the same resource and information during pregnancy and delivery about breastfeeding and there is a lack of black and brown IBCLCs in Kansas and currently none in Wichita. 

Share a success story within your program. 

Our program, “Latched Legacy” set out to normalize those black women who do indeed breastfeed. The campaign video highlights mothers with their families while displaying confidence to share that they breastfed, and their children are their legacy from that. The video was so powerful and touching that it has been a part of breastfeeding 101 classes, shared during black breastfeeding week, breastfeeding conferences, etc. 

We have been able to not only highlight normalization but also provide breastfeeding kits that include supplies and information to pregnant women to encourage them to initiate breastfeeding as their first choice upon delivery. We have successfully been able to 97% of the women who received kits initiate breastfeeding upon delivery. 

What is WBBC’s vision for Black Maternal Health? 

When this coalition started, there were no credentials in lactation within the group. We had nurses, chiropractors, and women who are passionate about breastfeeding and want other women to have a successful journey. As of today, we have two certified breastfeeding specialists (CBS) working towards their IBCLC, three doula-trained workers, three Chocolate Milk Café trained facilitators, and two in the works of getting their midwifery license. 

Our vision is to become the resource and information where Black women can seek help from the coalition, people who look like them and do not have to be outsourced because of “credentials”. 

How is your participation in the FFE community projects cohort helping you realize this vision? 

Our Latched Legacy Project is allowing us to build that foundation with the community and be consistent with providing information and supplies for free with the grant funding. We realize that this project has the possibility to be bigger than just Wichita, once we improve on our Latched Legacy Project and get a good system going, we want to start implementing the program in hospitals, local practices, WIC offices, etc.

To learn more about Wichita Black Breastfeeding Coalition, visit their website.

Two black female friends with stroller, walking and chatting.

Take Action for Birthing Families

Congress will soon decide on a social infrastructure legislative package that could be transformative for birthing families, including critical Momnibus investments and establishing the first national paid family & medical leave insurance program!

Black Maternal Health

The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 builds on existing maternal health legislation, like policies to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage, with 12 bills to comprehensively address every dimension of America’s maternal health crisis. 

Last month, crucial investments in Black maternal health from the Momnibus were included in the Build Back Better Act. HealthConnect One is thrilled to see maternal health equity prioritized in this package, however there is still work to do until these provisions, in their entirety, are passed.

As outlined in a report from the Century Foundation, these four investments from the Black Maternal Health Momnibus, out of many, will improve Black Maternal health should lawmakers pass the Build Back Better Act.

  • Build Back Better could save mothers’ lives by providing funding for postpartum Medicaid to a total of 1,170,000 uninsured new mothers over ten years
  • 92,000 nurses and perinatal nursing students would receive funding for loans, scholarships, and programmatic support over ten years.
  • 30,000 doulas would receive funding for loans, scholarships, and programmatic support over ten years.
  • 46,000 maternal mental health and substance abuse professionals would receive loans, scholarships, and programmatic support, over ten years.

It is imperative that congress prioritizes these maternal health investments that mothers, babies, and birthing families desperately need. 

Call your legislators to pass the Build Back Better Act with these investments! – Click Here

Call your Congressmembers’ offices! Congressional staffers are required to tally phone calls right away. You can leave their office a voicemail if no one answer’s the call.

Follow these steps:

  • Call the U.S. House of Representatives Switchboard: (202)-225-3121 or the (202) 224-3091 (TTY). Ask to be connected to your Senators or Representative.
  • You can find your Senators’ contact forms at senate.gov and your Representative’s contact form at house.gov/representatives.
  • You can find your Members’ phone numbers, Twitter handles, Facebook pages, and other contact information on Contacting Congress.

When you call, use this script:

Hi, my name is (NAME), and I’m from (CITY, STATE).

I am calling to urge you to vote to pass the Build Back Better Act. This legislation includes historic investments in maternal health by including ALL provisions from the Black Maternal Health #Momnibus and mandated permanent extension of postpartum Medicaid coverage to 12 months.These investments will address system-level failures by providing policy solutions that will allow Black birthing people and their babies to thrive.

This issue is of particular importance to me because (briefly describe why this is important to you).

Thank you for your time and for your leadership in supporting working families across America. I hope I can count on you to prioritize the health of mothers, birthing people and their babes.

(Your name)

* [IF LEAVING A VOICEMAIL OR EMAILING: please leave your full street address and zip code. This will ensure your call or email is tallied]

Tweet at your legislators and tell them the importance of these investment! – Click Here

  • It’s time for congress to pass ALL #Momnibus provisions in the #BuildBackBetter act. These investments will address system-level failures by providing policy solutions that will allow Black birthing people and their babies to thrive.
  • Community-based organizations like @HealthConnctOne and its partners are at the frontlines of the maternal health crisis by ensuring birthing families have the culturally-reflective support they need to have a positive birth experience. (1/2)
    The #Momnibus enables these organizations to directly serve the multifaceted needs of pregnant and postpartum people in their community. (2/2) 
  • Racial justice requires investments in maternal health. To rectify centuries of disenfranchisement, we need to continue demanding justice for moms and ensure that ALL of the #Momnibus provisions are prioritized in the Build Back Better legislative package. 
  • The evidence is clear — doula care is associated with positive outcomes for birthing families. Funding from the #BuildBackBetter act would provide increased access to doula services for Black families, for whom doula care is often out of reach.
  • The #Momnibus provisions in the #BuildBackBetter package will ensure that Black birthing people can experience joyful pregnancy and birth.
  • Black birthing people need the Biden adminsitration and leaders in congress to go bold and pass the #BuildBackBetter Act with ALL investments from the #Momnibus and the permanent extension of postpartum Medicaid coverage to 12 months.

Follow @HealthConnectOne on Twitter and be sure to tag us in your posts!

We won’t stop working until all provisions are passed. It’s time to build on this momentum and continue working to eliminate maternal health disparities by passing the Build Back Better Act with all maternal health provisions included.

Paid Family Leave

In one of the most industrialized nations in the world, only 15 percent of all working people in the have access to paid leave through their employers. The Build Back Better Act social infrastructure package could change that. 

Sick family members, a new baby or child placement, an aging parent, are planned and sometimes sudden occurrences for everyday people across America. Working families deserve to know they do not have to sacrifice financial income or job security.  The United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t guarantee paid leave of any kind. It’s time for our legislators to create a safety net that will allow working people to remain active parts of their families and the economy at the same time. 

Our leaders are negotiating the details and they need to hear your voice about what families need.

The paid leave plan in the Build Back Better package will:

  • Ensure the benefit is available to all of America’s families;
  • Provide paid time off (ideally 12 weeks);
  • Provide robust wage replacement; and
  • Cover the whole range of babies’ and families’ needs for time off.

Become an advocate and keep the pressure on our leaders to make sure the new paid leave program provision in the Build Back Better Act would reach all babies and families! call on Congress to finally pass paid leave for all working families. 

Take Action Today – Click Here

Contact Congress via a phone call or email and ask them to support the bill and it’s full recommendations.
(via Think Babies)

Use the script below:

  • Hello, my name is (xxx) and I am your constituent living in (state your city/town).
  • I’m calling today to urge your support the Build Back Better Act which will establishes a paid family and medical leave program that will meet the needs of working families across America
  • This paid family and medical leave program will give families the opportunity to stay connected with their family and remain in the work economy. Paid leave gives families the time they need to bond with and care for their infants and care for loved ones without sacrificing their financial security. 
  • This issue is of particular importance to me because (briefly describe why this is important to you).
  • Thank you for your time and for your leadership in supporting working families across America. 

It’s important that our elected officials hear from you about the life-saving relief that a comprehensive paid leave program can have on maternal and child health outcomes and overall well being of families.  

Our country cannot afford to wait to address the challenges facing Black and Brown birthing people, and failing to invest in these issues risks not only incurring painful economic and social costs, but lives across America.

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.

Historic legislation introduced on Black Maternal Health

On Monday, February 8, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, Congresswoman Alma Adams, Senator Cory Booker, and the Black Maternal Health Caucus introduced historic legislation to address the maternal health crisis for Black women and birthing people of color.

Call your member of Congress today! Let them know you want them to support birthing families.

When you call your member of Congress, the staff keeps track of the issues people are concerned about to help your member of Congress decide where to focus. When you call, you help your member of Congress by letting them know about important issues and legislation that will make a difference in your community.

Your call makes a difference!

Call your member of Congress today and tell them you need them to support birth justice – the most fundamental of racial justice issues – by supporting the Momnibus.

Here’s how:

Call the Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the office of your member of Congress.

When calling, say that you are a constituent and you want your member of Congress to support the Momnibus.

Here are some talking points:

– Black moms in the US are 3 to 4 times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications

– The Momnibus includes 12 bills to address the drivers of this crisis and #SaveMoms

– Black moms, women of color, & birthing people in the U.S. should not lose their lives bringing life into the world

– The Momnibus is a historic step forward towards achieving maternal health justice

– We must invest in solutions to save Black moms, women of color, & birthing people in the U.S.

The Momnibus will also support the birth worker community by:

Investing in community-based organizations and diversifying and growing the birth worker community.

Your voice is so important- join us in letting members of Congress know that we need them – now more than ever – to support birthing people, mothers, babies, and families.

With thanks from the HealthConnect One team!