What No One Tells Black Women About Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is good for mom and baby but stigma and medical discrimination keep many Black women from trying
After Kimberly Seals Allers gave birth to her son, she went to a local La Leche League meeting to get support from other breastfeeding moms. “But there was nobody who looked like me, and certainly there was nobody who was going back to work like I was,” she told ZORA. “It was really White, and stay-at-home-mother centered.”
Seals Allers says that her breastfeeding journey with her son ended up being much shorter than with her older daughter — she didn’t get advice on how to start weaning her son, or when to start pumping to build up a stash of breast milk. “I did not have the support,” she says. “I did not know people who I could talk to.”
Seals Allers, a journalist, maternal and infant health advocate, and author of The Big Letdown: How Medicine, Big Business, and Feminism Undermine Breastfeeding, says this is one of the many experiences that prompted her to co-found Black Breastfeeding Week (the eighth annual version of the event is happening from August 25–31). The week aims to educate families about breastfeeding and amplify stories and images of Black breastfeeding in order to help make a cultural shift.
“Disproportionately, Black women are not receiving information about breastfeeding and nobody’s encouraging them.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants drink breast milk exclusively for the first six months of their life, citing benefits for infants including reduced risk of respiratory issues, gastrointestinal infections, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), allergies, and more. Recent data suggests that the breastfeeding initiation rate for Black moms is 58.1%, compared to 80.6% for the Hispanic/Latinx population and 81.5% for White moms.
And while breastfeeding won’t be possible for every family, experts believe that these disparities can be largely attributed to a systemic lack of education and support rather than personal choice.