How Anyone Can Celebrate and Support Black Breastfeeding Week

by Jessica Martin-Weber with special guests Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, Waetie Saana Cooper Burnette, Dominique Bellegarde,Fortune Glasse Cotten
This post made possible by the generous sponsorship of Ameda, Inc.

Ameda Finesse Double Electric Breast pump

 

What if the risk of infant mortality was twice as high for one particularly vulnerable group? What if there was a simple measure to reduce infant mortality? What if there was a significant gap for the most vulnerable group in accessing that measure? Wouldn’t it be time to raise awareness and celebrate when it does happen?

 

To learn about BreastPowered and prepare for Black Breastfeeding Week, The Leaky Boob visited via Facebook livestream with Black Breastfeeding Week co-founder Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, CNM (read an interview with Anaya here) and part of the BreastPowered.org team, Waetie Sanaa Cooper Burnette, Dominique Bellegarda, and Fortune Glasse Cotten, winners of the MIT Hack My Pump-A-Thon 2018 Ameda Connections Award. These wise women shared practical ways anyone and everyone can prepare for, support, and honor Black Breastfeeding Week and celebrate black breastfeeding. See their suggestions below.

Photo Credit: Isreal Jean of Breastfeeding in Color.

 

How YOU can celebrate Black Breastfeeding Week

Anyone can celebrate black breastfeeding week and having the support of groups outside the black community is important too.

Inform yourself. Don’t understand why Black Breastfeeding Week is necessary?** Google and read what black women have said why this is important (start here) and then believe the experience of the black women that say this is necessary.

Share information promoting Black Breastfeeding Week on social media channels as well as in real life too.

Like and share images of black women breastfeeding. Representation matters, you can help celebrate black breastfeeding by helping make it visible. You never know when just seeing breastfeeding is all the encouragement someone needed to feel confident in their own breastfeeding journey.

Share your own story as a black mother and why this is important to you. If you’re not a black mother, share the stories of others and why this is important to you.  The more the information is out there, the more other mothers are reached and supported.

Do something through your own channels to show you are a black mom breastfeeding or that you support black breastfeeding such as one-a-day photo social media posts featuring black women breastfeeding (yourself or others).

Amplify the voices of black women sharing their stories, efforts to promote black breastfeeding, and taking steps for equity.

Attend Black Breastfeeding Week and black breastfeeding events in support- sometimes the biggest thing you can do is help make sure it is a full house.

Visit breastpowered.org, blackbreastfeedingweek.com, breastfeedingrose.org, and other organizations to find out how you can get involved and learn more.

Support an event even if you are not going in person by sharing and spreading word, donating, and volunteering.

Donate through BBW’s fundraiser to help events all across the USA through a $250 mini grant program run by Black Breastfeeding Week.

Photo Credit: Erin White

Larger Picture- Beyond One Week

Whatever your race, be a breastfeeding ally and ecstatic about those in your life breastfeeding! Be sure that anyone in your life that is breastfeeding knows for sure that you support them and you are not neutral. Not just as a one day/one week kind of thing but an all the time kind of thing.

Find your frontline- may be your work place, your family, your church, your social media, etc. and recognize where your power is and take a stand and put in the work wherever you are to be antiracism and fight for equity for all.

 

** Black breastfeeding week is about recognizing black women as humans and supporting black women in having all the basic opportunities and support that everyone should have. For more on why Black Breastfeeding was started, see here.

 

 

Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, CNM, MSN, MSEd is a nurse-midwife and innovative culture worker leveraging digital media to impact health and parenting. Clinically, she cares for women across the life span in Washington, D.C. Anayah also writes, speaks and consults with organizations on using social media to deepen community building and leverage social change. Anayah is a co-founder of Black Breastfeeding Week, co-editor of Free to Breastfeed: Voices from Black Mothers(Praeclarus Press), and consultant with MomsRising

 

 

Waetie Saana Cooper Burnette’s undergrad studies focused on anthropology and gender. These studies laid a unique foundation for her work with Breastpowered.org collaborating with families, recruitment, resource-building, and student support with innovative programming, grant writing, and attention to all families receiving equitable access to services. She is excited to focus on expanding the ways that the worlds of art, story-telling, and public health awareness can fuel our efforts to increase funding for lactation services for women of color. Waetie Sanaa co-facilitates the weekly breastfeeding group at Codman Square Health Center with Jenny Weaver, writes a blog for the Vital Village site Daily Milk, and is excited to work as a ROSE Community Transformer.

 

Dominique Bellegarde is a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) who has worked with Women, Infant & Children (WIC) for more than 10 years as a peer counselor helping mothers meet their breastfeeding goals from home and hospital visits to supportive text messaging and video chats. Dominique teaches a Breastfeeding class every other week at Codman Square Health Center for pregnant women and their partners. She also co-facilitates the well-known Baby Cafe at Codman Square Health Center. With a degree in human services, Dominique is currently pursuing becoming an IBCLC.

 

 

Fortune Glasse Cotten is a mother, attorney, and breastfeeding advocate. Her own experience birthing and exclusively breastfeeding her son has led her on this journey seeking to support other mothers of color. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Columbia University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan Law School. Fortune lives in Las Vegas, Nevada with her husband and son.

 

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Aja’s Story; A #MyStoryMatters Leaky Share

by Aja Davis

Aja Davis, breastfeeding support, guest post

I didn’t always know that I wanted to breastfeed. When my closest friend gave birth at 19, I was happy when she supplemented her milk for the short time she nursed so that I could feed her baby from a bottle. When she became exclusively formula fed, I had made the decision to feed a specific formula to my baby because it didn’t stain clothing or stink as much as the first formula my little goddaughter had.

A few years later, my sister had her second child and was determined to nurse her. She fought the good fight with a nipple shield for almost six months where she was informed that my niece was suffering from “failure to thrive” on her mom’s milk alone and was told to switch to formula.

Shortly after, my friend (mentioned above) had a multiple birth and her babies were sent to the NICU. She was urged to pump for them. The weeks that she transported milk to the hospital, she was a warrior mom! Her dedication to her babies and her milk left me in awe. I visited one day with her and she took me into a very special place called The Lactation Lounge. I had never heard of such a thing. There were a few hospital grade pumps for moms to use to express milk for their babies. There were encouraging signs and posters all over the room. I left the place curious, inspired, and weirded out to have seen my friend topless.

These were my experiences with black women breastfeeding until last year. I delivered a 9lb 3oz beautiful baby boy in November. When we were left for a few minutes after delivery, I tried to latch my little boy on to my breast and he did it! He was suckling like a pro, but he had been sucking his thumb on 3rd trimester ultrasounds, so it wasn’t so much of a surprised that he loved suckling on me.

Things were going well but due to his size, he was a bit of a sleepy eater. It was explained to my husband and I that we needed to wake him on schedule. We woke him, stripped him naked, plucked the soles of his feet, bounced him, turned the tv up as loud as it would go… Nothing worked to keep him awake through feeds. Our 3 day weight check bought on a 4 and a 5 day weight check. At his lowest weight, he had gotten to 8lbs even. We were sent home on Day 5 with a case of formula and ill-sized nipples, told to supplement one ounce of formula at the end of each nursing session.

I was certain I had officially failed my son. I knew that formula could lead to supply issues for me. I nursed my little one when we got home and when he dozed off, I handed him to my husband who attempted to give him a ready to feed bottle. I cried as I pumped, trying to produce an ounce of my own milk so that at the next feed, we would supplement with MY milk.

And we did.

By the next day, he had gained 7oz. I went on to meet with a lactation consultant when he was 9 days old. He had great milk transfer. We were all set to continue on our breastfeeding journey!

At 11 weeks, I returned to work full-time. I was determined to make time to pump at work for at least the first year. Between 11 weeks and 8 months, we dealt with thrush twice, washed more bottles and pump parts than I can count and used many, MANY breast milk storage bags. I am eternally grateful to my supervisor who gave me a wide berth and unyielding support for my dedication to pumping. I am also incredibly grateful to my mother, who looked after my son while my husband and I were at work. She followed proper storage and thawing protocol, as well as stored hundreds of ounces of milk in her deep freezer. At 8 months postpartum, I realized that I was dealing with an oversupply and worked to correct that by not pumping on the weekends and by dropping from 3 pump sessions to 2. This continued until my little guy was 11 months old, when I dropped to one session per work day. At 12 months, I stopped pumping all together. I felt liberated and felt like being free of the pump left me able to nurse forever! Or so I thought.

We had a great time bonding after work and during the middle of the night feeds. At 15 months postpartum, I realized that we were expecting baby number two. While excited, I was concerned about how a pregnancy would affect my breastfeeding relationship with my first baby. A friend suggested that I join a group about nursing aversion (just in case) and one about pregnant/tandem breastfeeders. Both groups were immensely helpful in aiding my navigation of this new, strange territory. It was great for me to learn and see, once the icky feelings of nursing aversion began, that I was not alone. This is especially common in pregnant women. I was able to make my peace by laying boundaries for nursing to help get us closer to my initial goal of two years.

Unfortunately, we made it to nearly 21 months. There is a bit of sadness about that part of our relationship, something that was so sweet, peaceful and calming for us both being gone, but we are okay. During the 21 months we spent as nurser and nursling, we went through several colds, a stomach bug, and the eruption of 16 teeth, and donated over 300oz of milk to babies in need. I am excited that we had the time together and that I will be able to start all over again with his baby brother in December.

Breastfeeding has been one of the best things I’ve even done. I had many people try to tell me I couldn’t do it, suggest formula (which wasn’t need), that I let someone else feed him give him cereal, etc. But in the end, my instincts won out and I am proud of what we have accomplished as a family. (Special and eternal thanks to my husband who washed pump parts and packed my bag many nights, who retained information in our first hours as parents when my mind was full of mush and wonder, and who acted liked nursing a baby was the most normal and natural thing in the world.) I hope to inspire and support other moms, especially black mo, who feel like nursing isn’t a feasible option for them. Moms who feel like breastfeeding is weird, embarrassing, or unnatural.

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If you’d like to share your story with a larger audience, submit your story, photos, and your bio, with #MyStoryMatters in the subject to content @ theleakyboob.com (no spaces).

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Aja D. is a wife and mother who resides in Philadelphia. She hopes to create a nonprofit organization to offer support and education to women of color and/or with low income, aiding them in becoming properly informed of their pregnancy, labor, and postpartum options.
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Black Breastfeeding Week and Brittany’s Story

by Brittany Brown Marsh

My breastfeeding journey with Maxine started nearly two years ago. TWO YEARS! I decided to breastfeed years before I was pregnant. I used to work at a daycare center and the entire infant classroom including teachers came down with the stomach flu. Well not the whole room. One baby—the only breastfed baby—didn’t get sick. It was in that moment that I decided I was going to breastfeed all of my future children.

bwdbf3

While I was pregnant, I read so many articles and books on breastfeeding. I rarely came across anything written by a black woman. I found that odd, but I still wanted to breastfeed my baby! Nothing was going to stop me. Well when people learned that I was going to be breastfeeding, people expressed a wide range of emotions. Some were visibly angry with me for not choosing to formula feed my child. “How am I supposed to bond with your baby?” was a common question. My favorite reaction of all was “Who told you to do that? That’s a white people thing.” Really? Why would someone even say that to me? I really am glad I was determined to breastfeed because there was little outside support in the beginning.

Breastfeeding in the black community should be more prominent. I’m sure that it is convenient having formula, but it is so rewarding to have that bonding time with your child giving them the best possible nutrition. We need to educate black women on the topic of breastfeeding. The first question I get from other black moms should not be “what type of formula do you use?” and I should not get a look of disgust when I say that I am breastfeeding. Seriously, as long as my child is eating, what is the problem?

Black Breastfeeding Week is so important to me because it show me and others that WE DO THIS. We nurse our children too. We aren’t ashamed to nurse our children.

bwdbf2

Maxine is 23 months old now and is still nursing numerous times a day. No matter where we are, if she needs her milk, she gets her milk. Nursing a toddler is way different than nursing an infant because now she’s standing and dancing and flipping around while nursing. I see no end in sight and WE wouldn’t have it any other way. When she is ready, we will wean. Right now, we are completely content.

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I am a black woman who breastfeeds and I am proud!!

Editor’s Note: Brittany shares much of her breastfeeding journey on her Instagram, @BrittBrownMarsh, including this sweet video of her breastfeeding Maxine.

-Brittany Brown Marsh
Brittany is a twenty-something Old Dominion University Communications major with a focus in Professional Communications. She graduated from Tidewater Community College in December 2012 and received an Associates of Science Degree in Business Administration. Brittany is married and welcomed her first child in September 2013.

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Why Black Breastfeeding Week Is Important To Me

by Carmen Castillo-Barrett

Carmen Black Breastfeeding Week

I am an immigrant Dominican mother, with African American roots on my father’s side. My husband is of Caribbean decent. We got pregnant with our daughter in 2006. The almost 42-week pregnancy allowed my husband and I time to explore and talk to each other about parenting. We decided we were going to do things differently than how the rest of our family did them simply because it’s what works for our family. We expected to be met with lots of questions and lack of understanding as to why we were doing things differently, but I was certainly not prepared for the ongoing negativity that was associated with our decision for me to breastfeed. I am not the only one who shares this experience. Below are just some of the reactions I got and reasons why Black Breastfeeding Week  is important.

1- “You’re going to kill your baby”
At four weeks postpartum, my mother-in-law began to express concern over the fact that all my newborn had to eat was breast milk. I’d done enough research while pregnant to know that breast milk is all an infant needs, but the research never heeded any warning about being confronted with the accusation that I was going to kill my baby by exclusively breastfeeding. My mother-in-law’s concern was real to her because she didn’t know any better. She called relentlessly, offering bad advice that wasn’t solicited, all while expressing concern that there was no way my daughter has getting the nourishment she needed. This was the most significant obstacle I’ve faced as a nursing mother and it ultimately undermined my confidence and affected my decision to discontinue nursing my daughter.

2- “You’re still breastfeeding?!?”
This question started popping up around the time both kids turned 6 weeks old. Both sides of our family saw no need to continue nursing past six weeks of age and thought that the natural progression of things was to introduce formula. My mother had no experience nursing a baby past trying it out for a couple of weeks with me, so her contribution to my growth as a breastfeeding mother was to state that the baby was now “old enough for formula” and I was now “finally free” to stop breastfeeding. There was no real reason why everyone thought I should wean, it was simply a matter of never having seen a non-white mother nursing past the immediate infancy phase.

3- “What? You can’t afford formula?”
When my daughter was two months old, we went out to lunch with my husband’s cousin and his wife, whom had two children of their own. While at the restaurant, my daughter needed to eat, so I discreetly breastfed her at the table. No one at the table batted an eye, but just as I was feeling confident that my nursing in public wasn’t a big deal, I was met with the question of “Why are you still breastfeeding? You guys can’t afford formula?”. I was so mad! Worse still is that when I called my mom about it, she felt the comment was perfectly justified and offered to send me money for formula. Somehow, my breastfeeding was seen as a reflection of our economic status rather than a conscious decision on how to feed our baby.

4- “You’re just trying to be white.”
A common way to dismiss a non-white mother’s parenting choices is to wave them off as her “trying to be white”. This comment is applied to much more than breastfeeding. If you are a non-white mom who co-sleeps, uses cloth diapers, has a home birth, employs a doula, teaches your baby to sign, or does anything outside of the “normal” things a non-white mom is “supposed” to do, then your parenting choices aren’t seen as something that simply works for your family, but a desire to leave behind your true roots to pursue one’s desire to emulate a white mother. This label is applied to non-white women of all shades as a means to shame, ignore, undermine, second guess, disrespect, and pigeonhole our choices to parent as best as we can.

5- “Your baby has teeth, that means it’s time to wean.”
By the time my daughter got her first tooth at 9 months, I was no longer nursing. My son, on the other hand, started getting teeth really early at barely four months old. I made the unfortunate mistake of posting a picture of him grinning with his new itty bitty baby teeth on Facebook. The immediate and overwhelming response from both sides of the family (and some friends) was that it was time to wean because “obviously” his incoming teeth meant it was time for “real food”. Up to this day I’m still unsure what “real food” I was supposed to feed a baby that young.

6- “You’re going to turn him gay.”
While it’s a scandalous thing to say to anyone, this last comment is particularly held as true among Caribbean families. Due to bigotry embraced by both older and younger generations and stubborn cultural superstitions, many Caribbean families believe that one can be “turned” gay and that nursing one’s son past a certain acceptable age will contribute to their sexual orientation. The lack of support and obstacles I faced when nursing my daughter were nothing compared to the outright hatred that the possibility of me nursing my son into a batty boy brought out in members of our family. This is why, after 7 months of exclusively nursing my son, I started pretending that I had weaned him. Only my husband and close friends knew that I was still breastfeeding.

Imagine if your entire breastfeeding experience was framed by the comments I listed above. How successful do you think you could be? This is why Black Breastfeeding Week is so important.

Carmen Castillo-Barrett is a wife and mom who resides in Brooklyn, NY. She is the Executive Director of the non-profit organization, Kiddie Science.

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