Monica Haywood is a researcher by nature. When she became pregnant with her daughter, she read all of the baby books.
She read about prenatal vitamins, proper nutrition, prenatal appointments, etc., etc., etc.
“I wanted to do everything right,” Haywood says.
Sometime during her second trimester, her focus narrowed in on breastfeeding. She was familiar with the stories her mother told about breastfeeding her, but she wanted to know more. Haywood attended La Leche League of Louisville meetings and scoured websites for infant feeding information.
She felt prepared and laid out a plan to breastfeed her baby for three months.
“Little did I know, the journey was slightly different,” she laughs. “You can read, read, read, but be prepared to pivot on things that you may have read about.”
Baby Noelle was born in 2017 and instead of breastfeeding for the planned three months, Noelle and Haywood nursed for 34 months.
Haywood says that while exclusive, natural-term breastfeeding was sometimes challenging like balancing her baby’s needs and self-care and managing other people’s perceptions mostly, breastfeeding created a sense of empowerment and bonding.
Haywood shared another connection with Noelle through her love of books early on.
“She was only a couple months old and my husband and I were reading books to her,” she shares.
“[Reading] helps with language development, and we also thought it was important to find books that she could relate to… characters that look like her and that can relate to her experience,” Haywood continues.
She found that most children’s breastfeeding books were geared toward weaning, but she was looking for something that celebrates the breastfeeding journey, something that could capture what she and Noelle were doing.
And when she couldn’t find it, she created it. Haywood wrote Noey Loves Nursing, a colorful book that commemorates her nursing journey, celebrates a diverse character, and educates and brings awareness to extended breastfeeding.
“I wish I could get it in the hands of every breastfeeding mother!” Haywood exclaims.
The book is highly admired by younger readers including her daughter who Haywood says is really excited by the book.
“When I saw [the video], it literally brought me to tears,” Haywood says. “It’s just awesome.”
Before COVID-19, Haywood enjoyed sharing Noey Loves Nursing at in-person gatherings like LLL Louisville’s Live Love Latch during National Breastfeeding Month and Healthy Children Project’s International Breastfeeding Conference. She’s also shared her story with local WIC offices.
This summer, Haywood adapted to Zoom and Facebook Live events to celebrate Black Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month with her book.
This year’s National Breastfeeding Month (NBM) celebration has come to an end, but our momentum as maternal child health advocates– striving for equitable care for all– powers on.
The 2020 NBM theme, Many Voices United, called on us to come together to identify and implement the policy and system changes that are needed to ensure that all families have the support and resources they need in order to feed their babies healthily.
Achieving this shared goal requires daily self-work and individual introspection so that our collective can be as effective as ever. No matter how socially-conscious, open-minded, anti-racist, (insert adjective), we think we may be, we still have learned biases and prejudices that require near constant attention. Much like I remind my children to brush their teeth every morning and every night, as a white, binary woman, I must remind myself to examine my biases and my privilege daily.
With NBM’s theme of unity in mind, this Upworthy video features an art installation that demonstrates our society’s interconnectedness. With a piece of string, the installation shows an intricate, densely-woven web created by individuals wrapping thread around 32 poles with identifiers arranged in a circle.
“You can see that even though we all have different experiences and we all identify in different ways…We are really one,” the project’s creator says in the video.
The sentiment and the product are truly beautiful and fascinating. While appreciating the beauty of unity, it’s important to keep our critical thinking and progressive attitude sharp, refraining from slipping into too comfortable a space where change cannot happen.
Recently, I’ve seen a few statements on unity circulating social media that I’d like to embrace with a “Yes!” Instead, I find myself reacting, “Yes! But…”
My worry is that these well-intentioned mantras we live by– much like some might argue certain microaggressions are well-intentioned– are also dismissive.
We all bleed the same blood.
Children are not born racist.
I will teach my child to love your child. Period.
Let’s break those down starting with “We all bleed the same blood.” Some things to consider:
“Black breasts do not exist separate from Black bodies and the situated existence we navigate in this world northe racialized experience of motherhood. Racism and classism intertwine to act as a containment, working to make some of us feel as if we are walking in quicksand. Add to this the complexities of new motherhood and the needs of the postpartum body and now we have a cocktail for failure. Literal milk plugs. So, although her precious body may be able to produce milk, her situation prevents her and her baby from receiving it. Even the intention to breastfeed cannot save the milk of the mother who cannot find time for pump breaks as she works the night shift as a security guard. Or, perhaps she cannot figure out why pumping is not working, but she doesn’t have the time to seek the educational or financial resources to help her problem solve.” (underline added by OMW)
Racism affects People of Color (POC) at a cellular level. 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.
What’s more, Black children are three times more likely to die when cared for by white doctors, while the mortality rate for white babies is largely unaffected by the doctor’s race, a recent study found.
White children are born into being part of the problem and just the same, can be part of equitable solutions.
I will teach my child to love your child. Period.
Love is action, and even if it’s easier said than done, there are so many ways to teach our children about race, inequities and injustice. Afterall, “If Black children are ‘old enough’ to experience racism then white children are ‘old enough’ to learn about it.” – Blair Amadeus Imani
Be careful what you say. As a young girl on my way to ballet class one day, my mom, while locking the car doors, pointed out the barred doors and boarded windows in the neighborhood we rolled through.
“That’s how you know this is not a safe neighborhood,” my mom warned me.
No questions asked, I noted the building facades, and then I noted the Black people. Because there wasn’t any further conversation, I made the connection that Black people must be “not safe” and ultimately, that there must be something wrong with Black people if they’re confined to neighborhoods “like this.”
As a nation we are apathetic, made apparent by a recent poll. The survey shows that only 30 percent of white people have taken concrete action to better understand racial issues after George Floyd’s killing.
The poll also shows that White Americans are also the least likely to support the Black Lives Matter movement, with 47 percent expressing support.
Is it because we don’t claim it as our problem? Is it because we misunderstand the problem? Is it because it’s easier to point fingers at others than ourselves?
I’d like to leave you with this video of writer Kimberly Jones where she provides a brief history of the American economy told through an analogy using the board game Monopoly. I urge you to watch it, and then watch it again, and again, and again.
There is no time for complacency within these truly abhorrent systems. When we start to lose sight of that, envision the tangle of yarn from the aforementioned unity art installation and remember that vastly different experiences are networked together.
“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.
“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.
Among the many effects of the novel coronavirus, the pandemic has truly exposed our nation’s deficiencies; one of them being emergency unpreparedness.
Years ago, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) called Hurricane Katrina “the single most catastrophic natural disaster in US history.”
In preparation for the storm, the government organized an alternate site for the Super Bowl but failed to employ an infant feeding in emergencies (IFE) plan, Healthy Children Project Executive Director Karin Cadwell reports. In the aftermath of the catastrophe, pets and exotic animals were accounted for, but mothers and infants were separated from one another as hospitals were evacuated.
HCP’s Cindy Turner-Maffei says that the lack of well-developed plans for protecting IYCF during emergencies was one of the most worrisome findings of the U.S. WBTi Assessment.
She explains: “Scores above two points were rare, and most of the points scored regarded funding allocation for emergencies, not for specific inclusion of the needs of infants and young children in emergency plans.”
“Panel members were struck by the fact that few of the states and territories that had recently experienced significant disasters were among those with significant scores for Indicator 9,” Turner-Maffei continues. “Ironically, some states and territories have well-elaborated plans for the care and feeding of household pets in shelters, but none for infants and young children.”
Although there are always crises occurring, since being thrust into a global pandemic, our nation has had to reevaluate how we care for families with babies and young children. Especially in marginalized populations, poverty, health inequities, and other burdens are amplified during an outbreak or other emergency.
Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute states, “Any crisis presents an opportunity for positive, sustainable change and coordinated involvement of all. #COVID19 taught us that we are all affected and an immediate societal response is required.”
In an effort to increase awareness and preparation, 1,000 Days— a non-profit working to improve nutrition and ensure women and children have the healthiest first 1,000 days–compiled a list of five things we need to know about breastfeeding in emergencies in a 2018 blog post:
1. Breastfeeding is the safest, most nutritious and reliable food source for infants under the age of six months.
2. Breastfeeding decreases the risk of infection and disease, which is vital to survival in emergency settings.
3. Breastfeeding mothers need (even more!) support during emergencies.
4. When breastfeeding is not possible, immediate support is necessary to explore feeding options and protect the health of vulnerable infants.
5. Preparedness is key to ensure babies everywhere have the best opportunity to survive and thrive.
Dr. Savage points out that one of the biggest concerns about breastfeeding counseling during emergent situations is actually getting the counseling to parents. Specifically during the Covid-19 pandemic, Drs. Savage and Salim emphasize that separating mother and baby is not necessary to prevent the spread of the infection from mother to child, and make clear that care providers should follow WHO and UNICEF guidelines.