Note: As Black Breastfeeding Week comes to an end, we honor Black military breastfeeding families, and we thank Robyn from Breastfeeding in Combat Boots for her guest post. This post was originally published on the Breastfeeding in Combat Boots blog. Stay tuned for more about how Mom2Mom Global and Breastfeeding in Combat Boots are working to increase racial equity in military breastfeeding.
This year marks the 5th Annual Black Breastfeeding Week celebration. Breastfeeding in Combat Boots is proud to offer a glimpse into the beauty and struggle of African American women breastfeeding their babies while serving their country. This year’s theme is #BetOnBlack and serves to underscore the need for those that love and support black women to continue supporting them to be successful at breastfeeding. This is even more important in the military community where there are many unique challenges not found in the civilian world.
Black Breastfeeding Week was created 5 years ago to highlight the specific issues that black breastfeeding moms face and to celebrate the fact that black women DO breastfeed. The need for a Black Breastfeeding Week is due to the many inequities that exist for black women when it comes to awareness, opportunities, and resources for breastfeeding. While black women are just as capable of physically breastfeeding as white women, there are racial disparities built into our society (and our military) that make breastfeeding as a black woman very difficult. According to Kimberly Seals Allers (Co-Founder of Black Breastfeeding Week and Author of “The Big Letdown: How Medicine, Big Business, and Feminism Undermine Breastfeeding“) some of these issues and inequities include:
Huge racial gap for breastfeeding initiation (according to a CDC report from 2008, 75% of white mothers versus 58% of black mothers)
Higher infant mortality rate than in all other races (twice as many black babies die as white babies) throughout the first year of life
Higher incidence of diet-related disease (respiratory infections, asthma, obesity, diabetes, SIDS) in African-Americans
Lack of diversity in the lactation field (this is even more pronounced in the military)
Cultural barriers such as history of being forced to wet-nurse as slaves
Yes, this is real, complex, and a painful historical fact that affects breastfeeding for black women
Lack of breastfeeding role models (again, much more pronounced in the military)
Within the military, where breastfeeding rates are already low due to the many unique challenges inherent in serving ones country in a male-dominated workplace, breastfeeding rates for black women are HIGHER than their civilian counterparts, but still lower than for all other races. According to a study published in 2015, “Do Black-White Racial Disparities in Breastfeeding Persist in the Military Community“, serving in the military has been shown to mitigate some of the racial disparities that impact breastfeeding, such as socioeconomic status, employment, and marital status but not all (as outlined above). However, there is STILL a racial gap (albeit smaller) between black women and white women. This needs to change!
Breastfeeding in Combat Boots celebrates Black Breastfeeding Week in order to support our black sisters-in-arms to be successful despite the many barriers they encounter both in and out of the military. We hope that everyone enjoys the many beautiful photos of black moms and babies (below) that have been shared by mothers in uniform over the past 7 years with our organization. Black Breastfeeding week is always celebrated August 25th–31st. The theme for 2017 is #BetOnBlack, and you can follow the Black Breastfeeding Week Facebook page for updates and look for #BBW17 and #BlackBreastfeedingWeek hashtags across all social media platforms.
Want to learn more about why it is so important to celebrate Black Breastfeeding Week? Take a peek at just a few of these links:
Black Breastfeeding Week
Black Mother’s Breastfeeding Association
Are you celebrating Black Breastfeeding Week? Do you think it is easier or harder as a black woman to breastfeed while serving in the military? Do you feel supported? Are the racial inequities still present even in the military?
**As the Founder of BFinCB, a veteran, an IBCLC and yes, a white woman, I can’t begin to understand the struggles black women face to breastfeed. I stand here to offer support and to learn. Any cultural inaccuracies, assumptions, or mistakes are my own and I ask forgiveness as I learn. ~Robyn Roche-Paull**
Robyn Roche-Paull, RN, BSN, IBCLC, is the founder and Executive Director of Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, and has been working with breastfeeding mothers for over 18 years. She holds a Bachelor’s degrees in Maternal Child Health and Nursing. Currently, Robyn is working as an IBCLC at Madigan Army Medical Center serving AD military families. She is a Retired La Leche League Leader. Robyn is the author of the book “Breastfeeding in Combat Boots,” a resource for military mothers choosing to breastfeed. She is a veteran of the US Navy with experience breastfeeding on active duty. Robyn lives in Washington State with her 3 children and husband. She is the proud owner of various tattoos and piercings, and lives in the digital world more than she probably should.
Photo courtesy of Vanessa Simons, Candid Perspective Photography