Black Breastfeeding Week is held annually from August 25 – 31, during the last week of Breastfeeding Awareness Month. Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) disproportionately affects Black infants and the best way to help prevent NEC is with mother’s milk. Yet, due to institutionalized racism, Black women have the lowest breastfeeding initiation and duration rates. As we work to build a world without NEC, it is critical for us to elevate and include those who are disproportionately affected by it. Check out the messages that we shared on our social media platforms to celebrate and raise awareness:
The NEC Society proudly joins and supports the Black community in recognizing and celebrating Black Breastfeeding Week (BBW). BBW was created by Kimberly Seals Allers, Kiddada Green, and Anayah Sangidele-Ayoka to highlight the unique challenges and triumphs of Black breastfeeding that are often overlooked in the general conversation surrounding breastfeeding.
Black breastfeeding advocacy groups work tirelessly to reduce racial disparities in breastfeeding rates, to normalize Black breastfeeding, to combat negative stereotypes surrounding Black breastfeeding, to celebrate the joys of Black breastfeeding, and to elevate the voices of Black breastfeeding champions within the community. We encourage you to learn more from groups that center the experiences of Black mothers and work to make breastfeeding anti-racist:
Black infants are disproportionately affected by necrotizing enterocolitis, and mother’s milk provides the best protection against this devastating disease. Celebrating Black Breastfeeding Week is so important to our mission to build a world without NEC.
Breast milk can be potentially lifesaving for preterm and medically fragile infants. When mother’s milk is unavailable, pasteurized donor milk is the next best option. Racial disparities exist even in the distribution of donor milk. Studies have shown that NICU babies in areas with more Black residents routinely receive less donor milk than NICU babies in areas with fewer Black residents. To build a world without NEC, equitable access to donor milk is essential.
The low breastfeeding initiation and duration rates among Black women cannot be discussed without highlighting the systemic racism that contributes to these low rates. Hospitals and healthcare providers play an important role in facilitating the initiation of breastfeeding and the expression of breastmilk. Other factors influencing initiation and duration rates include the limited access to culturally competent lactation consultants, workplace breastfeeding accommodation laws, the lack of paid federal maternity leave, limited generational mentors, and the absence of positive Black breastfeeding images in the media. Kimberly Seals Allers, co-founder of Black Breastfeeding Week, said “We must end the dangerous conversation of breastfeeding as a ‘choice’ without a deeper discussion as to how Black women’s choices are shaped by their circumstances.”
During enslavement, Black women were often separated from their children and new mothers were routinely forced to work as “wet nurses” for white children. Black women’s bodies were used for the benefit and nourishment of white children, while denying them the right to nourish their own children. This legacy of wet-nursing has varying effects on attitudes surrounding breastfeeding in the Black community.
In the US, Black women have the lowest breastfeeding initiation and duration rates compared to any other racial/ethnic groups. Moreover, Black infants have the highest mortality rate. Black babies are dying at twice the rate of white babies. According to the CDC, increasing breastfeeding among Black women could decrease infant mortality rates by up to 50 percent. Increasing breastfeeding among Black women is essential to building a world without NEC.