If you’ve been noticing more topless black women on your Instagram feeds than normal this week, I promise it’s for good reason.
They’re feeding their babies publicly in an effort to bring attention to Black Breastfeeding Week. It’s a national effort to bring attention to the societal inequities that lead to lower breastfeeding rates for black women.
Why seeing topless black women should be a norm
Only 64 percent of black women breastfeed at all, and that drops to 14 percent in six months, according to the most recently available data from the Centers for Disease Control. Those numbers are compared to 82 percent of white women who breastfeed and 23 percent still breastfeeding exclusively through six months.
So it’s no wonder why journalists, midwives and breastfeeding activists teamed up in August of 2013 to launch Black Breastfeeding Week as part of Breastfeeding Awareness Month, which is recognized in August.
The goal is to remove the social stigma attached to breastfeeding and focus on the long-noted benefits, and there are many.
Benefits of breastfeeding
An international study found that breastfeeding for at least two months cuts a baby’s risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome almost in half, and the longer babies are breastfed, the greater their chances are.
Infants who are breastfed also have a lower risk of developing asthma, Type 2 diabetes, eczema and obesity, according to a news release from organizers of Black Breastfeeding Week.
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Why black women still aren’t breastfeeding as much as others
Dr. Lenaye Lawyer, an ob-gyn and a market chief medical officer for AmeriHealth Caritas, said black infants are 13 percent less likely to be breastfed than white infants and many factors contribute to that rate.
“We have to help ensure that hospitals and health clinics in minority communities have breastfeeding and lactation resources and information,” Lawyer said. “And, we have to work with our community partners to remove the stigma of breastfeeding.”
That stigma disproportionately deters black mothers from breastfeeding, as does support from health care providers and difficulties navigating breastfeeding and employment, according to the CDC.
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“Increasing interpersonal support for breastfeeding might help increase breastfeeding initiation and duration among black women, who might lack breastfeeding role models in their social networks and be more likely to face negative perceptions of breastfeeding among their peers and communities,” the CDC said.
A partnership between Novant Health and Johnson C. Smith University is hoping to address exactly that.
How black women are working to change the breastfeeding disparity
The two facets teamed up to launch a groundbreaking in its inaugural year at the university. The plan is to train more women of color to become lactation consultants by meeting them where they’re at.
Recognizing there are too few black lactation consultants, Novant became the first hospital in the country to develop a program to train women at a historically black college or university.
The program includes 90 hours of classroom instruction followed by at least 300 clinical hours.
Tahysha McClain, one of only two black lactation consultants at Novant, told WBTV most of the time she’s the only Black woman in the room even though it often helps black moms trying to breastfeed when they see a woman they can relate to.
“And they don’t have to feel so ashamed,” McClain said. “We can talk in a certain kind of way to each other.”
So keep talking about it. Keep posting breastfeeding photos online, and keep liking pictures of topless black women feeding their babies in public. They are trying to save lives.