Just short of a decade ago, the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) declared August National Breastfeeding Month. National Breastfeeding Month kicks off with the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action’s (WABA) World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) and continues to celebrate each subsequent week:
Week 2 (August 9-15): Native Breastfeeding Week: Strong. Resilient. Latched.
Week 3 (August 16-24): Spotlight on Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies
Week 4 (August 25-31): Black Breastfeeding Week: Revive. Restore. Reclaim.
This week, we honor the very diverse experiences of Indigenous families and “address the inequity and injustice of Indigenous parents and their abilities to practice their roles in accordance to the tribal communities they descend from.” [https://www.facebook.com/NativeBreastfeedingWeek/]
There are so many ways to celebrate, to uplift, to support, and as white lactation care providers and maternal child health advocates, ways to learn, humble ourselves, and do better.
The official Native Breastfeeding Week Facebook page actively includes ways to engage in Native Breastfeeding Week. There are sunrise honor prayers, a Virtual 5K Move, Q&A sessions, platforms for sharing personal accounts, and much more.
On Tuesday, the American Indian Cancer Foundation will host an #IndigenousMilkIsMedicine webinar, where Indigenous midwife Hope Mayotte (Bad River Tribe) presents on the importance of Indigenous birth and breastfeeding.
“For generations, our families have known that breastfeeding nourishes baby’s mind, body, and spirit, and also reduces the risk of cancer and cancer risk factors for birthing people,” American Indian Cancer Foundation’s Communications Specialist Tina MacDonald, BA (Leech Lake Ojibwe) shares. “During Indigenous Milk Is Medicine, we aim to educate and support Native families across the nation by providing them with culturally-tailored breastfeeding webinars and resources.”
The Indigenous Birth and Breastfeeding Collective of North Dakota will host the Indigenous Breastfeeding Counselor Training in Standing Rock August 26 to 30. The course is taught by Camie Jae Goldhammer, MSW, LICSW, IBCLC (Sisseton-Wahpeton) and Kimberly Moore-Salas, IBCLC (Navajo) and covers topics like historical trauma, the impact of birth on breastfeeding, water rights and its relation to breastfeeding, food sovereignty, maternal mood disorders and much more. The course is open to those who self-identify as Indigenous. Find more information here.
Bold Futures shared An open letter: Seeking justice and systemic change for Native Families harmed by structural racism, a response to a “secretive policy [at a prominent women’s hospital]…to conduct special coronavirus screenings for pregnant women, based on whether they appeared to be Native American, even if they had no symptoms or were otherwise at low risk for the disease, according to clinicians.” [https://www.propublica.org/article/a-hospitals-secret-coronavirus-policy-separated-native-american-mothers-from-their-newborns]
The letter details how maternal child health advocates can help move forward; for example:
* “Centering BIPOC midwives, birth workers and birth advocates in leadership and decision making,”
* “Significant investment through the state Department of Health and public health funds in out-of-hospital birth models led by Native, Black and People of color,”
* “Defunding and criminalizing of medical institutions and providers that are, or have, engaged in hate crimes under the guise of medical care.”
Last year, four out of 10 Indian Health Service (IHS) hospitals achieved Baby-Friendly re-designation. Baby-Friendly hospitals support exclusive breastfeeding which “protects against obesity and type II diabetes, conditions that American Indians and Alaska Natives are particularly prone,” Tina Tah, IHS Senior Nurse Consultant writes.
Learn more about IHS and the American Indian and Alaska Native Communities and Hospitals Advancing Maternity Practices (AI/AN CHAMPS) project’s successes here.
For more on Native American experiences in birth, infant feeding and beyond, read Generational trauma among Native American cultures affects infant feeding and Honoring the diversity of Indigenous breastfeeding experiences.