Women don’t breastfeed, cultures do

Explore your community. Do nursing mothers have a safe place to feed their children in grocery stores, airports, places of worship, medical facilities? Are obstetric and pediatric offices void of infant formula marketing? Do your community’s billboards and bus stop advertisements feature breastfeeding mothers over images of bottles and artificial baby milk? Does common public sentiment support breastfeeding mothers and babies?


IMocha fabulous, breast feeding awareness.f you answered no to these questions, you’re living in a First Food (Breastmilk) Desert. 
Leading commentators and breastfeeding advocates Kimberly Seals Allers and Isabel Barillas, MPH recently launched the Be First Food Friendly Movement in several southeastern, predominantly African American cities with some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the nation. The project aims to define and designate “first food deserts,” or under-resourced communities lacking breastfeeding support mechanisms. [Retrieved from http://befirstfoodfriendly.org/about-us/] Be First Food Friendly will eventually expand to become a national campaign.Seals Allers explains that it’s time to realize that what we have been doing has not gotten us to the goal of normalizing breastfeeding.

“This is the next frontier for helping mothers and babies,” she says of the Be First Food Friendly Movement.

Seals Allers is asking members from all communities to take action. The project features three key suggestions: Share Your Story, Spread the Word, and Sign the Petition.

Seals Allers is creating a story bank of community experiences about breastfeeding as participants share their accounts.

In her interactions, Seals Allers has found that people struggle to remember the last time they saw a woman nursing in public. (Perhaps because most nursing mothers are discreet and contrary to popular belief, we don’t whip our breasts around.) More seriously, a lack of community stories means a lack of breastfeeding. To reach more mothers, Seals Allers has extended the Share Your Story portion to social media platforms.

10/2/2012 Mocha fabulousThe Be First Food Friendly Petition requests the governors of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama take immediate action to transform key communities in their states into First Food Friendly environments. The goal is to collect 2,000 signatures by the end of Black History Month. Seals Allers makes clear that the petition is for everybody, not just the starting point areas. Click here to sign the petition.

Seals Allers has been engaging in the breastfeeding conversation for years.
She says she realized that women know the facts about breastfeeding, but they can’t figure out “how to fit it into the reality of everyday life.”

Through her exchanges, Seals Allers says she became increasingly aware that women feel burdened by providing healthy feeding options for their infants. Some women anticipate being restricted to their homes and that breastfeeding will minimize their life to the size of a teaspoon, as Seals Allers puts it. Others report concern that people will look at them strangely when they nurse in public and others worry about going back to work.

Seals Allers says she was inspired to bring others into the conversation to lessen mothers’ burdens.

“Women don’t breastfeed, cultures do,” she says powerfully. “Once we can capture the cultural shift around breastfeeding, that’s the next piece.”

The Be First Food Friendly Movement is innovative and exciting. Seals Allers is brilliant, energetic and influential. But the issue at hand is depressing and dark.

Seals Allers explains in a video featured on the project’s website that “culturally relevant” lactation professionals are hard to come by.

She further explains the problem in Lactation Consultants Need to Diversify Yesterday.

How can a mother in need succeed at breastfeeding when she doesn’t have access to lactation professionals who understand her culturally?

Seals Allers tells me this: If African American women have positive experiences with breastfeeding, they will become champions for other mothers. This is the bottom up approach. But she adds that there are also barriers like access to and cost of lactation professional training.

“There needs to be a change in thinking from the people that are leading the movement,” Seals Allers says. She suggests these groups become more welcoming, open and accessible.

“There really needs to be an effort. It’s not going to change itself.”

10/2/2012 Mocha fabulousLactation professionals of all backgrounds and colors play a crucial role in a landscape where women have been taught to mistrust our breasts. Seals Allers says that our ability to breastfeed is more socially than biologically influenced.

We don’t wake up thinking, “Oh, I don’t know if my liver is going to work today…” Seals Allers role plays. We certainly do second guess our breasts’ function though.

What happens when mistrust of our breasts is muddled with other cultural nuances?

Seals Allers writes a beautiful recollection of her thoughts about receiving support from a white lactation consultant in Lactation Consultants Need to Diversify Yesterday.

Breastfeeding can be an intimate and profound experience between mother and baby and mother and herself. At the same time, we need public supports to nurture our motherhood journeys.

“When we start engaging other people in the process, we are a much stronger force to do the work we want to do,” Seals Allers says. “The community is powerful.”

Photos taken from http://befirstfoodfriendly.org/ with Kimberly Seals Allers’ permission. 

One Reply to “Women don’t breastfeed, cultures do”

Leave a Reply