Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Breastfeeding Week: Reclaiming Our Tradition

AANHPI Breastfeeding Week’s official logo, art by To-wen’s 8-year-old son

August 15-21 marks an exciting milestone: the first nationwide Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Breastfeeding Week. To celebrate, Wendy Fung and To-wen Tseng shared their thoughts with us about AANHPI Breastfeeding Week. Both Wendy, a WIC supervisor, and To-wen, a TV reporter-turned-freelance writer, are founding members of the Asian Pacific Islander (API) Breastfeeding Task Force.

AANHPI Breastfeeding Week has been in the works since 2017, when the API Breastfeeding Task Force was started in Los Angeles. Through the advocacy of many individual volunteers and agencies, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors declared the third week of August 2020 to be API Breastfeeding Week. In just one year, advocates have brought the week to the entire United States.

Through AANHPI Breastfeeding Week, Wendy and To-wen hope to “raise awareness of breastfeeding and to combat breastfeeding stigma in AANHPI communities.” This year’s theme, Reclaiming Our Tradition, highlights the cultural shift in AANHPI communities toward viewing infant formula as superior to breast milk or as a sign of higher socioeconomic status. They explain, “while breastfeeding is traditionally a common practice in most Asian countries, Asian American women have been shown to introduce foods other than mother’s milk to their infants earlier than any other ethnic group, according to a 2016 study.” They are working to reclaim breastfeeding through the first six months of a baby’s life as the norm for the AANHPI community.

Another goal of the week is to “connect mothers and to form a sense of ‘village’.” The API Breastfeeding Task Force, in collaboration with PHFE WIC, has released a campaign with videos of AANHPI-descent mothers saying “I breastfeed” in their preferred language. Forming a sense of village is important because surveys indicate that more than 90% of new mothers feel lonely after the birth of their first child. “Through events like AANHPI Breastfeeding Week, we realize that none of us is alone.”

Wendy and To-wen remind parents that “this is YOUR week, so go ahead, make noise and show up. Breastfeeding parents and babies become healthier and build stronger bonding, one breastfeeding session at a time. So it’s worth celebrating, no matter how long you breastfed: one day, three months, or six years. This week, tell yourself and other breastfeeding parents in your life, “Good job!” You deserve it.”

To-wen says that one of the joys of AANHPI Breastfeeding Week is the ability to celebrate her own breastfeeding experience, as a mother of Asian descent who has breastfed two children for a total of five years. She goes on, “and celebration is always more fun when you celebrate with those who share the same experience and values with you!” Her family has even gotten involved in the celebration: her 8-year-old son designed this year’s logo for AANHPI Breastfeeding Week.

The work will not be done when the 2021 AANHPI Breastfeeding Week is over. Two of the biggest barriers to breastfeeding Wendy and To-wen have observed in the AANHPI community are aggressive marketing of infant formula and lack of cultural humility in lactation support. To continue the work, they invite lactation professionals “to recognize the AANHPI breastfeeding families they work with, to talk and listen to them with [an] open heart, to try to understand them and find out how to better support these families.”