From August 25-31, we observe Black Breastfeeding Week by amplifying the history of Black feeding and restoring its legacy within our communities. In the words of Mama Glow founder Latham Thomas, “I know how important it is for us to breastfeed/chest feed our babies and that it’s not only an act of nurturing, it’s a deeply healing and it’s a political act. It’s about self-preservation and protecting the future that lies in our hands… It’s about savoring and reclaiming the closeness, connection, and healing of breastfeeding that was once robbed from us and denied from our ancestors.”
For the 9th anniversary of Black Breastfeeding Week, we were able to connect with lactation consultant Nekisha Killings, MPH IBCLC, who is a leader when it comes to protecting and uplifting Black infant feeding. Killings is the creator of The Melanated Mammary Atlas, which launched on August 26 as a resource for lactation professionals, showing breast conditions exclusively on brown skin to address image gaps in medical education.
Here’s what Nekisha Killings had to say about Black Breastfeeding Week 2021, The Melanated Mammary Atlas, and the future of Black feeding:
Can you speak to your work as a lactation consultant, and how you’ve centered it around the Black feeding experience?
NEKISHA: Yes! I’m a private practice lactation consultant, and my work is based in the community. My work is rooted in the communities that it serves. I find joy in meeting families in their safe places to bring them support during their most vulnerable time. Because I am Black and my interest in lactation support began with my own less than stellar experience, I have a heart for supporting Black families and creating avenues of support that meet the needs of Black communities.
What unique hurdles remain in place for BIPOC families when it comes to feeding their infants?
There are many. Lack of cultural humility shows up in subtle and overt ways like providers never mentioning breastfeeding during pregnancy, not providing resources or support channels to new families, or lack of respectful communications or not engaging in ways that foster safeness for birthing people. These are all common occurrences for Black birthing people, and every one of them translates to poor care and impacts the nursing journey negatively.
Why is it imperative to have systems of support in place for Black feeding parents and new families?
Systems of support provide multiple channels of resources for families. They create multi-layered and intentional support focused on whatever the greatest needs of the family are at once. None of us operates in silos, and that’s especially true for birthing people. We need community and systems of support in place to have the births and nursing experiences that we deserve.
What is The Melanated Mammary Atlas, and how do you intend for it to help improve medical care and support for POC?
The Melanated Mammary Atlas™ is a mobile-friendly web application that features a searchable directory of images of various breast-related conditions on brown skin. The tool allows for viewing of the single largest collection of such images for diagnostics, assessment, and education purposes. Through use of the tool, practitioners can become more familiar with the myriad ways that conditions present on POC, and thereby become better equipped to support them/us in the moment of care. The image diversity gaps in all areas of healthcare are literally killing POC by contributing to medical negligence. Providers must be proactive about educating themselves about POC and the different landscapes upon which conditions occur when it comes to darker skin. The Atlas is one fantastic resource to help breast/chest care providers do just that.
You are launching The Melanated Mammary Atlas during Black Breastfeeding Week. Why did you choose to launch it at this time?
BBW 2021 was chosen intentionally because it is a time to honor and reflect on the Black breastfeeding journey, and the storied history of Black breastfeeding in this country, while also looking ahead to better days. By launching the first tool of its type during BBW, we intended to make our mark on history while sparking a new path towards the future during a week that does exactly that.
For Black Breastfeeding Week, while we acknowledge the unique challenges in place for Black feeding parents, we also want to uplift positive stories. In your work, I know you have seen so, so many beautiful feeding experiences, but is there one in particular that really stuck with you above all the rest as a real triumph?
You’re right. I have seen so many beautiful illustrations of nursing “success” for families. Success looks different for each but is beautiful to behold nonetheless. I would say the ones that resonate with me most are those cases where families trusted me to support them after they’d been harmed by institutions and providers. I don’t take it lightly that they allowed me to share part of their journey and witness their healing at the same time. I also will always hold dear the families I served in support groups in my early days. They really helped to mold me into the fierce advocate that I am today.
What is your biggest hope for the future of Black breastfeeding?
I have nothing but hope for the future of Black breastfeeding. I see revolution. I see expansion. I see the normalizing of brown breasts and nipples. The future is bright!
Nekisha Killings MPH IBCLC is an international board certified lactation consultant and perinatal equity strategist specializing in *Aha! Moments* that lead to intentional shifts in care approach. Her BreastSide Manner™️ program trains organizations on culturally humble and respectful communication in lactation support. She recently operationalized her movement to normalize brown breasts™️ by creating The Melanated Mammary Atlas – a resource for lactation professionals showing breast conditions exclusively on brown skin to address image gaps in medical education.