‘Strong. Resilient. Latched.’ Celebrating Native Breastfeeding Week

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.”

Register here

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

Indigenous Women Rising is facilitating the delivery of Covid-19 care packages, and while the deadline to apply has passed, individuals may still donate to the cause

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.

#NativeBreastfeedingWeek

#StrongResilientLatched

#IndigenousParenting

#IndigenousMilk

#Bodyfeeding

No single solution nor single source of the problem

There’s a recent TED Talk soundbite that goes like this:

“…In a world as complex and interconnected as the one we live in, the idea that one person has the answer is ludicrous. It’s not only ineffective, it’s dangerous because it leads us to believe that it’s been solved by that hero, and we have no role. We don’t need heroes. We need radical interdependence, which is just another way of saying we need each other.” 

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

It’s a similar lesson Kimberly Seals Allers spoke to during a Milkshake Mondays Facebook Live session where she comments on the New York Times piece Climate Change Tied to Pregnancy Risks, Affecting Black Mothers Most and a laboratory creation intended to replicate human milk which just raised $3.5 million from Bill Gates’ investment firm.

In reference to the despicable maternal child health outcomes for birthing and lactating Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), Seals Allers implores us to stop having “this very individualized conversation about what is happening to Black women.”

“There is so much involved,” she says. “There is no single solution, and there never was a single source of the problem.” 

The ideas of interconnectedness and multi-dimensional challenges apply perfectly to this year’s World Breastfeeding Week’s (WBW) theme Support Breastfeeding for a Healthier Planet. Environmental and human health are intricately intertwined.  

It’s a tangle that calls for more than reduction, reusing and recycling.

Through an equity lens, Seals Allers uses Bruce Bekkar’s, MD, et al research to ask questions like “Why are there factories mostly in Black and Brown neighborhoods? Why were Black and Brown people driven to heavily populated urban areas?”

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

The association between air pollution and heat exposure with preterm birth, low birth weight, and stillbirth in the U.S., demonstrated in Bekkar’s research, is heavily influenced by systemic racism.

“Compounding the added risks from warming and pollution, Dr. Basu said, research has shown that minority communities tend to have less access to medical help and that minority patients tend not to receive equal levels of treatment,” Christopher Flavelle writes in the NYT piece. 

Flavelle goes on, “Adrienne Hollis, senior climate justice and health scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the problems could not be tackled in isolation.  ‘We need to look at policies that provide equitable opportunities for communities of color,’ Dr. Hollis said. ‘If you address structural racism, I think you’re going to start getting at some of these issues.’”

Seals Allers echoes: “Stop problematizing Black women; look at the systemic solutions.” 

Unsurprisingly, the “solutions” we tend to generate include pouring millions of dollars into synthetic milk instead of investing in breastfeeding and lactating people themselves. 

“It’s very disturbing,” Seals Allers comments in her Facebook stream. “The solution is not around empowering women, it’s not about getting women breastfeeding, it’s about finding synthetic solutions. [There’s ] such a disconnect.” 

Equally concerning in this case, is that the investment into a proposed solution for poor health outcomes related to not breastfeeding, comes from a climate change investment fund. Human milk is arguably the most sustainable food on our planet; why are sub-optimal, artificial substitutes getting so much funding instead of promoting policies and programs that support direct breastfeeding or pasteurized donor human milk

 Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee.

The conundrum goes beyond the years of milk feeding onto complementary foods which offer corporations new opportunities to target families with Ultraprocessed Foods (UPF). Like artificial milk substitutes,  UPFs pose environmental threats: processing takes natural resources and generates waste. Moreover, UPFs are often heavily marketed in underserved communities, so poor health outcomes continue to be compounded.   

Healthy Children Project’s Cindy Turner Maffei recently attended a webinar sponsored by the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India  (BPNI) and the Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPI) on UPFs and their relation to obesity, diabetes, and other health dangers. 

“Presenters from India, Brazil, and Australia shared insights on the health impacts of UPFs, about the market and social forces at play, and also what we can do to advocate reduction in use of these engineered foods,” Turner-Maffei reports. “Brazil in specific has incorporated decreasing UPFs into their dietary guidelines and restricted use of government funds to purchase these foods for school food programs.” 

BPNI and NAPI offer their document on UPFs here

BPNI has also created a WBW action folder.  The document contains information on the carbon footprint of breastmilk substitutes and offers interventions required to support breastfeeding at four levels: policy makers, civil society and breastfeeding advocates, hospitals and doctors and parents. 

Nothing is relevant if we don’t have a hospitable planet. Breastfeeding and appropriate, unprocessed complementary feeding are the roots of a healthy ecosystem that all humans benefit from. 

For more on interconnectedness read Breastfeeding and parallel advocacy. Explore more on infant feeding and our environment here and here.

Progress through podcast: Care provider supports families through relevant lactation education

When Tangela L. Boyd, MA, IBCLC, CLC, CLE, CCCE, CPD, a Union Institute & University affiliated faculty member and owner of Mommy Milk  & Me, Inc., had her twin boys 14 years ago becoming a mother of four, she simultaneously entered a space of advocacy.

“I had a very adventurous time with those guys in the NICU,” Boyd remembers. “It changed the way I thought about breastfeeding.” 

As a young Black mother, Boyd says she feels fortunate to have had support from hospital staff to feed her twins (which she went on to do for three years), acknowledging that this is not often the case for BIPOC families

“That support in turn gave me the desire to help other mommies,” she says.

Boyd’s passion lies in uplifting underserved communities, particularly families living in the rural regions of the Southeast U.S. where she lived for nearly 20 years. 

Now located in Florida, Boyd’s newly released podcast, The Early Postpartum Period, offers a way to stay connected and reach underserved mothers with basic, relevant breastfeeding information. 

Boyd admits that the technology was something new to her and it required much patience to bring the project to fruition. Still, she says, it’s something that she wants to commit to for a long time to come, connecting with families especially in the time after they’ve left the hospital. Boyd hopes to soon host focus groups to get a better understanding of what kind of information families would like her to cover in the episodes. 

In the meantime, she plans to release more episodes over the summer. Her practice emphasizes the importance of organization, so she’s planning a podcast featuring organizational skills and time management tips. 

“There is a lot of lactation education out there and I don’t want to be repetitive,” Boyd begins. “I want to hit areas that will really be relevant and give [parents] something they can use, not just something they can listen to.”  

Boyd explains that learning organizational skills can bring a sense of calmness which allows parents the energy to move forward with daily tasks, rather than getting engulfed by an often chaotic world. She suggests things like preparation, avoiding procrastination and working up endurance through taking a breath and stepping away when necessary. 

Especially as our country examines our foundations and current events have brought race to the forefront, Boyd emphasizes the urgency to address high Black maternal mortality rates.

The pandemic has illuminated ways in which to address these rates, Boyd explains, like out of hospital birth and doula support. 

“We have to move forward,” Boyd encourages. 

You can connect with Boyd on Twitter here and find her website here

Boyd has been featured on Ifeyinwa Asiodu’s PhD, RN, IBCLC Blacktation Diaires for her work on increasing breastfeeding and perinatal education rates among BIPOC. She has also written for Kimberly Seals Aller’s Mocha Manual.