The numbers are sobering: African American babies are twice as likely to die before their first birthday than white infants.
Journalist and breastfeeding advocate Kimberly Seals Allers works for better survival and health of black infants through her website, MochaManual.com, and her on-the-ground campaign. A big focus is to give newborns more of what Allers calls the “first food”—breastmilk.
Studies consistently show that breastfeeding boosts the child’s immune system and reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which kills black infants twice as often. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control finds that 59 percent of black mothers have breastfed compared to 75 percent of white mothers. While the proportion has been increasing over the past decade, Allers remains diligent. “When I say breastfeeding is a life or death matter, this is what I mean,” she writes.
A nationally recognized coalition of breastfeeding advocates have dubbed August 25 through August 31 Black Breastfeeding Week. The coalition includes Allers, Kiddada Green, founder of the Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association, and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, co-founder of the Free to Breastfeed project.
Using social media as the main driver, organizers are hosting Twitter chats and live YouTube discussions to promote breastfeeding among African-American families and to examine cultural barriers that sometimes discourage African-American mothers. The entire week is anchored by the simple hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter.
“From our role as wet nurses in slavery being forced to breastfeed and nurture our slave owners’ children often to the detriment of our children,” Allers writes, “to the lack of mainstream role models and multi-generational support, to our own stereotyping within our community — we have a different dialogue around breastfeeding and it needs special attention.”