woman breastfeeding

Why We Celebrate Black Breastfeeding Week

By: Sabrina Granniss, IBCLC


5 min

Be a part of a vital celebration: Black Breastfeeding Week! This annual event week, held during National Breastfeeding Month in August, is a time to raise awareness, provide support, and honor the journey of Black breastfeeding mothers. By understanding the challenges they face, such as disparities in breastfeeding rates and limited support, we can come together to create positive change. 

When is Black Breastfeeding Week

Black Breastfeeding Week is the last week of August during National Breastfeeding Month. By raising awareness of the disparities Black mothers face, the barriers they encounter to breastfeed their babies, and becoming educated on the history of breastfeeding in Black communities, we can better support families through their parenting journey.

How it started

Black Breastfeeding Week was started in 2013 by three women. Kimberly Seals Allers, Kiddada Green, and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka have set the goals of building awareness of the differences in breastfeeding support and rates because of race. They aim to empower everyone to bring racial equity to the world of lactation support, build community engagement, and raise cultural empowerment. 

Looking at the facts is shocking and highlights the need for us to all continue to work together to create change. Although we only dedicate one week during National Breastfeeding Month to this topic, supporting Black families in their breastfeeding success must become part of every day of the year.

Black babies are dying

Black babies have a high mortality rate compared to white babies. Black babies are dying at twice the rate and, in some areas, almost triple the rate of White babies. Breastfeeding protects babies against many illnesses and could lower the infant mortality rate among Black babies by as much as 50%. Breastfeeding is a life-and-death matter. 

Birth outcomes

More Black babies are born small, early, or sick, and breast milk can be the difference between surviving or not for them. Breastfeeding provides both mother and child health benefits, is the most nutritious food, and is uniquely tailored for babies to meet their health and growth needs.

Black women are more likely to have cesarean section births, which makes breastfeeding initiation harder. As of 2019, the rate of cesarean section intervention was 35.9% for Black women compared to 30.7% for White women. Recovery from cesarean section birth is often longer and harder than vaginal birth.

Breastfeeding initiation & continuation

The national average of infants ever breastfed is 84%, but this drops to only 76% among Black infants. At 6 months postpartum, about 45% of white babies are still being breastfed, but only 30% of Black babies are still breastfeeding. By one year old, 24% of white babies are still getting breast milk, while only 13% of Black babies are getting breast milk. (1) This wide gap in rates between White and Black babies has existed for decades and has seen little improvement. 

Lack of support

Black mothers face more barriers to breastfeeding than white mothers do. While all mothers who breastfeed may experience challenges in the beginning, like sore nipples, getting used to the new life schedule now that the baby has arrived, and planning for returning to work, there are even more barriers reported in Black communities. These barriers include a lack of support and education for breastfeeding and having to return to work sooner. Black mothers are more likely to have jobs with shorter maternity leave times or a low pay scale, meaning they may need to return to work sooner.

More likely to be offered formula

It is reported that Black WIC participants are more likely to receive advice on formula feeding than White participants, who are more likely to receive information on breastfeeding. African American women make up a more significant portion than White women in WIC participation yet receive less breastfeeding support through those services. The same has been reported about breastfeeding support versus being offered formula in the hospital setting. Black mothers are more likely to be offered formula and less likely to be provided support for initiating breastfeeding after giving birth. (2)

High rates of diet-related disease

Breast milk is a complete first food and is proven to reduce the risks of many health conditions, which have high rates among African American women. By supporting Black women to initiate and continue breastfeeding their babies, childhood illnesses like upper respiratory infections, asthma, SIDS, type 2 diabetes, and childhood obesity could be reduced. Black communities are often areas of food deserts where access to healthy food is lacking. (3)

Generational trauma

Black mothers were forced to serve as wet nurses during slavery, putting their own infants at significant risk. This act reflected the struggles, exploitation, and dehumanization of Black mothers. During this time, White women would get pregnant at the same time as Black women to take advantage of their milk supply. Other times, a Black woman would be sold as a wet nurse before even having a chance to feed her own newborn. 

“To feed White children when you are racially oppressed by the White race was traumatizing, to say the least.” (4)

Breastfeeding advocacy and education is typically led by white females

Although well-intentioned, White women do not understand or relate to the complexities and difficulties Black women face. Most of the education and representation of breastfeeding is through the lens of a White person and ignores issues specific to Black women and the difference in the presentation of common breastfeeding issues on dark skin. Breastfeeding leadership needs to include more Black lactation consultants and birth workers who can offer sensitive and appropriate care for Black breastfeeding mothers.

How you can be part of the solution

Join the celebration of Black Breastfeeding Week! The above problems are current issues. By raising awareness of the need to address the problems, we can make more significant changes by working together to provide education and support for women in Black communities and decrease the disparities in breastfeeding rates. 

Everyone is included in the opportunity to make a change. This is not about excluding mothers who are not Black. It is about amplifying the voices of those facing more considerable challenges. Look at it this way: every house in a neighborhood matters, but if one of those houses is on fire, we all need to direct our attention to that house and fight to extinguish the fire. Celebrating Black breastfeeding and demanding the bar is raised for the better and a higher quality of education and care that Black mothers and babies get for breastfeeding benefits the entire breastfeeding community.

Black Breastfeeding resources

Black Breastfeeding Week is an inclusive movement that amplifies the voices of those who face greater hurdles, and by supporting Black breastfeeding, we uplift the entire breastfeeding community. Join in the festivities, and let's make a difference together!



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