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Black Breastfeeding Week: First Food Justice for Babies

mamaglow | August 25, 2018

Black Breastfeeding Week is August 25-31. While breastfeeding is a critical health imperative in our community as we battle unconscionably high infant mortality rates and poor infant and child health statistics, it is also a gesture of empowerment and self-determination.

Black Breastfeeding Week is a declaration that we as black mothers will not settle for a manufactured artificial food substance that is aggressively peddled particularly in our low-income communities via WIC programs. We will not give in to being sold on the message that we can settle for “good enough.” We will not quickly give in to the corporate influences and profit-making interests that want us to feed our babies synthetic food from birth and then flood our communities with poor food options, liquor stores and cigarette advertising. We are eyes wide open to the system that from day one of life wants to give our babies less than, give our schools less than, give our communities less than, then treat our young men as less than.

Breastfeeding is our symbol to the world that I will make my best effort to commit to giving my baby the best first food possible, despite my circumstances. And if for some reason I am unable to, then it was not for lack of trying. It is our statement that our babies matter. Their health matters. My health matters (breastfeeding reduces a mother’s risk of heart disease and breast and ovarian cancer). Our lives matter.

Breastfeeding is the beginning of changing our narrative. The false narrative that says we don’t care about our children, so therefore they don’t have to care about our children. The stereotypical Hollywood and media narrative that for years has portrayed black women as perfectly capable and desirable for taking care of other people’s children, but somehow incapable of taking care of our own. The narrative that says we are powerless against the influences that leave our children gunned down in the street.

This is what Black Breastfeeding Week is about. It is our living, breathing, lactating, sucking and nurturing rallying sign against the norm. A personal protest sign (fist up, breast out). It is about our power to change the health course and parenting course for our children by starting with a powerful (but not easy) commitment. Because, let’s face it, our people have never shied away from “hard.” It is about us reclaiming our bodies from the media world, from the hyper-sexualized images and from the hip-hop culture, and feeling empowered to execute our biological norm for the benefit of our babies. And it’s about our men having our backs as we do so. And as we are demanding systemic change in our communities, BBW is about us also insisting on having the same breastfeeding support systems that gladly go into white affluent neighbors but somehow avoid our neighborhoods.

We will not be marginalized and forced to live in “food deserts” where we can’t easily access healthy fruits and vegetables, nor “first food deserts”where we can’t easily access the support we need to successfully breastfeed. It is about demanding more from physicians and other healthcare professionals who don’t bother to educate us or our husbands and partners about breastfeeding because they’ve assumed we won’t do it anyway. Or they don’t trust us to do it right.

This is what Black Breastfeeding Week is about. This year’s theme, #LoveOnTop speaks to the extra love we put on breastfeeding and childbearing given all the barriers we face. This year’s celebration includes the launch of the Black Infant Remembrance Memorial, the first ever web-based platform to honor and acknowledge black infant death and support grieving families.

Please join us in the celebration and declaration for our children. Visit  facebook.com/BlackBreastfeedingWeek to learn more!

In motherhood,

Kimberly Seals Allers

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Kimberly Seals Allers is an award-winning journalist, author and a nationally recognized strategist and advocate for infant and maternal health. Her fifth book, The Big Letdown—How Medicine, Big Business and Feminism Undermine Breastfeeding was published by St. Martins Press in January 2017. She is currently the director of the Maternal and Child Health Communication Collective, a national consortium of over 80 organizations working to shift the MCH narrative, supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Follow Kimberly at @iamKSealsAllers on Twitter and Instagram.

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