Honoring Indigenous Milk Medicine Week: “Nourishing Our Futures”

 In celebration of Native Breastfeeding Week, which has evolved into Indigenous Milk Medicine Week, we are incredibly honored to feature the Project Director for the Navajo Breastfeeding Coalition/Dine Doula Collective, Amanda Singer, CLC. Singer’s clans are Naaneesht’ezhi Tachinii (The Charcoal-Streaked Division of the Red Running Into the Water Clan) born for Honaghaanii (One-Walks-Around clan). A Navajo woman originally from Coalmine, N.M., Singer currently lives in Fort Defiance, Ariz.

Like this year’s Indigenous Milk Medicine Week theme “Nourishing Our Futures” which celebrates and respects the power of human milk as medicine for Indigenous People, Singer has been working to heal and uplift her community for 15 years.

Photo by Raul Angel on Unsplash

Impassioned by her own birth and infant feeding experiences, while working as a WIC Peer Counselor, Singer realized the challenges she faced were not uncommon. Prior to becoming a counselor, Singer says she would sit at home wishing for more resources to be available to her, but when she started working within the system, she says she was better able to navigate it.

“I realized I could use my voice there to help my community,” she says. “Hearing their stories, that was what really fueled me.” 

She became a connector, referring families here and there, eventually reaching out to politicians to help change the overall culture of maternal child health support. She and her colleagues were active in advocating for legislation like that Navajo Nation Healthy Start Act of 2008.

Like Indra’s Net, as Singer heard more and more stories and delved deeper into her work,  that interconnectedness and interdependence continued to reflect and illuminate her next quest. 

There came a time though when she felt dulled by the bureaucratic red tape of working within a government entity, so with hesitation, she resigned from her position at WIC. 

When she found her way to the Navajo Breastfeeding Coalition, she says she felt herself stepping into her power.  

The coalition received a small grant from the Kellogg Foundation and collaborated with the Changing Woman Initiative to bring the Indigenous Doula Training to their area in 2019. 

Singer reports being rejuvenated by the energy of the young group of 40 participants. She was inspired by their “younger, motivated minds”. Ten of the participants have joined forces with Singer, growing the coalition. 

“In the early days [of my work], it was hard feeling like ‘How am I going to create change?’” Singer begins. “And then a miracle happened really, all of a sudden, I have these other like-minded individuals… I have my squad,” she says of connecting with this new wave of maternal child health advocates.  

Continuing to reflect back, Singer says, “Nothing has changed really.” 

Indigenous families continue to be challenged by the second highest maternal infant mortality rates among other health inequities.

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee.

Authors Lucy Truschel and Cristina Novoa point out in their piece American Indian and Alaska Native Maternal and Infant Mortality: Challenges and Opportunities

 “…Accessing…care and support… can be difficult for urban American Indians, who still feel the legacy of the United States’ historic mistreatment of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities—genocide, forced migration, and cultural erasure.** Today, the AI/AN community feels this legacy most acutely in problems like high rates of poverty, housing challenges, job discrimination, and social isolation. Research shows that such stressors take a toll on pregnant women’s health and increases the risk of both maternal and infant mortality.”  

Until recently, Singer says, these challenges have been largely ignored. But because the pandemic has grossly amplified many of these issues, Indigenous people and the challenges they face are getting harder to ignore, she explains.  

What’s more, there’s the issue of entities professing support, but their mission often falls short, Singer says. 

For instance, the Indian Health Service (IHS) has implemented breastfeeding promotion and support programming like adopting the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI). 

But Singer comments that hospitals tend to be more in tune with Western practices, and the institutions often fail to honor the preservation of traditional birth practices and ceremonies even though they advertise cultural preservation as one of their core commitments. 

“Isn’t birth where cultural preservation starts?” Singer wonders rhetorically. 

Fulfilling continuity of care is an issue too. There are very few home visiting programs available to families who live two to three hours away from the closest lactation support. 

During Indigenous Milk Medicine Week, Singer and colleagues will present Revitalizing Culture through Breastfeeding and Chestfeeding  which will go into further discussion of these absurdities. The presentation will  cover how cultural practices in breastfeeding have been interrupted by colonization and how we can contribute towards cultural revitalization in breastfeeding/ chestfeeding. Participants will be awarded 1.75 L-CERPs & 2 Contact Hours. 

Singer emphasizes the power of community-based organizations like the Navajo Breastfeeding Coalition as part of the web of support. 

“We adapt to what our community needs,” she explains. 

These community-based organizations can always use more funding. If you are interested in supporting the Navajo Breastfeeding Coalition’s mission, you can donate through their fiscal sponsor the New Mexico Foundation. Use the drop down menu to select “Dine Nation (Breastfeeding)”. 

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