Breastfeeding is food sovereignty. Breastfeeding is health equity. Breastfeeding is healing.

–This post is part of our 10-year anniversary series “Breastfeeding is…”

Breastfeeding is food sovereignty. Breastfeeding is health equity. Breastfeeding is healing.

Breastfeeding is a “weapon of mass construction”, a phrase coined by Camie Jae Goldhammer, MSW, LICSW, IBCLC, (Sisseton-Wahpeton).

In her Reclaiming the Tradition of Breastfeeding: the Foundation of a Nation webinar, Goldhammer describes how breastfeeding has the power to heal those suffering the effects of generational trauma, specifically through the release of oxytocin, subsequently allowing mothers and their babies to feel empowered and independent.

Photo by Luiza Braun

Kathleen Kendall Tackett’s work also illuminates how breastfeeding can heal trauma. Her videos, How Birth Trauma Affects Breastfeeding and Breastfeeding Can Heal Birth Trauma and Breastfeeding’s Healing Impact on Sexual Assault Trauma discuss the mechanisms behind why and how breastfeeding can be helpful for trauma survivors. Essentially, breastfeeding allows for the down regulation of stress responses, specifically adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol, and similar to exercise, improves maternal mood, decreases the risk of depression, decreases hostility, and improves the mother infant bond.

Jennie Toland, BSN, RN, CLC offers commentary on the role lactation care providers play in offering trauma-informed care in this piece.

This Invisibila episode, Therapy Ghostbusters, shares the incredible story of how a Cambodian practitioner worked to help heal an entire community from generational trauma. It took him over a year to simply earn individuals’ trust.

“…That’s pretty unique,” the podcast hosts point out and offers insight into how our nation approaches care for individuals with specific mental health needs and cultural considerations.

Goldhammer quotes Round Rock elder Annie Kahn:  “When a mother nurses her baby, she is giving that child her name, her story and her life’s song. A nursed baby will grow to be strong in body, mind and spirit.”

This connection to the past that Kahn refers to, also offers a form of healing. Breastfeeding is an example of Indigenous food sovereignty, “a part of living culture” and facilitates the revitalization of traditional knowledge. (Cidro, et al 2018)

The revitalization of breastfeeding spans the Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) experience and is a channel to champion equity.

Ifeyinwa V. Asiodu,  Kimarie Bugg,  and Aunchalee E.L. Palmquist write in Achieving Breastfeeding Equity and Justice in Black Communities: Past, Present, and Future:

“Breastfeeding is an especially important public health issue in Black communities, particularly given that Black families and communities continue to experience the highest burden related to poor maternal and infant health outcomes, including higher incidence of preterm birth, low birth weight, maternal mortality and morbidity, infant mortality, and lower breastfeeding rates. Owing to lifetime exposure of racism, bias, and stress, Black women experience higher rates of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and aggressive breast cancer. Given that cardiovascular disease and postpartum hemorrhage are leading causes of maternal mortality and morbidity, increasing breastfeeding rates among Black women can potentially save lives.”

Photo by Emily Finch

More specifically, studies show that the experience of racial discrimination accelerates the shortening of telomeres (the repetitive sequences of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that protect the cell) and ultimately contributes to an increase in people’s risks of developing diseases.

It has been found that higher anxiety scores and inflammation are associated with shorter telomere length.

Because physical and psychological stressors trigger the inflammatory response system, one way to counter this reaction is by supporting ongoing breastfeeding relationships; when breastfeeding is going well, it protects mothers from stress. (Kendall-Tackett, 2007)

Another study found that early exclusive breastfeeding is associated with longer telomeres in children.

Photo by Luiza Braun

The authors of Achieving Breastfeeding Equity and Justice in Black Communities: Past, Present, and Future continue, “Yet breastfeeding is rarely seen as a women’s health, reproductive health, or a public health strategy to address or reduce maternal mortality and morbidity in the U.S. Inequities in lactation support and breastfeeding education exacerbate health inequities experienced by Black women, specifically maternal mortality and morbidity, and thus a greater investment in perinatal lactation and breastfeeding education and resources is warranted. Breastfeeding is an essential part of women’s reproductive health.”

Journalist and maternal child health advocate Kimberly Seals Allers’ approach is one “For Black people, from Black people.”

“…The call to revive, restore and reclaim Black breastfeeding is an internal call to action,” Kimberly Seals Allers begins in Black Breastfeeding Is a Racial Equity Issue.  “… Breastfeeding is our social justice movement as we declare the health and vitality of our infants as critical to the health and vitality of our communities.”

Specifically through her work with Narrative Nation, Seals Allers and colleagues are promoting health equity “by democratizing how the story of health disparities is told,” centering BIPOC voices. Additionally, through her Birthright podcast, KSA uplifts stories of  joy and healing in Black birth.

Especially after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, organizations made statements about their commitments to dismantling structural racism and focusing efforts on equity.

Equity has become a buzzword; in fact, one author brands the sentiment “Fakequity”. This year, United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) National Conference and Convening presenters expressed their fatigue with the word.

“We want to see action,” they said.

Nikki & Nikki LIVE offer their Allies, Advocates and Activists Equity in Lactation webinar which covers the meaning of equitable in lactation care, how to show up for the marginalized and how to make a lasting impact.

In other efforts, the CDC has identified breastfeeding as a priority area to address health inequities.

Photo by Luiza Braun

NICHQ’s Achieving Breastfeeding Equity campaign also focuses on closing breastfeeding disparity gaps, viewing their efforts through an equity lens.

Director of policy and partnerships at the National Women’s Health Network Denys Symonette Mitchell offers commentary on a way forward with key policies that will ensure investment in breastfeeding to ultimately advance health equity.

Watch Racism and the Colonial Roots of Gendered Language in Public Health and Biomedicine with Dr. Aunchalee Palmquist, PhD, IBCLC for more on these issues.  

 

——–

As part of our celebration, we are giving away an online learning module with contact hours each week. Here’s how to enter into the drawings:

Email info@ourmilkyway.org with your name and “OMW is 10” in the subject line.

This week, in the body of the email, tell us about how you are contributing to working toward healthy equity.

Subsequent weeks will have a different prompt in the blog post.

We will conduct a new drawing each week over the 10-week period.  Please email separately each week to be entered in the drawing. You may only win once. If your name is drawn, we will email a link with access to the learning module. The winner of the final week will score a grand finale swag bag.

Wives co-breastfeed son for two-and-a-half years

The lactation care provider glanced at her breasts and claimed, “You’re not going to be able to produce much milk.” Glenis Decuir, CBS, a young mother at the time, had just given birth to her first baby (now 17 years old), and while she intended to breastfeed her daughter, without explanation, without proper consultation and counseling, without a shred of compassion, the lactation consultant disparaged her intentions so tragically that Decuir not only did not breastfeed her daughter, she remained discouraged through the birth of her second child (now 14 years old) and did not breastfeed him either.

Decuir eventually learned that she has Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT) disorder.

“I knew my breasts looked different, but my mom’s looked the same as mine; I didn’t think anything was abnormal,” Decuir explains. “ I was young and wasn’t resourceful; no one explained anything.”

Though Decuir’s introduction to infant feeding was shrouded in the unknown and total neglect from care providers, her story takes a turn, epitomizing self-determination, advocacy and education, perseverance, resilience and empowerment.

In 2018, Decuir’s wife became pregnant with their third child. Because she would not grow and birth this baby, Decuir wondered how she would form a bond with him.

“It was very difficult for me to wrap my head around that,” Decuir shares.

Plunging into self-guided research, Decuir landed on the potential to induce lactation.

When she decided to embark on this path, Decuir reached out for guidance, but found herself in a void.

“Unfortunately, I received the most pushback from doctors, many of whom didn’t even know that inducing lactation was possible,” Decuir documents her road to co-breastfeeding. “I had to see four different doctors before I could find one willing to work with me. Being under the doctor’s care was very important because I had never done this before, and I knew I would be taking medications. After exploring several options, we chose the Newman Goldfarb Protocol as our method of induced lactation.”

For well over 20 weeks, Decuir delved into the protocol.

“Because I had really poor experiences with my first two and poor experiences with seeking help with breastfeeding professionals… I became an advocate… I had overcome so much adversity,” Decuir begins.

Laws state that we can pump anywhere, Decuir continues. And that’s what she did.

“I was pumping in every location imaginable! At my desk, in the car, the movie theater, Six Flags, and much more!” she writes.

Decuir goes on, “I decided to be very public about my entire journey on Instagram. One, I have the right to and I exercise every right, but it also opened a gateway to educating others.”

Prior to inducing lactation, Decuir reports that her children had never been exposed to anyone breastfeeding, “not even at a playground or anything,” she elucidates.

“This is how behind closed doors moms are with breastfeeding,” she says.

But Decuir and her wife’s approach is different; they are open-books with their children, she explains.

“They were old enough to understand scientifically, biologically, physically what my body was going to go through,” Decuir starts. “I educated them through a scientific standpoint, but also talked about normalizing breastfeeding. We talked about my daughter breastfeeding in the future, and my son and his role as a man in a household and how he can support his future wife to breastfeed.”

Decuir recalls the emotional and practical support her older children offered: “I cried in front of them, I pumped in front of them, I laughed in front of them; they helped wash bottles and Spectra parts…”

In sharing her journey with others though, Decuir wasn’t always met with such maturity and acceptance.

“I got everything under the sun,” Decuir remembers. Some told her it was disgusting, some found it weird, and some even went as far as to claim it child abuse.

Orion was born on September 2, 2018. At the time of his birth, Decuir was producing 16 ounces a day– quite close to what is considered full production– and had stored over 1,000 of her milk in a deep freezer.

Decuir says that she didn’t set forth focusing on the quantity though. “I wasn’t thinking about achieving full supply; I was thinking about producing anything. Even if it was only five ounces a day, I thought, I can at least do one feeding a day and that to me was worth it on its own.”

She continues: “Every time that I would latch Orion on, I just thanked Mother Nature and how amazing our bodies are. Maybe if I had birthed Orion, if I  had just latched him on, it wouldn’t have been a second thought, but because of what I went through–I worked real, real hard– every time I was able to latch my son, I literally thanked the universe. I was so grateful.”

Decuir and her wife went on to co-breastfeed Orion until he was two-and-a-half.

Throughout her breastfeeding relationship, Decuir remained visible in her efforts. “Having the power to go through that experience breastfeeding anywhere and everywhere in public, it became almost liberating and very freeing to be able to exercise my right, and in doing so I came across a lot of people. I took them as opportunities to talk more about breastfeeding and breastfeeding in public.”

At the start of her journey, in order to create her village, Decuir started a private Facebook support group. Today it has over two and a half thousand members.

Locally, Decuir serves as a breastfeeding support person through ZipMilk and is a ROSE Community Transformer, all on a volunteer basis. She has presented at the ROSE Summit in years’ past and is currently working on a book.

You can read Decuir’s former publications about her co-breastfeeding journey at https://aeroflowbreastpumps.com/blog/the-road-to-co-breastfeeding

https://www.baby-chick.com/what-is-co-breastfeeding/ and

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/co-breastfeeding_n_5c13eaf8e4b049efa75213e6.

Educate, motivate, normalize: one mom’s experience harnessing harassment into empowerment

Chenae Marie is an Author, Maternal Mental Health & Breastfeeding Advocate and Speaker.  In November 2018, she released a coloring book entitled Breastfeeding Mamas. The book was created in response to being ridiculed for breastfeeding.

She says it is an honor to see her work circulating. 

“This was such a purpose project for me and to see it still circulating 4 years later, wow,” Chenae Marie begins.  “You hope for the best, you hope people not only love it but deem it just as necessary as you; so seeing its impact has been so deeply rewarding.” 

Since its release, over 3,000 copies have been sold. 

Earlier this year, Chenae Marie was awarded the USBC Emerging Leader Award

We’re so thrilled to be sharing this interview with such a force on Our Milky Way! Read on. 

 

On Chenae Marie’s journey into motherhood…

Whew, where do I even begin? I found out I was pregnant during separation from my then husband. It was certainly a shock. We tried to work it out but the more we forced it, the more it became obvious that we were growing in two different directions. I ended up moving from New Orleans where we were living, back to my hometown of Baltimore, MD. It was imperative for me to be close to my village during such a profound life transition. It’s funny, because looking back I remember having so much anxiety prior to moving to MD. I wasn’t sure if it was nerves, or maybe the shock was still wearing down, or it was normal feelings to feel after finding out you are pregnant. But it’s like the moment that I touched down and hugged my mama, that deep sinking anxiety feeling went away. I finally felt safe again- emotionally and spiritually safe. My appetite came back, I was sleeping regularly and at a decent hour, and I was finally recognizing the woman looking back at me in the mirror. I missed her so much and it was a breath of fresh air to be in a space that I could get to know her again- prior to the arrival of my baby girl. 

Finally, the time had come for me to meet my Leilani Marie. It’s hard for me to even put into words how that first moment of looking into her eyes felt. It was like my world stopped for a moment and all I saw was her, all I felt was her, and I needed was her. If I could bottle that moment up, I certainly would. 

Now my journey had begun and all of who I was and all of who I had yet to become was ready to take on this journey called motherhood. 

 

On being ridiculed for a breastfeeding image she shared…

After noticing how underrepresented black women were as it pertains to motherhood and breastfeeding, I decided I’d start sharing images and partnering each one with either a clever little caption or a more thought-out caption detailing some of my thoughts and where I was on my motherhood journey at that time. 

One afternoon, I was eating ice cream while simultaneously breastfeeding and my mom snapped a picture of it. We were both wearing my handmade mustard yellow bonnets and we were in our own little world. I loved the picture and decided to share it. 

About an hour later I began to get what felt like nonstop notifications on my phone. I remember that I was putting my daughter down for a nap at the time so I placed my phone down away from me so the vibrations wouldn’t awake her. Finally, she was asleep, and I checked my phone. I was so confused because I saw an extremely large number of notifications and was so confused as to what was happening. Apparently, the picture went from Instagram to Twitter and then back to Instagram again. It went viral

From that day, I was getting hundreds of followers, hundreds of comments, and nonstop messages. Some of the comments and messages were full of love and support while others were full of negative comments, judgements, and unsolicited/obscene pictures. It’s like on one hand I felt supported and empowered but on the other hand, I was so incredibly bothered by the amount of ignorance I was reading on a day to day. 

I have always been someone who never let anyone make me feel inferior without my consent and this was one of those moments I had to take my power back. I took a long shower that involved lots of thinking and strategy. How can I take advantage of a moment that a lot of eyes were on me? How can I change the narrative? How can I use this moment to educate? 

Thus, the idea to create an adult coloring book!

 

On her partnership with the illustrator… 

Many are surprised when I tell them that I found my illustrator Mariana, on Upwork! I took a gamble and posted an ad describing my project and what I was looking for. She sent me some of her previous work and I knew she’d be the perfect fit! She was not only an incredible illustrator, but she completely understood my vision. 

 

On the feedback she’s gotten since the book’s release…

I’ve received great feedback since its release, but I’d have to say my favorite was when a mother told me she used my images to put on her wall during her at home water birth. She told me they were incredibly motivational and just what she needed to see to remind her of her strength. 

 

On receiving the USBC Emerging Leader Award…

It feels incredible! I haven’t met a single person in this industry who goes into it seeking rewards or recognition. You go into it because there is a fire burning in you for CHANGE! You go into it because you have a passion for women, for MOTHERS! So to be able to stop for a moment and truly reflect on my journey and also take a deep dive into all the work that has been done and still needs to be done, was beautiful and necessary. USBC does INCREDIBLE work, so to be recognized by them was honestly unexpected but an honor, nonetheless. Receiving this kind of award gave me that extra push I didn’t even know I needed to go harder. To keep having the uncomfortable but necessary conversations, and to keep pushing for change. 

 

On current projects…

I am working to step full force into speaking. I am currently working with Mississippi Public Health to organize monthly virtual workshops/panels to discuss motherhood, mental health, self-care, and wellness. My goal is to create a space for like-minded individuals to come together to share their experiences and have the “uncomfortable” conversations in hopes to inspire and educate others, specifically mothers.


On plans during National Breastfeeding Month/ Black and World Breastfeeding Week(s)…

I’m all about spreading knowledge! Knowledge is power. National Breastfeeding Month/ Black and World Breastfeeding week(s) is a great opportunity to shed as much information as possible while the spotlight shines on the subject.

 

On future goals…

As for future goals, I would like to create another project. I’m not sure what as of yet, but I want to think of another creative way to educate, motivate, and normalize. 

Find Chenae Marie on Instagram here

22 more actions in 2022

 In our third installment of 22 in 2022, we bring you 22 MORE Actions in 2022, because there is always work to do. 

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee

22 in 2022 was inspired by Life Kit’s 22 Tips for 2022, and we hope it provides inspiration for you to forge forward with this important work.

  1. Learn about the Girls’ Bill of Rights. Empowered women start with empowered girls. 
  2. Watch a film centered around maternal child health like  A Doula Story, The Milky Way breastfeeding documentary, Chocolate Milk, Zero Weeks, Legacy Power Voice: Movements in Black Midwifery or register to play Factuality
  3. Identify and network with an individual or organization with a mission that intersects with maternal child health. This shouldn’t be a challenge… “All roads lead to breastfeeding!” (A popular adage at Healthy Children Project.)  Often, we find ourselves preaching to the choir, shouting in an echo chamber, whatever you want to call it. It’s time to reach beyond our normal audience. 
  4. Follow Dr. Magdelena Whoolery on social media to stay up to date on strategies that combat the multi-billion dollar artificial baby milk industry. 
  5. Sign on to USBC’s organizational letter in support of the DEMAND Act of 2022.
  6. Congratulate, encourage or simply smile at a mother. 
  7. Explore White Ribbon Alliance’s work around respectful care. You can start by watching this poignant webinar Healthcare Professionals Honoring Women’s Demands for Respectful Care
  8. Read The First Food System: The importance of breastfeeding in global food systems discussions.
  9. Read Lactation in quarantine: The (in)visibility of human milk feeding during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States
  10. Sign this petition to stop unethical formula research on babies. 
  11. Check out the updated Center for WorkLife Law’s Winning New Rights for Lactating Workers: An Advocate’s Toolkit
  12. Register for a free PQI Innovation webinar.
  13. Read the revised Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) Clinical Protocol #2: Guidelines for Birth Hospitalization Discharge of Breastfeeding Dyads here
  14. Gear up for World Breastfeeding Week 2022 and National Breastfeeding Month. 
  15. Check out this NIH project Breastmilk Ecology: Genesis of Infant Nutrition (BEGIN) Project which seeks a deeper understanding of human milk biology to address ongoing and emerging questions about infant feeding practices.  
  16. Learn about the Melanated Mammary Atlas.
  17. Consider becoming a ROSE community transformer or share the opportunity with someone who may be interested. 
  18. Get familiar with WHO’s recent report How the marketing of formula milk influences our decisions on infant feeding and disseminate the corresponding infographics
  19. Sensitize journalists and the media to stimulate public debate on the links between breastfeeding and the climate crisis as suggested by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA).
  20. Get to know how breastfeeding and proper nutrition fits into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  21. Access one of the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality’s (NICHQ) webinars on breastfeeding, infant health, early childhood or health equity here
  22. Engage with the PUMP Act Toolkit! This is crucial, time-sensitive work that will make a huge difference for families across our nation.

Read our original list of 22 Actions here and our celebration of unsung sheroes/heroes here

Revive. Restore. Reclaim. Happy Black Breastfeeding Week!

 The final week of National Breastfeeding Month is upon us, closing out strong with Black Breastfeeding Week: Revive. Restore. Reclaim (August 25-31). 

During Black History Month, Nichelle Clark of SonShine & Rainbows Lactation wrote in her piece Breastfeeding As An Act Of Resistance For The Black Mother

“Black History Month in the breastfeeding community is normally littered with posts and articles about the dark history of African American Breastfeeding in this country. I firmly believe that in order to understand where you are going, you must first understand where you have been. However, Black Mothers in today’s society face a very different dilemma: actually being Black History.” 

Joy R. Gibson, MSEd is an early childhood educator and advocate and the mother of five, ranging from age 18 months to 13 years. She gave unmedicated birth to all five of her children in Pittsburg, Pa.,  practiced the Lamaze method, and talked to her babies as she labored with them. 

Joy R. Gibson, MSEd

“We can’t wait to see you,” she gently called. 

Gibson went on to breastfeed all of her children until they self-weaned. 

“I think [breastfeeding was] best for my babies, and I love the bond that it creates. I love when it gets to be that one-on-one time to focus on the child,” Gibson shares. 

She goes on to share that early on, she and her first child struggled to find a comfortable latch. After visiting with a hospital-based lactation care provider, Gibson and her baby were able to work through the challenges. Beyond that, she recalls her babies not appreciating being covered in public while they nursed, which felt more like an inconvenience than a challenge, she describes. 

Gibson felt supported through her breastfeeding journey. 

“Always from family and friends and even from my job when I had to pump,” Gibson says. 

While working in a child care center, Gibson would feed her baby who was also at the center and then return to work. 

Having felt empowered through her birth and infant feeding experience, Gibson says she wants to become more involved in maternal child health advocacy and connect with other mothers through their challenges and triumphs. She is currently involved with Healthy Start, Inc. Pittsburgh/Allegheny County’s Community Health Advocate Training Program where she will be able to exercise her passion and help improve the health outcomes of other mothers in her community. 

The Gibson family.

Gibson is Black History.  Gibson is #ReviveRestoreReclaim.

How will you #ReviveRestoreReclaim Black breastfeeding in 2020? Join the #BBW20 movement and follow @BlkBfingWeek.

USBC also calls upon us to:

  • Raise your voice for breastfeeding families and take action with @USBreastfeeding in support of the MOMMA’s Act! Learn more about the bill:  https://bit.ly/2CUOmE9 #NBM20 #ManyVoicesUnited
  • @USBreastfeeding is launching another free webcast session this week! Learn about the presentations in “Optimizing Support for All Populations” https://bit.ly/NBCCReimagined #NBM20