Week three of National Breastfeeding Month #NBM18 is upon us! The United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) has declared this week Call to Action– Answering the Call: Everyone can help make breastfeeding easier.
Robert Alexander Lee’s, MA span of work, since the time he was a young boy to his advocacy work today, exemplifies how breastfeeding transcends discipline, age, gender, all categories in fact.
Lee is a former Baltimore Public School teacher currently working with ADK Strategy Group and WIC to expand breastfeeding initiatives and the organic proposition in the WIC food package.
The youngest of six, Lee remembers a childhood filled with caregiving duties.
“The first diaper I changed was when I was 11 years old,” he recalls. “It was one of those cloth diapers with the safety pins.”
From that point on, Lee was very involved in his niece and nephews’ lives.
When he was 18, his sister gave birth to twins, one of whom had special medical needs. While his sister spent time in the hospital, Lee stepped up to help take care of the other twin.
Later, Lee went to college with the intention of becoming a lawyer but found himself advocating for children as a public school teacher. Eventually this work led into his involvement with the National WIC Association where his trailblazing efforts helped bring fathers into the breastfeeding conversation.
During this time, Lee networked with Muswamba Mwamba, MS, MPH, IBCLC, RLC, former City of Dallas WIC Peer Dads Program Coordinator. Lee, Mwamba and other colleagues aspire to form a national men’s breastfeeding coalition in hopes to normalize breastfeeding and support women’s health.
Efforts to engage fathers and other male support people in meaningful conversations around women’s health have great impact, Lee says.
He recalls an encounter at the grocery store while wearing a breastfeeding t-shirt. A young male cashier laughed at the utterance of ‘breastfeeding’ displayed across his garment. Lee questioned his reaction and started a conversation about how babies are fed.
“When those conversations become as fluid as who won the Super Bowl, it brings a level of normalcy [to breastfeeding],” Lee explains.
Through this progression, conversations around policy become easier too.
“Once you have men in the political spectrum speaking alongside women, that’s when the whole change shifts,” he goes on. “It’s no longer the [sole] responsibility of the mother.”
Alongside fathers’ involvement, Lee advocates for sparking intergenerational conversations and aligning with parallel causes like breast cancer awareness and environmental advocacy.
“Move beyond the frame,” he says. “Always stand in your vision; always change things up.”
Reflecting on his journey through maternal child health advocacy, Lee says: “I didn’t know breastfeeding had a purpose in my life. This advocacy… it’s not work for me. I’m always smiling.”
He says working with this community of champions has given him the opportunity to become a better man, to have more empathy and become more ambidextrous with his thinking.
Nodding to an Oriah Mountain Dreamer poem, Invitation, Lee further celebrates his fortune.
“I am so honored and privileged especially that the women in this community have allowed me to be a brother to them; that they have allowed me into such a personal and private space,” he begins. “I take that privilege with the most humility and respect. My goal is to always work with men and little boys so they can learn to respect and honor women.”
Lee recently participated in a breastfeeding walk with the Bedford-Stuyvesant WIC Program. Find that story here.
He will present Mother’s Baby, Father’s Maybe? Honoring the Role Men Play in Breastfeeding Support and Promotion at the 25th Annual International Breastfeeding Conference in January 2019.