LCTC participant fueled by daughter’s poor experiences

Shipley pictured with her grandchild.

As Tanya Shipley, a recent Accessing the Milky Way scholarship awardee, shares her experience working through the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) thus far, I sense both enthusiasm and relief.

“I love it!” Shipley exclaims. “I am learning so much stuff, oh my gosh, I love it. I  am just in awe.”

She goes on to explain that while she has always been interested in women’s health and wellness, she only became interested in maternal child health after her 35-year-old daughter’s pregnancy and birth this year.

Not unlike many women, and especially BIPOC women, Shipley’s daughter did not receive competent lactation care in the hospital.

“She was really bummed about it,” Shipley begins. “When she got home, she was having issues because she thought that she wasn’t producing enough milk. She felt like she let the baby down.”

Shipley blames some of what was lacking on her “own ignorance” as the grandmother.

At one point Shipley recalls suggesting: “Why don’t you just [give the baby] a little formula right now because she’s hungry.”

“It bothers me today because everything I am learning now,” Shipley reflects.  “It didn’t have to be that way.”

Shipley circles back to how much she is learning through the LCTC. This is where I hear a sense of relief in her tone; she is now well-equipped to share the knowledge she gains with not only new families but women her age, so that they can help their children, as she explains. It’s well-known that grandmothers have the capacity to influence exclusive breastfeeding. [More here and here.]

“After I finish a module,  I will call my daughter and I will share with her some of the things I am learning,” Shipley says.

Shipley recently left the entertainment industry and started volunteering for the Happy Mama Health Baby Alliance and Joy in Birthing Foundation. She also completed a birth doula workshop and finds herself exploring where she can make the biggest impact. She’s considering starting her own non-profit and providing lactation care in the hospital setting, fueled by the lack of care that her daughter received.

You can read more about grandmothers’ influence on infant feeding in For many, grandmothers are the village.

Understanding value and accessing capital in Black maternal health

In Kimberly Jones’s 2020 viral video, How can we win, which comments on looting during the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, she asks us to consider the why behind peoples’ actions. To explain, she delves into an economic history of Black people in America and the ways in which capitalism and racism are messily entangled.

Capitalism was one of the first ideas acknowledged during opening remarks at the Black Birth Maternal & Infant Health Symposium at Saint Kate- The Arts Hotel in Milwaukee, Wis. last month.

Photo by Anna Shvets

Geraud Blanks, Chief Innovation Officer for Milwaukee Film and one of the organizers of the event, thanked all of the sponsors who showed up.

“Accessibility is the key to inclusion,” Blanks said. The Black Birth Symposium was completely free to participants including parking, lunch and the space.

Blanks went on to share feedback from a 2022 Black Birth Symposium participant, driving home the importance of investment. It read: “I really hope all the medical facilities get on board with this event. They say that this is the most important issue impacting Black women but I didn’t see everyone at the event. Our community watches to see who puts their money where their mouth is. This also helps build trust in our communities. We don’t need another billboard ad, we need your dollars to go to events like this that really make an impact in our communities. We are watching.”

The thread of capitalism held through the keynote conversation with Tiffany Green, PhD, Assistant Professor Population Health Sciences and Obstetrics & Gynecology at UW-Madison and Jeanette Kowalik, PhD, MPH, MCHES, president and owner of Jael Solutions Consulting Services, LLC.

Dr. Green urged Black and Brown individuals to understand their value.

Photo by nappy on Pexels

The Center for American Progress’s piece Women of Color and the Wage Gap points out that, “When looking at women’s wages across broad racial and ethnic categories among full-time, year-round workers, Hispanic women experience the largest pay gap, having earned just 57 cents for every $1 earned by white, non-Hispanic men in 2020.  Black women also experience wide pay gaps, with data on Black women alone revealing that—despite consistently having some of the highest labor force participation rates—they earned just 64 cents for every $1 earned by white, non-Hispanic men in 2020. This number dips slightly to 63 cents, reflecting a slightly larger wage gap, when data on multiracial Black women—meaning Black women who also identify with another racial category—are included in the analysis.”

With these inequities in mind, Dr. Green and Dr. Kowalik acknowledged the difficulty in accessing capital, for both individuals and grassroots organizations.

Dr. Green asked participants to consider not giving away their knowledge. You are a part of the community; how can you take care of the community if you’re not taking care of yourself, she posed. Ask for what you are worth, she further advised.

In the arena of maternal child health research, Dr. Green explained that it is well within reason to ask hard questions to funders and leaders like: What is the budget for this grant? What problems are you addressing? Are you stigmatizing the community? May I co-author or co-create?

Photo by Christina Morillo

An audience participant brought up the phenomena of large funding institutions being insular and wondered who holds them accountable. What is the metric? she wondered.

“Folks like us… with our boots on the ground… doing this work every day, have to fight and jockey to keep ourselves alive,” she pointed out.

The authors of First, Do No Harm: Why Philanthropy Needs to Re-Examine Its Role in Reproductive Equity and Racial Justice address ways in which funders can “embody the equity they aspire to see and build through the operationalization of cultural rigor to advance structural equity and racial justice and to sustain community engagement in research.”

Building upon her previous comment, the participant added that spirituality and emotional intelligence are not valued in science. She called on us to “restore ancient knowledge”, to “transform and decolonize what we consider competence”, and to “honor the people who brought their lived experiences.”

Dr. Kowalik applauded the work of The Birth Justice Fund – Rapid Response Fund (BJF-RRF), an organization addressing the challenges in accessing capital in under-resourced communities. BJF-RRF is a three- year opportunity to advance community power efforts led by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) birth justice (BJ) organizations to address implicit bias and structural racism and their impact on maternal and infant morbidity and mortality. The second wave of funding opens this month. Apply here.

Dr. Greene said, “Black scholars need a seat at the table. When you have the lived experience, you ask the right questions. That’s what makes the science better.”

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee.

The authors of Achieving Breastfeeding Equity and Justice in Black Communities: Past, Present, and Future echo Greene’s call and write that “public health and policy priorities need to center on listening to Black women, and funding Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) organizations and researchers conducting innovative projects and research.”

More to explore on the intersection between racism, capitalism and research in maternal child health 

‘Full pandemic mama’ becomes full spectrum doula

Allysa Singer was, as she describes, a “full pandemic mama.” Singer became pregnant with her first child in the winter of 2019. As she became aware of the threats and the consequences of COVID-19, she started researching her options and her rights in the delivery room she’d find herself in August 2020.

What started as personal preparation– How many support people would she be allowed? Would she be allowed a support person at all? What restrictions would she encounter? How could she advocate for herself? What were her options?–  propelled her into a world of birth support and autonomy advocacy.

“I was just dumbfounded by the disparities that exist in maternal health,” Singer begins.

In 2020, Alabama, where Singer and her family live, had the third-highest Maternal Mortality Rate in the nation, at 36.4 per 100,000 live births.

BIPOC families suffer from massive disparities in maternal and infant deaths. In a recent piece, Childbirth Is Deadlier for Black Families Even When They’re Rich, Expansive Study Finds, Tiffany L. Green, an economist focused on public health and obstetrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is quoted: “It’s not race, it’s racism…The data are quite clear that this isn’t about biology. This is about the environments where we live, where we work, where we play, where we sleep.”

Still, unlike so many of her peers, Singer reports having had an amazing birth experience.

Inundated by birth horror stories, she decided to change care at 27 weeks in hopes that she would be better supported in her choices at a different institution.

Here, she was allowed a doula and support person to accompany her during her birth.

“Not a lot of women had that luxury,” Singer comments.

Knowing well that birth support is a right and not a luxury, she started her own doula practice in December 2021. 

Singer shares that she experienced severe postpartum depression, but she was able to divert and ultimately reshape this energy into her doula work.

“My doula training was the lifeboat that saved me from drowning in my PPD,” she says.

And now her practice, Faith to Fruition, has become the lifeboat for many of the birthing people Singer supports.

She shares: “I don’t believe that a birther’s desire to have more children should be dictated by their birthing experience. I have heard so many stories from people who had one kid but say, ‘I would never do this again because my experience was so traumatic.’ One of my biggest missions and goals is to support birthers to feel empowered in their process; not as bystanders of their process.”

Singer also holds a full time position as an industrial psychologist where she channels her advocacy work, pushing for organizational change and understanding of proper maternal support.

In fact, as part of a public speaking course for a training curriculum, Singer presented on why it’s important to support breastfeeding. She reports that her audience of roughly 25 was engaged, especially as she pointed out the absurdities of infant feeding culture in our country: How would you feel if I asked you to eat your meal in the bathroom? How would you like to eat with a blanket tossed over your head? for instance.

Singer also points out the “insanely amazing public health outcomes” breastfeeding affords.

If 90 percent of U.S. babies were exclusively breastfed for six months, the United States would save $13 billion per year and prevent an excess 911 deaths, nearly all of which would be in infants ($10.5 billion and 741 deaths at 80% compliance). [Bartick, Reinhold, 2010]

“Not only is there a personal investment, there is a public investment and value to understanding the larger implications,” Singer comments. “As a taxpayer, [breastfeeding] impacts you; as someone who utilizes our healthcare system, [breastfeeding] impacts you.”

With the recent passing of the PUMP Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act coming soon, Singer says “We still have a long way to go.”

Organizational policy doesn’t support motherhood; instead it fuels detached parenting which goes against nature, Singer goes on.

“Mothers feel the brunt of that more than ever,” she says.  “[We aren’t] supported to be able to care for our children the way that we want to.”

Singer says she sees it as her mission as an organizational psychologist to encourage change that supports parenthood, so that women don’t feel threatened to care for their children the way that they want to. This means ensuring that women are provided with ample space to pump their milk while away from their babies and empowering them to approach HR when there aren’t appropriate accommodations.

“Outside forces shouldn’t be able to dictate how you care for and feed your child. The end of one’s breastfeeding journey should be a personal decision.”

She continues, “It’s amazing that legislation is catching up. The thing that I fear with any law, there are still people behind those laws that have to enforce them and carry them out. Education and garnishing an understanding of what this looks like is a key component to implementation. The people behind those policies have to make them successful, but this is  moving things into a very good direction, and I hope that more changes to legislation follow suit, especially with paid parental leave. It’s a catalyst for change; I am hopeful but cautiously optimistic.”

Singer says she owes her personal success continuing to breastfeed her two-and-a-half year old to Chocolate Milk Mommies, where she now serves as a board member.

Through Chocolate Milk Mommies, Singer started a subcommittee to focus on education for individuals within the breastfeeder’s support system.

“The people in the village need to be supportive. When you don’t know better, you can’t do better,” she explains.

Singer recently completed the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) as part of Chocolate Milk Mommies’ mission to best support their constituents and as a way to benefit her doula clients with more well-rounded support.

“I really loved the training because I already thought that our bodies are amazing, but learning more science was great. I would text my friends the ‘Boobie Fact of the Day’,” Singer shares. “[The science] allows me to really appreciate my journey that much more and how impactful I’m being with my daughter.”

You can follow Singer’s work here and here.

Breastfeeding is food sovereignty. Breastfeeding is health equity. Breastfeeding is healing.

–This post is part of our 10-year anniversary series “Breastfeeding is…”

Breastfeeding is food sovereignty. Breastfeeding is health equity. Breastfeeding is healing.

Breastfeeding is a “weapon of mass construction”, a phrase coined by Camie Jae Goldhammer, MSW, LICSW, IBCLC, (Sisseton-Wahpeton).

In her Reclaiming the Tradition of Breastfeeding: the Foundation of a Nation webinar, Goldhammer describes how breastfeeding has the power to heal those suffering the effects of generational trauma, specifically through the release of oxytocin, subsequently allowing mothers and their babies to feel empowered and independent.

Photo by Luiza Braun

Kathleen Kendall Tackett’s work also illuminates how breastfeeding can heal trauma. Her videos, How Birth Trauma Affects Breastfeeding and Breastfeeding Can Heal Birth Trauma and Breastfeeding’s Healing Impact on Sexual Assault Trauma discuss the mechanisms behind why and how breastfeeding can be helpful for trauma survivors. Essentially, breastfeeding allows for the down regulation of stress responses, specifically adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol, and similar to exercise, improves maternal mood, decreases the risk of depression, decreases hostility, and improves the mother infant bond.

Jennie Toland, BSN, RN, CLC offers commentary on the role lactation care providers play in offering trauma-informed care in this piece.

This Invisibila episode, Therapy Ghostbusters, shares the incredible story of how a Cambodian practitioner worked to help heal an entire community from generational trauma. It took him over a year to simply earn individuals’ trust.

“…That’s pretty unique,” the podcast hosts point out and offers insight into how our nation approaches care for individuals with specific mental health needs and cultural considerations.

Goldhammer quotes Round Rock elder Annie Kahn:  “When a mother nurses her baby, she is giving that child her name, her story and her life’s song. A nursed baby will grow to be strong in body, mind and spirit.”

This connection to the past that Kahn refers to, also offers a form of healing. Breastfeeding is an example of Indigenous food sovereignty, “a part of living culture” and facilitates the revitalization of traditional knowledge. (Cidro, et al 2018)

The revitalization of breastfeeding spans the Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) experience and is a channel to champion equity.

Ifeyinwa V. Asiodu,  Kimarie Bugg,  and Aunchalee E.L. Palmquist write in Achieving Breastfeeding Equity and Justice in Black Communities: Past, Present, and Future:

“Breastfeeding is an especially important public health issue in Black communities, particularly given that Black families and communities continue to experience the highest burden related to poor maternal and infant health outcomes, including higher incidence of preterm birth, low birth weight, maternal mortality and morbidity, infant mortality, and lower breastfeeding rates. Owing to lifetime exposure of racism, bias, and stress, Black women experience higher rates of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and aggressive breast cancer. Given that cardiovascular disease and postpartum hemorrhage are leading causes of maternal mortality and morbidity, increasing breastfeeding rates among Black women can potentially save lives.”

Photo by Emily Finch

More specifically, 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.

It has been found that higher anxiety scores and inflammation are associated with shorter telomere length.

Because physical and psychological stressors trigger the inflammatory response system, one way to counter this reaction is by supporting ongoing breastfeeding relationships; when breastfeeding is going well, it protects mothers from stress. (Kendall-Tackett, 2007)

Another study found that early exclusive breastfeeding is associated with longer telomeres in children.

Photo by Luiza Braun

The authors of Achieving Breastfeeding Equity and Justice in Black Communities: Past, Present, and Future continue, “Yet breastfeeding is rarely seen as a women’s health, reproductive health, or a public health strategy to address or reduce maternal mortality and morbidity in the U.S. Inequities in lactation support and breastfeeding education exacerbate health inequities experienced by Black women, specifically maternal mortality and morbidity, and thus a greater investment in perinatal lactation and breastfeeding education and resources is warranted. Breastfeeding is an essential part of women’s reproductive health.”

Journalist and maternal child health advocate Kimberly Seals Allers’ approach is one “For Black people, from Black people.”

“…The call to revive, restore and reclaim Black breastfeeding is an internal call to action,” Kimberly Seals Allers begins in Black Breastfeeding Is a Racial Equity Issue.  “… Breastfeeding is our social justice movement as we declare the health and vitality of our infants as critical to the health and vitality of our communities.”

Specifically through her work with Narrative Nation, Seals Allers and colleagues are promoting health equity “by democratizing how the story of health disparities is told,” centering BIPOC voices. Additionally, through her Birthright podcast, KSA uplifts stories of  joy and healing in Black birth.

Especially after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, organizations made statements about their commitments to dismantling structural racism and focusing efforts on equity.

Equity has become a buzzword; in fact, one author brands the sentiment “Fakequity”. This year, United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) National Conference and Convening presenters expressed their fatigue with the word.

“We want to see action,” they said.

Nikki & Nikki LIVE offer their Allies, Advocates and Activists Equity in Lactation webinar which covers the meaning of equitable in lactation care, how to show up for the marginalized and how to make a lasting impact.

In other efforts, the CDC has identified breastfeeding as a priority area to address health inequities.

Photo by Luiza Braun

NICHQ’s Achieving Breastfeeding Equity campaign also focuses on closing breastfeeding disparity gaps, viewing their efforts through an equity lens.

Director of policy and partnerships at the National Women’s Health Network Denys Symonette Mitchell offers commentary on a way forward with key policies that will ensure investment in breastfeeding to ultimately advance health equity.

Watch Racism and the Colonial Roots of Gendered Language in Public Health and Biomedicine with Dr. Aunchalee Palmquist, PhD, IBCLC for more on these issues.  

 

——–

As part of our celebration, we are giving away an online learning module with contact hours each week. Here’s how to enter into the drawings:

Email info@ourmilkyway.org with your name and “OMW is 10” in the subject line.

This week, in the body of the email, tell us about how you are contributing to working toward healthy equity.

Subsequent weeks will have a different prompt in the blog post.

We will conduct a new drawing each week over the 10-week period.  Please email separately each week to be entered in the drawing. You may only win once. If your name is drawn, we will email a link with access to the learning module. The winner of the final week will score a grand finale swag bag.

Supporting Black breastfeeding in Wichita Metro Area

Joyea Marshall-Crowley, CBS, Protect Yourself, Protect Your Baby Program Coordinator with the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition (KBC) and coalition coordinator at the Wichita Black Breastfeeding Coalition (WBBC) had a wonderful perinatal experience in Dayton, Ohio. She shared her pregnancy and labor and delivery stories on social media, specifically advocating for midwifery care, sparking curiosities and starting conversations among her friends.

When she moved  back to her hometown of Wichita, Kansas though, she realized that the health options available were lacking. 

“Those options were not offered, spoken about, or supported,” Marshall-Crowley begins. “Since then, I pride myself on letting women know they have choices and are in control of their maternal healthcare.” 

Marshall-Crowley’s management of “Protect Yourself, Protect Your Baby” helps provide pregnant and breastfeeding mothers of color with accurate information about the COVID-19 vaccine. The focus of this project is to create a safe space to talk about vaccine hesitancies. The project includes healthcare experts of color who understand that these hesitancies come from trauma and historical incidents within the healthcare system, Marshall-Crowley explains.  You can find more information here: https://ksbreastfeeding.org/covid-19-vaccine-awareness/

 

WBBC formed relatively early on in the pandemic. With everything shut down, Marshall-Crowley noticed that people were in a state of being still and listening. On top of that, more babies were being born, and mothers were interested in finding ways to keep their babies safe from COVID which led them to research and take more interest in breastfeeding. 

WBBC is one of over 20 HealthConnect One’s First Food Equity project organizations supported in their efforts to rollout community-based projects by BIPOC leaders. [https://www.healthconnectone.org/feature-supporting-black-breastfeeding-in-wichita/

From this funding, the #LatchedLegacy project came about. 

Marshall-Crowley and other supporters uplift mothers with lactation and breastfeeding information and supplies.

“We are most proud of being a representation for women of color regarding breastfeeding support,” Marshall-Crowley shares. 

WBBC has engaged in many community events this summer like The Rudy Love Music Festival, Fiesta Mexicana of Topeka, Rock the Block, and Juneteenth celebrations just to name a few.  

Marshall-Crowley shares that they have received excellent feedback from the community and have been thanked many times for doing this work for the black and brown communities. 

She goes on, “Since the pandemic, social media has highlighted maternal healthcare for black and brown women, and breastfeeding has entered into those conversations. The culture is undoubtedly changing and starting to include breastfeeding as a first choice for infant feeding. For Wichita specifically, there have been changes like the formation of the coalition and the creation of the “Wichita Birth Justice Society,” which highlights maternal healthcare in a full circle. As a result, women of color in our community are feeling more supported and interested in owning their own maternal health experiences.” 

When WBBC started, there were no credentials in lactation within the group, Marshall-Crowley reports. Since spring though, they’ve added two certified breastfeeding specialists (CBS) working towards their IBCLC, three doula-trained workers, three Chocolate Milk Café trained facilitators, and two in the works of getting their midwifery license. 

“Our vision is to become the resource and information where Black women can seek help from the coalition, people who look like them and do not have to be outsourced because of ‘credentials,’” Marshall-Crowley stated in the coalition’s HealthConnect One feature

What’s more, the KBC accepted two of their members to the Color-Filled BF Clinical Lactation Program, so that list of credentials within the coalition will soon be updated further.

Marshall-Crowley was honored as one of USBC’s Cultural Changemaker awardees this year. 

You can follow WBBC’s activity on Facebook here