It is the 11th year of Black Breastfeeding Week and this year the theme is We Outside! Celebrating Connection & Our Communities, focused on reconnecting communities of Black breastfeeding mums. Since its beginnings, BBW has shifted the narrative while supporting and uplifting so many mums…and it’s still just the beginning.
The new foundation of lactation support around breastfeeding is built on racial equity, cultural empowerment, and community engagement and is powered by our collective resilience.
Continuing in the tradition of BBW will be a series of live and recorded webinars, panels and interviews throughout the week focusing on The State of Black Breastfeeding.
All about Black Breastfeeding Week
It was only a few weeks ago that we were celebrating World Breastfeeding Week. So you might be wondering, why do we need a Black Breastfeeding Week? What’s the difference? How is it important to make the future a better, more equal place for Black mothers?
Here are some things you may want to know about Black Breastfeeding Week and why it exists.
While associations and healthcare organisations have placed an emphasis on celebrating breastfeeding, raising awareness and offering support and encouragement for 20 years, there was nothing specific to address the difficulties in the rather unique experience of Black mothers.
When and why did BBW start?
Founded in 2012 by three nationally recognised breastfeeding advocates, Black Breastfeeding Week was created to highlight just what Black mothers experienced. It was first introduced in the USA by author Kimberly Seals Allers, the founding executive director of Black Mothers' Breastfeeding Association Kiddada Green, and nurse-midwife Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, with the event running from August 25-31 to raise awareness of the health benefits and personal empowerment of breastfeeding in the Black community.
Black Breastfeeding Week was brought over to the UK, to coincide with the US Black breastfeeding week by Doula and maternal health educator, Ruth Dennison in 2017.
Not only does this week serve to celebrate and amplify the successes Black breastfeeding mothers deserve to be recognised for, but it also serves to highlight and revolutionise the hardships Black women have faced year on year in regards to birthing and nourishing their babies at the breast.
Ruth explains, “Evidence shows that Black families suffer the highest infant mortality in the UK and it is strongly believed breastfeeding could help reduce the numbers.” It is widely noted that breastfeeding and mums breastmilk have countless health benefits for mother and child; it can help prevent many illnesses, infections, diseases and reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden infant death syndrome).
A brief history
There is a history of breastfeeding trauma for Black women. This trauma has travelled down through generations into the experience of Black women and their birthing and breastfeeding journeys today. Ruth explains, “This may still be hindering breastfeeding in the black community today, many black women tend to not seek breastfeeding education, they tend to listen to their family elders, especially grandparents, as they are placed as the veterans in parenting.” But when for generations breastfeeding has not been viewed through or experienced in a positive way, it is difficult for the advice that is given to be beneficial or empowering.
Historically, the act of breastfeeding was seen as a self-demeaning one and women who were seen breastfeeding were often thought of as uncultured, poor and often shunned. This is why white mothers exploited black mother's milk.
Emily West, Researcher and author, writes in Mother’s Milk, an academic journal which examines the history of wet-nursing and slavery, about enslaved black women who, in the 1700s, were exploited and forced to breastfeed the children of their slaveholders. This exploitation of black mothers as "wet-nurses" often led to the enslaved black mother being separated from her own friends, families and babies.
Breastfeeding was considered the 'messy' part of motherhood. Even today, breastfeeding is still something of a taboo topic, breastfeeding in public can make some mothers nervous and passersby ‘uncomfortable’.
How to support BBW
As well as donating to the Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association, there are many seminars, videos and talks to engage with over this special week to help communities learn more about why Black Breastfeeding Week is so important and to educate those around us.