Mom, Lactation and Infant Feeding Specialist, Doula
– Tanefer Camara
The reclamation of our history, culture and traditions is important in improving our health. We have to reclaim our traditions and look to our elders and ancestors for answers to healing. But it’s complicated, because the institution of slavery and the structural racism that continued after changed how we cared for ourselves and our community.
Today we have young moms who have never seen breastfeeding in their families. Their mothers have not breastfed, the grandmothers may not have breastfed and so on. That is the undoing of tradition and breakdown of an integral part of human development and maternal-child bonding. So we have to go further back in our family lines to find that we did breastfeed and in fact our breast, Black breast fed this nation.
We have an opportunity to educate the entire family. In some places, people will say things like, “Black women don’t breastfeed” and that’s absolutely not true. Black women do breastfeed. We have breastfed, but we may be a generation or two removed from it, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t start now where we are and we can educate the entire community around it.
Breast milk is your first line of defense. It’s your baby’s immune protection, it’s your baby’s nourishment, it’s your baby’s comfort. Breast milk has tremendous benefits to the mother: cardiovascular benefits, reducing the risks of reproductive cancers and diabetes. For mothers who are diabetic if they breastfeed, it helps lower and stabilizes blood sugar, so reducing progression from gestational diabetes to type 2 diabetes. These are the benefits of breast milk that we need to talk more about in our community.
We need to not only talk about the benefits of breastfeeding but what the risk of formula feeding is especially for preterm infants. Did you know that formula feeding increases the risk for necrotizing enterocolitis (a condition causing inflammation and tissue death of intestines) in preterm infants? It is also associated with an increased risk of asthma, allergies and ear infections. However, we often think these diseases are normal because they are so prevalent in our communities.
In the Black community, we’ve normalized certain illness in children and yes there are many other contributing factors such as environmental pathogens but even with that breastmilk still makes a huge difference. So breast milk, like I said, is our first line of defense in total health, healing and thriving.
As a lactation consultant, sometimes we find ourselves in this conundrum where we have all this evidence about the benefits of breastfeeding, but when that baby is in the NICU, you literally feel powerless because they’re like, “Oh no, the baby has to have this formula because they need the extra nutrients.”It’s also difficult for the parents because even if they planned to breastfeed many hospitals may make it extremely difficult to actually do. Parents may be told, breastfeeding will cause the baby to burn too many calories.
As a lactation consultant and as an advocate for families, I’m willing to challenge that. And I can back it with evidence, receipts, research, everything! I’m going to come well-equipped and I’m willing to be that advocate and fight that battle for my patients and my clients.