According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 26.7% of Black babies aren't breastfed, compared to 13.3% of white babies. That's twice as many Black infants and mothers who are missing out on the myriad benefits breastfeeding provides. Additionally, the infant mortality rates for Black babies are more than double that of white babies, 10.8% compared to 4.6%.
For decades, Black mothers and Black birthing people have faced systemic oppression that have led to the disparities that we see today, says Thérèse Cator, a trauma-informed embodiment practitioner, leadership coach and founder of Embodied Black Girl.
A recent study published in Pediatrics found that Black mothers were more likely to be introduced to formula in the hospital than white mothers, which, the study's authors state, is the biggest predictor of breastfeeding duration—Black mothers are more likely to wean an average of 10.3 weeks sooner than white mothers.
"At the core, these statistics show that our Black mothers and Black birthing people and their children are being left behind. Subsequently, because of lower breastfeeding rates, Black children are suffering from higher rates of childhood illnesses, such as Type 2 diabetes and asthma," Cator explains.
Which is why awareness around the need for more support for Black breastfeeding mothers is so vital. The ninth annual Black Breastfeeding Week takes place August 25 to August 31, 2021, and was initially founded by Kimberly Seals Allers, Kiddada Green and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka to bring light to the issue.
"Black Breastfeeding Week seeks not only to educate people of all backgrounds on the disparities and outcomes that Black mothers and their children face, but also to change the narrative through education and normalizing breastfeeding in the Black community," shares Cator.
We interviewed Thérèse Cator about the nuanced discussion of breastfeeding in the Black community and how to help close the breastfeeding disparity gap.
Q. The theme of this year's Black Breastfeeding Week is The Big Pause: Collective Rest for Collective Power. Why is the theme so fitting for this tumultuous year?
Cator: When I found out that the theme of this year's Black Breastfeeding Week is centered around collective rest and collective power, I was elated!
As a community, we've experienced ongoing stress and trauma and even more so over the past year.
From the ongoing global pandemic that has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown people and stolen 615,000 lives in the United States alone; to the racial uprisings that followed George Floyd's murder, it's a tumultuous and challenging time.
Furthermore, we've had to navigate school closings, social distancing and stay-at-home mandates—and many of us found ourselves being forced to wear many different hats from teacher, mother, caretaker and head of household to having to make decisions for elderly parents. I personally have had to take on many of these roles. It's so important to name what we've been through so we can begin processing it.
I always tell the women, femmes and gender-fluid folks that I work with that we're all being called to weave the new world. A world that's regenerative, beautiful and equitable. A world that reflects our deepest values. And to weave that new world into existence, we must unpack our relationship with rest.
Q. How can Black mothers embody the rest and reset necessary to truly thrive?
Cator: For too long, rest has been equated with laziness and lack of motivation. But the truth is that rest is essential for life. Rest is how our cells regenerate, how our body regulates itself and is important for healing.
Without rest we cannot thrive. Without rest we cannot live.
There are many barriers that prevent Black mothers from resting:
- Economic barriers such as needing to work multiple jobs (like my mother did).
- Race-related stress such as being bombarded with media of Black death.
- Stress arising from being the head of household (a role many Black women find themselves in).
These barriers are important to name because then we can collectively figure out solutions to address them. Ultimately, in order for Black mothers to embody rest and reset, the solution is both collective and personal.
Collectively, we need to normalize rest in our culture and stop glorifying grinding. Companies and organizations that support Black life need to center the wellness and well-being of Black mothers. That means equitable pay, childcare allowances and paid time off for new mothers. Talking about the importance of rest needs to be backed by action.
Personally, we need to decolonize our relationship to rest. Rest needs to be a priority. It can look like taking naps daily and making it a family affair. Growing up, my mother instilled in me the importance of rest—and although I resisted at certain points in my life, I've now come to realize that rest is non-negotiable.
Finally, we need to embrace embodiment practices as a way to rest and reset. In addition to teaching breathwork and meditation as tools for reconnection and reclamation, it's part of my personal practice. If you have time to take a class in one of those modalities it's useful, however simply finding a few minutes to sink your feet into the grass, dance to your favorite song or take some deep inhales and exhales go a long way in regulating our nervous systems and boosting our emotional and mental well-being.
Q. How can people continue to support this important work?
Cator: At the core, supporting Black Breastfeeding Week means supporting Black mothers and birthing folks.
- Get educated and educate others. Begin the dialogue within your family, community and workplace. Share this article and schedule a time to brainstorm ways you can support Black mothers in your community.
- Support BIPOC-led organizations that are doing the work in our communities. Consistent support is vital. Find organizations to donate to and if possible make it recurring.
- Support Black woman- and femme-owned businesses that center the mental health and well-being of Black women. There are many challenges at all stages of motherhood. At Embodied Black Girl, we have programming that addresses the challenges that Black mothers and birthing people face. Having a safe space to gather is imperative for our healing. You can learn more and support our programming at embodiedblackgirl.com.
- Finally, recognize that every mother needs a village of support. Let's normalize that. How will you be a part of that village?