Changing the World One Photo at a Time with Black Moms Breastfeed
Black Moms Breastfeed is an Instagram page that was created to provide a community for Black mamas to share encouragement and advice with other moms and babies. They aim to normalize breastfeeding where the need is greatest here in the United States - the Black community. We sat down with the anonymous founder of the page to hear what inspired its creation and what's to come.
How do you find that your background has shaped how you formed Black Moms Breastfeed?
I am a Registered Nurse with a Bachelor of Science in Community Health, a Master of Science in Nursing, and I am a Certified Lactation Consultant. I have experience as a postpartum and special care nursery nurse and I currently work as a nurse case manager and teach breastfeeding classes for expecting parents.
I have always believed that everything about us as individuals begins in the home, from infancy; both our strengths and our weaknesses. Because of this, during nursing school, I developed a heightened interest in the relationship between parent and child, from birth, which prompted me to choose maternity and postpartum care as the focus of my practice.
The second part of my answer has to do with how I grew up myself. First, I would never change where I grew up; I believe it balanced me. It made me determined, strong, empathetic, and cultured. I am extremely proud of that. And although I grew up very happy with extremely supportive and loving parents, we lived in a neighborhood that would be considered an underserved community. I have always known what it is like to feel that your neighborhood was the last to be thought of, that the rest of the world wasn’t interested in your community’s problems. So when I saw the disparity between the support for White moms in relation to support for Black moms on social media, I thought to myself, “If you can do just one thing to help, even it’s small, then you need to do it.”
When did you first come up with the idea for Black Moms Breastfeed?
Almost a year ago while scrolling through my Instagram feed I noticed that on almost all of the popular maternity pages (those with 25,000 followers or more) there was only about one Black woman depicted for every twenty to thirty White women. It prompted me to really delve into the facts pertaining to breastfeeding among Black women. I spent hours researching the issue. Right then and there, I decided to do something about it and Black Moms Breastfeed was created.
Statistics are undisputed in showing that we need to start paying more attention to the Black community. There needs to be more of an equal representation of women who breastfeed as opposed to the lopsided representation that I discovered that day on Instagram. We live in an age where pictures and social media are huge pillars in our society: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.
When I am asked the question of why pictures, my answer is: Visual representation is huge, the more we see individuals who we can relate to and who look like us, the more normal a behavior becomes.
If you don’t see yourself reflected in the mainstream media, you have to create your own platforms. It allows us as people to open our minds and start the conversation. Black Moms Breastfeed is helping to reframe the messages surrounding Black women in the media.
What are the real statistics?
First it is important to know that many Black women have and still do breastfeed. Every day more Black moms are choosing breast milk as their babies’ first food. In recent years, breastfeeding rates have risen, with some of the greatest improvements being in the Back community.
According to the most recent studies from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) the percentage of Black women who chose to breastfeed at birth increased from 47.4% to 58.9%. An even more recent CDC study even shows that, of infants born in 2012, 66% of Black women chose to breastfeed. Although that is a fantastic improvement, breastfeeding statistics show that 75% of White women begin breastfeeding and 80% of Hispanic women. Then when you look at the percentage of women who are still breastfeeding at six months, the percentage of Black women is 27% compared to 44% overall (CDC.gov).
Researchers have been able to pinpoint several contributing factors to this healthcare crisis that range from: beliefs held by healthcare providers, socioeconomic status, the history of racism in America, education level, access to quality healthcare, and few Black mothers shown in breastfeeding marketing materials.
What kinds of successes are you celebrating with Black Moms Breastfeed?
Our greatest success by far is every mother who we have been able to reach. There are so many mamas who reach out to me and say they were on the verge of giving up (because, lets be honest, breastfeeding can be hard sometimes) until they found our page and felt a renewed sense of determination. Or, that they always felt ashamed of breastfeeding because of the negative backlash they receive from society, but after finding our page instead of shame, they felt empowerment. That is why I do this - for them.
What are the difficulties you still face?
There is still a lot of stigma around breastfeeding, not just in the Black community, but nationally. There are still so many people who do not understand why we need a page like this. Mothers are being attacked for simply doing what’s best for their children - being told to hide, to cover, or that they should wean their children. I believe that a mother’s decision to cover or not to cover, to wean or not to wean should be her choice. I think people forget that breastfeeding is what breasts were made for, that it is natural, and that it can literally help save babies’ lives.
What’s next for Black Moms Breastfeed?
It is estimated that we can save 1.3 million lives worldwide by reducing stunting, treating malnutrition, and increasing breastfeeding (Savethechildren.org). Our mission is to continue to change the world’s view on Black women and breastfeeding, one photograph at a time.
August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month and August 25-31st is Black Breastfeeding Week, so we will be working hard this month to spread the word and help women find support both online and in their communities. Please visit our page on Instagram for updates, giveaways, advice, resources, and more!
*Gorgeous cover photo of JoJo Bryant of Curly Nu Growth