Black Breastfeeding Week 2021: The Big Pause

by Chaneen Saliee |

This year's Black breastfeeding week is over 25-31 August, with the theme this year being 'The Big Rest: Collective Rest for Collective Power'.

This year’s signature event, The Big Pause: Festival of Rest will be a virtual wellness event on August 28, 2021, featuring “rooms” and spaces for meditation, yoga, exercise, cooking, creative arts and, of course, a lactation lounge and more.

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.

2021 marks the 9th year of Black Breastfeeding Week. This year, the theme The Big Pause: Collective Rest for Collective Power, honors the need for rest.

After an unprecedented global pandemic and in solidarity with the multi-racial movement for Black lives, we honor rest as restorative and revolutionary for Black families. Furthermore, breastfeeding/body feeding is an important moment of rest in early motherhood that must be valued, not undermined.

Watch the video below to find out more...

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/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).

Impact of Covid-19 on Black breastfeeding and lactation

COVID-19 has forced the disruption or discontinuation of evidence-based interventions for black breastfeeding support, including those recommended in the Surgeon General's Call To Action, such as peer-led support and community-based interventions. Studies show that breastfeeding is the first preventative medicine. Breastfeeding is also the safest and most reliable form of infant feeding during a crisis.

This pandemic is devastating Black communities, leaving community organisations stretched for both human and economic resources. The burden of providing breastfeeding education, promotion and lactation is necessarily shifting to online spaces through groups as well as healthcare providers.

More now than ever before, it is critical that Black communities be equipped with the tools needed to repair the harms to breastfeeding norms among black families, regain momentum in reducing racial disparities and to, ultimately, meet the goals of Healthy People 2020; 81.9% breastfeeding initiation and 60.6% duration at 6 months.

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

Find out more about Black Breastfeeding Week here.

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