Black Breastfeeding Week was celebrated locally this year on August 31st in front of the Boston Children’s Museum. Vital Village Network and the Boston Breastfeeding Coalition organized the event to raise awareness of the disparities and lower breastfeeding rates families of color face in the United States.

This is the 5th year for the national Black Breastfeeding Week celebration.  It was started by Kimberly Seals-Allers, Kiddada Green, and Anaya Sangodele-Ayoka, all leaders in the field of maternal health. Across the country, families and advocates have been celebrating by social gatherings, social media awareness, art, photography, fundraising, blogging, and news articles.

“Bet on Black” was the theme for this year’s celebration which ran from August 25th-through August 31st. The gathering of moms, babies, and advocates who attended Boston’s event this year participated in a Black Breastfeeding Week tradition to “lift every baby”.  “Lift Every Baby”  is an homage to the poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” written by James Weldon Johnson and later set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson. This song became the Black National Anthem in 1905. The lyrics start out:

Lift every voice and sing 
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise 
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.

While families across the country typically aim to lift their babies to the sky at 3pm on the Saturday during Black Breastfeeding Week, the group of moms and supporters in Boston met on Thursday to coincide with a weekly breastfeeding support group inside of the Boston Children’s Museum facilitated by volunteers from Vital Village Network. The attendees gathered and socialized by a large sculpture of a milk bottle that stands outside of the museum. When the event concluded, some attendees proceeded to attend a breastfeeding support group held inside of the museum.

At blackbreastfeedingweek.org , nationwide event leader Kimberly Seals Allers, listed five reasons to advocate for, and support this event:

  1. To reduce the high black infant mortality rate through the lifesaving benefits of receiving  breastmilk.
  2. To reduce the high rates of diet related diseases by providing breastmilk as the first food.
  3. Increase awareness for the diversity needed in lactation leadership.
  4. Address the cultural barriers that are specific to black women.
  5. Create communities that are filled with support and breastfeeding role models, and eliminate environments that are “first food deserts”.

Local Black Breastfeeding Week event organizer and Vital Village blogger Waetie Sanaa Cooper Burnette, put together this list of ways that we can support this movement throughout the year on a local level.

  1. Offer your Boston space that is baby friendly and “T” accessible as a meeting site for one of our breastfeeding groups.
  2. Earmark a donation to the Boston Breastfeeding Coalition to support the training, education, and travel of the many women of color seeking to become IBCLC’s.
  3. Volunteer your time to translate lactation materials into some of the popular local languages that our populations speak. Being able to have reference materials and study materials in a home language can make a huge difference in our ability to connect with a variety of populations.
  4. Become familiar with your local breastfeeding resources and share that information with new moms who are breastfeeding. We need all the encouragement we can get to counteract the negative messages that tell us that breastfeeding isn’t all that important or should be done only in private.
  5. Cheer on moms you don’t know when you see them breastfeeding and note how proud you are that they are figuring out how to stick with it.
  6. For those who already have an IBCLC, choose to mentor a person of color or someone who would otherwise have significant barriers in attaining this credential. If every person with an IBCLC did this, the ripple effect would be really huge!
  7. Employ lactation professionals that look like and reflect the target community. Train them and then hire them if you are not finding them or they are not aware of this opportunity.

Learn more about efforts like this and check out Waetie Sanaa’s blog by visiting bostonbreastfeeding.weebly.com and vitalvillage.org. If you want to get involved with the Boston Breastfeeding Coalition and Vital Village Network contact them at vitalvillage@bmc.org. To stay up to date on events, including Black Breastfeeding Week 2018 events, follow the Boston Breastfeeding Coalition and Vital Village Network’s Facebook pages https://www.facebook.com/bostonbreastfeeding/   and   https://www.facebook.com/vitalvillagenetwork/

You can follow the movement nationally by visiting these websites: blackbreastfeedingweek.org and blackwomendobreastfeed.org . To review current information on racial and geographic differences in breastfeeding rates among populations in the U.S. visit the CDC page https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6627a3.htm

A special thanks to Waetie Sanaa Cooper Burnette for her help in providing insights and information that were contributed to this article.