Breastfeeding is NOT Color Blind
January 5, 2016
0 Comments
As with most discussions in this country, Breastfeeding is NOT Color Blind. According the the Center for Disease Control (they monitor this because breastfeeding greatly reduces rates of chronic illness, SIDS, diseases, and obesity) Black women have the LOWEST rate of breastfeeding among the three main ethnic groups in this country.

Breastfeeding, for all it's benefits, is hard! I should know - I tried, failed, and was forced to pump. Yet, my story is one of many that leads to Black mothers not breastfeeding. Let's get real for a second and examine some of the root causes.

Class

America has NO paid maternity leave, and only PROTECTS your job (without pay) for 12 weeks. Among all ethnic groups, Black mothers have the highest rate of employment. Which really means we have the fewest stay at home mothers of any ethnicity in America. So, financially, most of us return to work shortly after giving birth. This makes it extremely hard to breastfeed, or be able to pump enough milk to cover your time away from your baby.

We also have one of the lowest rates of medical health insurance. This becomes even more important when selecting a hospital to give birth at (if selection is even an option). NOT ALL HOSPITALS ARE CREATED EQUAL! I delivered our daughter in a pro-breastfeeding hospital that promoted skin-to-skin, in-room procedures (keeping the baby in the room with you, as opposed to a nursery), and had breastfeeding consultants come talk to every new mom. The hospital even has donor breastmilk (yes this is a real thing) for moms who were struggling. This hospital is not the norm, and even with all these progressive steps, I still was not able to breastfeed when I went home.

Culture

Very rarely are Black mothers celebrated for providing breastmilk to their babies. Yet, our problem with the nipple extends well beyond misguided comments on a Facebook post, or reactions to viral breastfeeding campaigns.

I like to look at challenges through historical goggles, and breastfeeding is not exception. During slavery breastfeeding became a chore. Black mothers were sold as wet nurses for White children, or slaves' children who were separated from their own mothers. We were not able to dictate our own nursing terms since breastfeeding is a natural form of birth control, and we were to breed as often as possible. Thus, the health benefits were low in comparison to the psychological torture of nursing a Slave Master's baby, or your own baby to be a slave. This is where the disconnect began. It makes since that when given the opportunity to stop, Black women "liberated" ourselves from the task.

Evolution

Now we are starting to see, again, that this burden is actually very beneficial to us and our babies. Formula, for all its great qualities, simply can't provide the level of nutrition that breastmilk can. Change is a low process, especially given the many constraints I mentioned - BUT it can be done. Most insurance companies (Shoutout to Obamacare) now cover electronic breast pumps and up to six hours of lactation consultations. More companies are providing adequate spaces to pump at work, and more Black women are sharing their breastfeeding stories through forums such as Black Women Do Breastfeed. Even hospitals that predominantly serve Women of Color are making more targeted efforts to encourage breastfeeding.

My own breastmilk story is a testament to our evolution. My family has been VERY supportive of my breastmilk journey. In fact, almost all the breastmilk equipment I own was given to me at my baby shower, and after my delivery when it was obvious I would have to pump. I view it as a duty to now advocate for breastmilk to my friends and family. If raising a child takes a village, so does getting more Black mothers to breastfeed. Hopefully, my perspective helps!
Written By
Victoria Graham
Categories
Motherhood
General Posts
Breastmilk
Recent Articles