Health Care Disparities

Mamas on Bedrest: Why there is a need for “Black Breastfeeding Week

August 18th, 2016

Hello Mamas,

Black Breastfeeding Week is August 25-31, 2016. Many may be asking, if August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month and August 1-6 was World Breastfeeding Week, why is there a need for a Black Breastfeeding Week???

According to organizers Kimberly Seals Allers, Kiddada Green and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka,

Black Breastfeeding Week was created because for over 40 years there has been a gaping racial disparity in breastfeeding rates. The most recent CDC data show that 75% of white women have ever breastfed versus 58.9% of black women. The fact that racial disparity in initiation and an even bigger one for duration has lingered for so long is reason enough to take 7 days to focus on the issue.”

And the organizers cite 5 specific reasons a Black Breastfeeding week is essential:

  1. The High Black Infant Mortality Rate
  2. High Rates of Diet Related Disease in African Americans
  3. Lack of diversity in the lactation field
  4. Unique cultural barriers among black women
  5. Desert-like conditions in our communities

If you ask any black breastfeeding expert what are the top barriers to breastfeeding for black women, they will reply:

  1. The historical role of black women as “wet nurses” to white (slave owner’s) children
  2. The perception by many black people that breastfeeding is “dirty” or “nasty” (the result of #1)
  3. The aggressive campaign by formula companies who capitalized on the notion that “poorer women” breastfeed and modern women of means used formula.
  4. Hospitals that serve primarily black patients have been shown not to offer the same level of support and education for breastfeeding initiation to black women
  5. Few professional black lactation consultants
  6. The lack of support from family members for breastfeeding

It has to be recognized that breastfeeding has very different implications for black women than for white women and lactation consultants trying to counsel black women to breastfeed must be aware of the cultural history of breastfeeding for black women. They need to be aware of the fact that many black women have no breastfeeding role models as their mothers, grandmothers, sisters and aunts may not have breastfed their babies. Without the family tradition of breastfeeding, and the history of the “mammy” wet nurse, many black women lack breastfeeding support and encouragement from their families and are not eager to breastfeed themselves. Many black women work at jobs where they may not be able to take time to nurse or pump, nor do they have a private place to nurse or pump at work. For these reasons in particular and many others, it is imperative that more black women become trained as lactation consultants. Certification to become an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), the top credential for lactation consultants, is such a rigorous and expensive endeavor, and many black women who want to become certified state they cannot afford to undertake the process.

So while there are many challenges that face black women who choose to breastfeed and Sellers, Greene and Sangodele-Ayoka-like many other black women who are well versed in the benefits of breastfeeding for back women-have taken it upon themselves to create an organization that promotes breastfeeding and where they can provide information, education, support and resources for black women who want to breastfeed.  

In counseling black women to breastfeed, highlighting the benefits of breastfeeding is a potent motivator. Breastfed babies are:

  • Less likely to have allergies and asthma
  • Less likely to have upper respiratory and ear infections
  • Less likely to have weight problems as adults
  • Less likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes
  • Able to self soothe/are less fussy
  • Have less stomach upset (and less incidence of Necrotizing Enterocolitis)
  • May have increased intelligence
  • Less likely to die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

And breastfeeding greatly benefits Mamas, Too!

  • Mamas who breastfeed tend to return to their pre-pregnancy weight sooner
  • Mamas who breastfeed experience decreased incidences of breast and ovarian cancers
  • Mamas who breastfeed experience decreased incidences of Type 2 diabetes

Before being brought to this country as slaves, black women successfully breastfed their babies. Unfortunately, the legacy of slavery and many current socioeconomic and cultural barriers have made breastfeeding a difficult process for many mamas. It is imperative that these barriers be eliminated and that the education, support and resources be made available so that black mamas and their babies can reap the many life enhancing benefits of breastfeeding.

My Breastfed babies then…..


My kids just days after the birth of my son.

And Now!!








Mamas on Bedrest: African American Birth Pros to Watch

November 28th, 2011

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know that I have a passion for infant and maternal health care in African Americans. It is simply unacceptable to me that the rates of maternal and infant mortality in the United States are as high as they are (See Amnesty International’s report Deadly Delivery) and that the rates are 4-5 times higher in African Americans. While there seems to be a lot of speculation about  why, I still feel that there is very little being done practically. It is what drove me to start Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond and it is what keeps me going.

But thankfully, I am not alone. There are many other people who are equally invested in improving maternal and infant outcomes in the United States, but specifically amongst African Americans. I present two of these ladies and their work here.

Shafia Monroe, Founder of the International Center for Traditional Childbearing.

The International Center for Traditional Childbearing, Inc. (ICTC) is a non-profit African centered organization located in Portland, Oregon. It was founded in August of 1991 by Shafia Monroe.  In addition to being a Certified Midwife by the Massachusetts Midwives Alliance, Shafia is also a Childbirth Educator, a Doula Trainer, and mother of seven children. Shafia is also a passionate a health activist, organizer, and international speaker. Shafia created ICTC as a way to promote the health of women and their families and to train Black women aspiring to become midwives. ICTC encompasses oral traditions from Africa, the Caribbean, and the “Deep South.” They educate and advocate through community workshops, study groups, or just one to one support.

My favorite program is the Sistah Care program, that trains young women ages 13-17 to support other young women who become pregnant. These young women receive in depth training about their own sexuality and are then able to talk to and counsel their peers. Through this training, ICTC is able to  support young women who wish to become doulas, midwives, obstetricians or neonatologists in their life and career paths.

CommonSense Childbirth: The JJ Way (R) Model of Maternity Care

CommonSense Childbirth is LM, CPM Jennie Joseph’s trademarked model of maternity care. She bases her model on these principles:

  • Freedom of Choice: Labor and delivery can take place in any location the woman feels most comfortable.
  • Self-Reliance: The mother participates as an equal partner, with knowledge presented at her level.
  • Easy Access: From the moment a pregnant woman enters the clinic, a team member greets her warmly. This immediate connection is a simple but critical part of the accessibility of the practice. No one is turned away, and this reputation in the community makes it easier for women to take the first step of entering the clinic.
  • Team Approach: Each staff member has a role to play, from the receptionist who greets each woman by name when she walks through the door, to the office manager who knows every client. Family members, the father of the baby, and friends are also brought in as part of the mother’s team. Together all members are engaged in the explicit goal of helping the mother achieve a healthy, full-term pregnancy.
  • Connection Creation: We work hard to promote prenatal bonding not only between mother and baby, but also with the father, siblings, extended family, friends, and clinic team members.
  • Gap Management: The team works together to identify any gaps or barriers the client is facing and begins ‘gap management’ triage. We then work to provide practical solutions based on the real life situation of each woman and engage all pertinent team players and outside resources in the process.
  • Education: We inspire knowledge through alternative approaches to teaching, with peer educators, and by making waiting room time learning time, often in groups with an informal, friendly feel, yet still thorough.

Jennie’s goal is simple and elegantly stated in her mission statement:

The goal of The JJ Way is to eliminate racial and class disparities in perinatal health and improve birth outcomes for all. Key objectives of The JJ Way® are for pregnancies to reach a gestation of 37 weeks or greater and for newborns to have a birth weight of 5 lbs. 8 oz or greater, for women (and their families) to bond well to their babies and to start and succeed at breastfeeding. The JJ Way’s innovative model builds on the strengths of the Midwives Model of Care to reach a population that does not typically seek midwifery services.

These amazing women have dedicated their professional lives to improving health outcomes for African American mothers and babies. I am so pleased to know them and to wholeheartedly recommend them and their services for ALL women, but notably for African American women.

If you know of other outstanding African American Birth Professionals, please share this information below or  Send an e-mail to

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