This year, we honor the eighth Black Breastfeeding Week. The week seeks to bring attention to the disparities faced by Black women as they navigate their infant-feeding options and to help, inspire and empower Black women on their journey.
Thanks to our friends at Medela, we spoke with Kimberly Seals Allers, an award-winning journalist, author, international speaker and one of the founders of Black Breastfeeding Week during our Motherly Live! Instagram event.
Allers advocates for maternal and infant health by working with the socio-cultural and racial complexities of birth, breastfeeding and motherhood. She is the founder of Irth, as in birth without the B for bias, a Yelp-like review and rating app for Black women and birthing people from marginalized groups to find well-reviewed physicians and hospitals and directly address bias and racism in care.
You can watch our full conversation on IGTV:
Here are just a few of the many highlights on the discussion on Black Breastfeeding Week with Kimberly Seals Allers:
I asked Allers to talk about the disparities of breastfeeding in the United States, which she writes about in her book, The Big Letdown.
Allers: The Big Letdown really starts off with a big picture because all women, in general, are being let down by the lack of policies—the fact that we live in the only industrialized nation that doesn't have … a federal paid leave policy, the ways that our bodies have been hyper-sexualized. There are so many things that impact all women, so it really starts there.
Allers: But it also takes a look at where this burden has fallen more heavily, particularly on Black women and other women of color. For Black women in particular, because of the historical trauma, because we know that during slavery, Black women were actually stopped from breastfeeding their own children and forced to breastfeed the children of their slave owners.
This disruption of what was the normal maternal bond had generational impacts. What we call now historical trauma.
Allers shared some important historical context around the breastfeeding experience of Black mothers in this country.
Allers: Black women did not even own their children in slavery… They could be taken from them at any time. When we really look at the history of the mothering experience of Black women, then we understand where breastfeeding got interrupted.
Allers: After slavery, we know that there were very few options for work so many Black and brown women were wet nurses, being paid for their milk. Again, this created something that was passed down, so even in my work in more recent years, we'd go into communities [and]... still see this real distaste of our breastfeeding as something that we did for other people, we were forced to do, or that reminds [us] of the time that we're trying to forget.
Allers: There's been a whole confluence of factors, including aggressive infant formula marketing in Black and brown neighborhoods.
The history of trauma is one of the reasons that we honor Black Breastfeeding Week.
Allers: Every year, Black Breastfeeding Week has a theme so this year's theme is Revive, Restore, Reclaim, and we thought this was really important because we are all in need of a revival and a restoration and a reclamation… but also really wanting us to lean in on what we know is our heritage, what we know is our ancestors and what we know to be our history of… resilience in this country. Overcoming unstoppable circumstances and unimaginable circumstances, so we really want to tap into that, but because so much has been taken from us, [we] really thought this was a time of restoration and reclamation.
Allers: For us to really reassert how Black breastfeeding in our community is so important.
Allers discussed why weeks like Black Breastfeeding Week are so vital.
Allers: When we think about why we create these special moments for Black mothers, whether that is about Black breastfeeding or Black Maternal Health week or any Black Mental Health Week, all of them, it is because our experience is very unique in the traumas that we carry. Not that we parent any differently, but the stressors that we carry as we do things, the conversations that we have to have, the things that we have to think about daily, is something very different and we need to have support and a release for that, because we can tell that it's taking its toll on our bodies. If you look at the health outcomes of Black women, there's a price we are paying, so we need to find more outlets for support and release. We hope that Black Breastfeeding Week is one of them.
For people looking to support Black Breastfeeding Week, Allers shared a few ideas.
Allers: Lean into it to say, "What can I do to support?" That can be a very number of things... maybe you can donate. Sometimes people don't have money, but you may have resources, you may have a space or... your company may [give] a donation to a company, whatever, but how can we continue to support this work.
Allers: We know there's important work we need to be doing to increase the number of Black IBCLCs. There are lots of great efforts in that regard that need support. Local IBCLCs [and other lactation professionals; what are we doing to support that work? Then, mostly for all women, we have to create a new culture among each other.
Allers also shared information about her new app, which launches this fall.
Allers: With Irth, you will be able to find a review and leave a review of a hospital or a provider. We capture prenatal, birthing and postpartum and pediatric [providers] up to one year. We're excited about launching this app…. Irth can become a tool for all of us to use our consumer power in service of Black and brown women who are being disproportionately harmed by the system. That is really the goal that all women will go to Irth first, use it to make their decisions about providers and providers will be on notice. We are capturing this, we are documenting it in one place, and we are going to use our collective consumer power to push for change. We invite white women into that process to be true allies, to use Irth in their own decision making as we move forward.
Allers shared that Irth is currently collecting reviews and welcomes your support in the process here. To find Kimberly Seal Allers and learn more about these amazing efforts, you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
We are so appreciative of Kimberly Seals Allers's time. And we want to thank Medela again for sponsoring this conversation, and for all the work they do supporting mothers. You can learn more about that work here.