The month of August is traditionally devoted to increasing breastfeeding awareness. Between August 1 and August 7, we observe World Breastfeeding Week by encouraging breastfeeding, providing support to nursing mothers, and most importantly, promoting lactation information to combat common breastfeeding stigmas. But in spite of the annual reminder and global championing of breastfeeding, Black mothers still have lower breastfeeding rates than any other racial group.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the breastfeeding rate among African-American women is 16-percent less than Whites. The racial disparity, experts suggest, has more to do with a lack of education and resources. Whether it’s hospital staff failing to help Black moms initiate breastfeeding after giving birth or Black women not having access to quality healthcare, there’s been an erasure of Black women in the conversation surrounding breastfeeding. Not to mention, the data behind infant mortality rates in the Black community has alarming implications.
This is the reason why Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, Kimberly Seals Allers and Kiddada Green started—what we now recognize as—Black Breastfeeding Week, which is celebrated the last week of August. The three cofounders want to create more “first-food friendly communities,” and fill the void left open by the government and hospitals, particularly as it relates to harmful or inadequate health care policies affecting Black women.
Per the Black Breastfeeding Week’s site, this year’s theme is “Love on Top”:
“We say #LoveOnTop because love encompasses everything we do as parents from breastfeeding to nurturing others. Love is also how we survive grief, overcome breastfeeding and parenting challenges and why we practice good self-care.”
Someone else who understands the importance of normalizing breastfeeding is Naomi Kelman, CEO and President of Willow. Willow is the first hands-free, all-in-one wireless breast pump created to aid moms in balancing womanhood and motherhood. The pump fits perfectly into a woman’s bra with “no dangling bottles or external tubes or cords to hold her back.”
“All moms want to give their babies the best start in life, and, for most, that means breastfeeding,” Kelman tells ESSENCE. “Breast milk is ‘nature’s vaccine,’ protecting infants from many childhood illnesses and contributing to a lifetime of good health. There are lots of benefits to breastfeeding for both mom and baby, including lowering Mom’s risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and ovarian and breast cancer.”
Yet, despite the benefits of breastfeeding, Kelman cites that “20 percent of women overall breastfeed to the six-month mark, whereas only 14 percent of African-American women exclusively breastfeed at six months.”
Though the cofounders of Black Breastfeeding Week are dedicated to amplifying the voices of Black women and families, Kelman is hoping to make breastfeeding easier and aid moms in breastfeeding long-term with her mom-centric product lineup.
“With Willow, moms are completely mobile and totally hands-free so they can pump anytime and anywhere with dignity,” Kelman says. “A major component to increase the U.S. breastfeeding rate is to educate and help mothers incorporate breastfeeding and breast pumping into their current lifestyle and not the other way around. At Willow, we celebrate and support women, whatever their choice is on how they feed their baby.”
And while breastfeeding is technically already “normal” and completely natural, Kelman is supporting the normalization of breastfeeding through an initiative called #HowINormalize that “encourages women to share their stories and journeys of breastfeeding and pumping for their babies.”
“Moms have a unique superpower; their ability to nurse and feed their baby,” explains Kelman. “At Willow, we celebrate all moms and believe that nursing and breast pumping to nourish babies is a natural part of life. We strongly advocate for the creation of products, spaces, time off and workplace support, among other benefits and programs, to help mothers get there. We are doing our part by transforming the breast pumping experience and helping to normalize breastfeeding for women.”