August is World Breastfeeding Awareness Month, but the last week of the month is especially important for many women across the country: it's Black Breastfeeding Week, a time specifically dedicated to Black women who choose to breastfeed. If you've never heard of it, it's time to learn more about what what Black Breastfeeding Week is and why it's so important.
Some research shows that Black women aren't breastfeeding their babies as much as white women. In 2019, data was revealed from the National Immunization Survey-Child that looked at breastfeeding rates in mothers who gave birth in 2015. Researchers found that 83% of U.S. mothers breastfed their babies at birth, and of that amount, 85% of white mothers breastfed while more than 69% of Black mothers said they breastfed, showing a 16% disparity.
Black Breastfeeding Week exists because of numbers like these. The week is aimed to give support to the many Black women who do breastfeed, creating a community for breastfeeding Black women to show they aren't alone. The week is currently in its eighth year with no signs of stopping, and it was founded by Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, Kimberley Seals Allers, and Kiddada Green.
Sangodele-Ayoka, Seals Allers, and Green noticed that while support for breastfeeding mothers was increasing, it was mostly centered around white women, and they wanted to make a change to shift some of the focus to Black women. They put together the week and filled it with events for anyone to participate in. "What we really found was that for Black women, in particular, peer support models tend to be a lot more effective when there's a sort of affinity culturally, racially between people there tends to be better support for breastfeeding," Sangodele-Ayoka told Huffington Post.
In a post on the official website, Seals Allers has detailed all of the reasons Black women need the extra support. There is a high infant mortality rate among Black babies — they die at twice the rate of white babies — and they need the immunities and nutritional benefits that go hand-in-hand with breastfeeding. Seals Allers noted the high rates of diet-related disease in Black children, such as upper respiratory infections and Type II diabetes, which breast milk can help prevent, too. She also called out the lack of diversity in the lactation field (many lactation consultants and professionals are white), the cultural barriers Black women face when it comes to breastfeeding, and the lack of support Black women face from food desert conditions. It's not just about Black women opting out of breastfeeding, it's about the fact that they are not set up for success in the same way many white women are.
Each year, the founders put together events designed to bring breastfeeding Black women together for empowerment and support. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have decided to make all of these events virtual, noting that Black people are disproportionately dying from coronavirus in an Instagram post explaining the decision.
Still, the events are not to be missed. They include informative and interesting panels, like one about battling bias in the Black community on Thursday, Aug. 27, a Black maternal health discussion on Wednesday, Aug. 26, and a morning yoga round-table on Saturday, Aug. 29. These can all be found on Instagram Live, and the entire schedule of events can be found on the official website.
The week isn't just about learning and meeting other Black breastfeeding moms, but it's also about celebrating what breastfeeding is and all of the benefits it comes with. It's a wonderful time to build a community for strength and motivation, and it's one you shouldn't miss out on.