After we published that piece, Dominique of DommiesBlessed reached out to share a snippet of her experience with color and breastfeeding.
“On my own breastfeeding journey, I was drawn to pink and white. It was a strong craving for those two colors to the point that I drank pink smoothies and dressed me and my children in white almost daily. I’m sure the white craving was probably due to my overstimulation. We have multiple children and I’ve been breastfeeding for almost a decade,” she wrote.
Fascinated, I headed to her website to explore more. A piece she’d written called The Melanated Areola jumped out.
It starts, “It’s pretty majestic how we change colors. Towards the end of my pregnancy, my areola turned a bold black, deeper than the chocolate of my irises, easily becoming one of the most pigmented parts of my body…”
I was quickly drawn into Dominique’s work and found myself lucky enough to land an interview with her.
“Breastfeeding is a holistic experience,” Dominique continues.
In Western culture, we often try to separate the breast milk from the mother, but when we honor the entire experience, she says, mothers are healthier, babies are healthier, and it creates a “unified, circular connection.”
“The bond radiates from that dyad and ripples out.”
Liquid love, as human milk is sometimes affectionately called, is the answer to devastating global issues, Dominique says.
“Sprinkle chocolate milk on humanity,” she encourages on her site.
DommiesBlessed started as a space for Dominique to detail her experience as soon as she became a mother for the first time. About three years ago though, it morphed into a blog, breastfeeding-friendly space where social media platforms can’t sensor birth and breastfeeding content and a hub for one-on-one, virtual support where she helps families navigate infant feeding as that holistic experience described earlier.
Dominique has always offered her 30-minute emotional support sessions online, but since the onset of COVID, she’s getting more calls about homeschooling, how to get started and how to set up legal documentation.
At the same time, she’s available to help breastfeeding families process their experiences and guide decision making through peer support at a time when families might be feeling even more isolated in their experiences than ‘normal.’
September’s National Preparedness Month carried the theme Disasters Don’t Wait. Make Your Plan Today. As we look back on a month that included fires, floods, and hurricanes, that message feels especially urgent.
I live in Portland, Oregon, on the traditional lands of the Multnomah, Clackamas, Tualatin, Wasco, Molalla, and Chinook bands, who were stewards of this land for generations.
The beautiful mountains and volcanoes around us are reminders that our family may one day face a catastrophic earthquake. Our family has taken comprehensive steps to prepare for the possibility of an earthquake, but I can tell you emphatically – we were not prepared to live through nine days of breathing hazardous air imposed by the substantial wildfires taking place up and down the West Coast throughout September, as 5.8 million acres burned in California, Oregon, and Washington this year alone. We’re going to need to change our disaster kit to be better prepared for future fires that are now tragically predictable here.
The look, the feel, the impact of fires on that scale is almost impossible to describe. The skies were red, orange, or gray, depending on proximity to the areas – plural – that were burning all around us. We refreshed Air Quality Index apps compulsively to learn the AQI throughout each day. We tracked the progress of the fires and the patterns of evacuation. We fashioned homemade air filters from box fans and furnace filters, then watched them turn sooty while stores were sold out of replacements and everything outside became coated in ash and grit. All the while, we managed the edge of panic caused by the awareness that if a major metropolitan area needed to evacuate there would be literally nowhere to go.
And yet… as a household and community, we were far from the most impacted. Our house, neighborhood, and city were safe from flame, while so many others lost their homes and livelihoods. Even as I write, the fires are not yet all extinguished. I cannot imagine experiencing this with an infant or young child in my care. I’ve read many first-person accounts of escaping the fires, including tales from families with young children in tow.
Take a pause and consider right now – if you had 15 minutes to leave your home, perhaps forever: do you know what you would take? What if you have a day’s notice? Consider that anything left behind may be gone forever. You’ll have life and loved ones in arms, but the sense of place and the familiar may be altered for quite some time. Now consider this is happening in the context of a pandemic that we know is transmitted through droplets – where our breath and proximity may be dangerous rather than life-affirming.
Unfortunately, our shared context of global pandemic and climate crisis, requires that we not only imagine such complexities but prepare for them with deliberation. At the state and community levels, such plans also need to include equitable access to immediate help and long-term support.
Babies are born each and every day; therefore, our emergency response and preparedness efforts must account for the presence of infants and young children in disasters. The New Orleans Breastfeeding Center is leading the way with their Infant Ready program, including Emergency Feeding Kit for parents, and their educational materials for caregivers, emergency responders, and health professionals.
We are seven months into this pandemic. The babies born today were conceived in another time—in what feels almost like another world—before the pandemic, masking, and social distancing disrupted our world.
As a nation, we have a long way to go to ensure that families are held with kindness and care during emergencies. There is a desperate need for thoughtful, intentional support as we collectively work through a scale of loss that we all hoped to never have to face—and the breastfeeding field has risen to this challenge.
The USBC-affiliated COVID-19 Infant & Young Child Feeding Constellation is a collaborative group of 43 organizations, including government agencies and medical authorities, that have worked together to shape and respond to infant feeding policies and practices throughout the pandemic. Together we have had ongoing bidirectional learning and communication to center family and provider experiences and to explore the complex and multi-faceted issues that this pandemic has created in the context of infant feeding.
Individuals from these organizations, located all across the nation—in the midst of uprisings in their communities, raging wildfires, violent hurricanes, and a surging pandemic—showed up to do the high stakes and incredibly difficult work that was needed.
We’ve influenced, disseminated, and interpreted guidance for maternity care centers, published the Statement on Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) in the Context of COVID-19 in the United States, and called for the infrastructure investments that are needed to meet the needs of breastfeeding families. As we collaboratively support successive iterations of public health guidance, I’m reminded of Maya Angelou’s quote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better,” on a collective scale.
Through this work, we’ve learned that emergency and disaster relief work has three phases: response, resiliency, and preparedness. We are in the midst of emergency response efforts on many fronts, but the concept of resiliency as a planned stage of emergency and disaster relief work is one of the things that keeps on giving me hope. We will, eventually, sufficiently build the systems of pandemic response to a stage where we will begin, like many other parts of the world, to focus on rebuilding our resiliency.
The world as we’re coming to know it requires us to be responsive, flexible, adaptable, and resilient in the face of ambiguity and even danger. We can build our capacity to recover by holding one another in care—and you can help your family and community get there.
“I didn’t get much help with it,” she says. “I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Once she had her second child, she received help from a WIC breastfeeding peer counselor and went on to breastfeed her daughter for two years.
When her third baby came along, they breastfed until his third birthday.
“We had so much milk that we were able to donate over 9,000 ounces of breastmilk to adopted babies!” she exclaims.
Moore’s journey isn’t just about the numbers though.
“I decided to breastfeed because I wanted to provide for my children in a way only a mother can, and I knew the benefits of breastfeeding,” she explains. “Breastfeeding is important to me because of the… bonds I have with all three of my children, and also once I learned the facts about breastfeeding, I just felt the need to try it…”
“I do praise moms who breastfeed but also moms who formula feed because breastfeeding isn’t always easy, and because I support moms who make their decisions based on their families,” Moore continues.
“I have wanted to become a CLC since I had my first child,” Moore says. “ [The training] was a good experience and I recommend the class to anyone.”
Moore says she’ll use the knowledge she gained through the course to continue to support the families she works with through WIC.
Like the rest of the country, Moore and her colleagues have had to adapt to safely serve their families through COVID. Most notably, Moore explains, was shifting their breastfeeding education classes to a virtual format which she says is not ideal.
Even so, she says, “I love my career and I will continue and strive to do my best to help other mothers.”
From USBC: The U.S. Department of Agriculture released the “WIC Breastfeeding Check-In” reference tool. The tool includes information for WIC agencies on common concerns among breastfeeding women. It also highlights information tailored to four stages of breastfeeding: learn, start, overcome, and thrive.
How does the color of a room make a breastfeeding person feel? How does the color of a room affect the way a person responds to a breast pump? How does a feeding baby respond to the colors around them?
Falmouth-based landscape designer Cynthia Rose of Searose Designs introduces a practice she uses for identifying emotions through color.
It’s a sort of social interaction soccer game where she issues yellow cards or red cards during exchanges that become inappropriate, uncomfortable or intolerable.
Similar to a soccer match, yellow cards are warnings and red cards mean immediate dismissal from the interaction.
Rose explains that this colored card system can be adopted by mothers to help navigate the playing field of parenthood and by lactation professionals working alongside their peers.
Interestingly, our bodies sometimes react to situations with a physiological red card: blushing. As lactation care providers, becoming fixated on one part of the breastfeeding person’s body can be easy to do, but no detail should be overlooked. Blushing might be a sign to back off or change the approach.
Rose suggests another tool lactation care providers can adopt to gain a deeper understanding of their clients’ experiences. Suggesting clients use a color chart of emotions to identify their mood or experience may prove helpful to those who are visually inclined and perhaps less verbal.
At times when new parenthood becomes overwhelming, care providers might suggest parents use color to promote mindfulness and calm. Simply becoming aware of and naming the colors around oneself can help to anchor within the moment. This practice is similar to what is described in this activity for children and can be adapted to any situation.
Dr. Gill Thompson’s work “reveals how a traumatic birth experience can lead to women being drawn into a turmoil of devastating emotions that have long-term, negative repercussions on self-identity and relationships.”
Color can be used as a healing tool in this capacity.
Author Stephen Vazquez writes in COLOR: Its Therapeutic Power for Rapid Healing“Color is no longer just an outside stimulus applied to acquire an effect but instead a portal into exceptional healing and higher states of consciousness.”
One method called Visual Kinesthetic Dissociation uses the absence of color– replaying dreams and/or traumatic memories in black and white– to integrate emotional memories in a safe space as described here.
The authors note, “ Colors black andred elevated the GABA levels in either serum or CSF, provoking symptoms of depressionor mania while exposure to the colors green and blue during pregnancy decreased the GABA levels indicating the role of the colors black and red in depression and the color green or blue in positive mood behaviors.”
The authors go on to explain that the colors pregnant women are exposed to may affect their overall well being and stress levels, consequently affecting the development of their fetus and their behavior.
Perhaps the most profound way color plays into maternal child health is the way in which it presents on our skin; skin color affects every facet of a person’s life.
The recent anti-racist movement has brought to light the effects of systemic racism on Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) and more and more, the experiences of BIPOC are being illuminated. Still, long-standing practices that center white bodies dominate health care.
Nekisha Killings, MPH, IBCLC, a perinatal health professional and healthcare equity strategist writes, “In a world where the majority of breasts and nipples are some shade of brown, we cannot afford to treat white skin as the default in our practice.”
Killings continues, “As health professionals, we must remain mindful that the same breast and skin conditions may look very different on varying skin tones. For example, the redness associated with mastitis on Caucasian skin may not be present on darker skin tones.”
Just as evidence-based lactation education and training is largely overlooked in medical education, general dermatological care for non-white people is just as sketchy.
In Decolonising dermatology: why black and brown skin need better treatment Neil Singh points out: “In recent years, a generation of race-conscious medical students who are used to choosing the exact skin colour of their emojis have raised concerns that the images through which they study are almost exclusively white. From the anatomy posters they hang above their beds, to the plastic mannequins they practise chest compressions upon, the default patient is almost always the same: a white-skinned man (only a woman when showing a relevant organ) with a hairless body and a neat side-parting of trimmed, mousy hair. This persists, despite the fact that white people are a global minority.”
Singh goes on to showcase a 2018 study which looked at more than 4,000 images in four major US medical textbooks and found that only 4.5 percent of images showed dark skin.
“This is a problem in every branch of medicine, as it reinforces whiteness as the norm, but it is most troubling in the teaching of dermatology, where every problem is set against the canvas of skin it arises from,” Singh explains.
Killings extends this challenge to lactation care and writes that “Normalizing brown breasts and nipples shouldn’t be a thing. Yet the texts that lactation professionals and other mammary specialists learn from utilize examples of primarily white skin. What a disservice we do to our patients with brown skin if we are not educated in how conditions present on them. We can change this. We will change this.”
Ellen Buchanan Weiss created Brown Skin Matters a collection of images showing how skin conditions can present differently in richly pigmented skin.
There’s an entire color spectrum to celebrate. It’s time we start seeing beyond black and white.
Leslie Southard, PharmD, BCACP, CLC is a community pharmacist turned lactation activist on a mission to “provide up-to-date, evidence-based information regarding medications and lactation so individuals are able to make educated decisions regarding their health while reaching their lactating goals, and so healthcare providers can make the best recommendations for their lactating patients,” as she describes in her The Lactation Pharmacist bio.
As a newly inducted member of a group no one wants to be apart of – the Cancer Mom group – I’ve had a lot of emotions. Our world changed with one touch, and then one doctor’s appointment, and then a series of tests that led to the ultimate diagnosis: cancer. I’ve never experienced so many emotions in such a short period of time and forced to keep going with the rest of my life. This has led to a lot of thinking and working through what I’m feeling, because you can’t earn a living to support your family if you’re an emotional blob that breaks down every 5 minutes.
Multiple people recently told me “it’s just/only hair, it’ll grow back” when I told them that my daughter’s hair was falling out. This made my blood boil, and it took me a while to figure out why. Here’s the deal – it’s NOT “just” hair. If it was, we’d all be able to just up and shave our heads without any concern. My daughter’s hair represents so much in this cancer journey. We lost our lives as we knew them as soon as the doctor’s appointments and tests started. My daughter is losing a chunk of her childhood – no, not just the part that involves treatment, but the years after for follow up. My husband and I were robbed of the “easy” parental concerns. Now, we’re on high alert any time she spikes a fever, stumbles, mentions something is cold when it’s not, doesn’t pee or poop as much as normal, complains about her stomach hurting, etc. Any of those issues could mean a call to the doctor, a trip to the emergency room, or a side effect of her chemotherapy. Cancer has given me a whole list of worries I never expected. This person had no way of knowing how I’d feel about such a seemingly harmless statement, but it’s important to know that it isn’t and won’t ever be “just” or “only” hair.
This has made me think of all the other times we use the words “just” or “only”. I “just” had a cesarean birth. I “only” lactated for 2 days. I “only” pumped 2 ounces. I “only” lost 2 pounds. It’s “just” a job.
By using the words “just” and “only”, you are dismissing all the emotional turmoil something caused you, dismissing all the hard work you put into something, dismissing what the rest of that statement means to you. DROP the “just” and “only” words from your vocabulary. What you did, what has happened to you, what you’re going through MATTERS, and the words ”just” and “only” rob you of that importance.