Tag: Kimberly Seals Allers

Guest Post: Looking to Eradicate Racial Disparities in Breastfeeding? Time to Bet on Black

In recent years, many innovative interventions have been implemented seeking to reduce the four-decades long racial disparity in breastfeeding rates. In 2011, the Surgeon General made a critical Call to Action, the National Institutes of Health and others have supported research on the topic, and many philanthropic organizations have offered generous funding to help alleviate the problem. These efforts have been key contributions to making small, incremental increases in improving African American breastfeeding rates in initiation and duration. I applaud that. But when it comes to the 6-month and 12-month exclusivity milestones, with the latter being the gold standard for infant nutrition, the gap between black and white rates still lingers at an unacceptable rate of 50%.

It’s time to Bet on Black—which is the theme for this year’s National Black Breastfeeding Week, August 25-31, celebrating its 5th anniversary this year. As researchers and other so-called experts seek to grapple with this tenacious issue—it’s time to turn to the black community for answers. Yes, the efforts of scientific research and evidence-based practices are very important, but we can’t discount the fact that these methods have only moved the needle but so far. Furthermore, for far too long, the black community has been defined by deficiencies—words such as disadvantaged are often used to describe low-income communities. But these words completely ignore the resilience, strength and experiential knowledge of communities of color. This language prevents us from turning to those most impacted as a partner in problem solving. This reeks of paternalistic models where one group seeks to “save” another, without ever acknowledging that perhaps that group has solutions to save itself but just needs to be supported to do so.

As one of the co-founders of Black Breastfeeding Week, I have also had first handf experience with betting on the black community. For the past three years, I have been a witness to community power as director of The First Food Friendly Community Initiative (3FCI), a pilot project in Detroit and Philadelphia, funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. While the work was complex, the mantra was simple, “Whatever the question, the answer is in the community.”

In our project, the community is the “expert” and the only source of so-called evidence-based research we seek to use. We believe that the local residents have the experiential knowledge, the historical context and lived experience to be the best change agents for creating breastfeeding supportive communities and we are there to simply leverage that innate potential. To be clear, we do not ask the residents to execute an idea created by a researcher, public health official or other so-called authority. During the three-day training of our proprietary curriculum, residents choose and design the interventions they think will work best and then execute it as part of a paid internship opportunity that also provides job skills training.

This unique model, combining community breastfeeding support with individual job skills training, allows us to also address one of the most stubborn barriers to breastfeeding continuation in marginalized communities —social stressors. Our unique community assessment in Detroit, revealed that mothers were stressed out about jobs and how they would provide for their families. Here’s something we have definitely learned from lactation science: chronically stressed out mothers cannot successfully breastfeed.

Empowered by our trust in their ability to lead the community change, our 3FCI interns in Detroit chose to target local businesses to make commitments, display ‘Breastfeeding is Welcome Here’ signage or sign a letter of support. Of the 57 establishments targeted for their work, including restaurants, churches and child care centers, 25 agreed to sign a letter of support for breastfeeding, 20 agreed to display the 3FCI decal (including one funeral home!) within their business, 5 agreed to designate space within their facilities to allow mothers to breastfeed, and 3 agreed to also display their 3FCI certificate. That’s a powerful community presence for all—while making breastfeeding more visible where moms eat, work, play and worship. Remember, these requests to businesses came from local residents who were consumers and customers of the establishments they visited. The request to support breastfeeding came from their neighbors not strangers.

Yes, we can Bet on Black—we can turn to black communities and those from the black community for solutions for closing the breastfeeding gap. We can trust black communities and their residents to save themselves—our role is to figure out how we can offer the resources they need and get out of the way! We can change our language of lacks to a language of strength and capacity. We can all bet on black. As my co-founder, Kiddada Green, of Black Mother’s Breastfeeding Association says, “When we bet on black, we are all winning.”

Black Breastfeeding Week is a week-long, national celebration to increase awareness of breastfeeding as a key element of improving infant and maternal health outcomes in the black community. The week will feature over 60 community events and daily social media events. Get all the updates on the BBW Facebook page and on BlackBreastfeedingWeek.org.

Kimberly Seals Allers is an award-winning journalist and nationally recognized advocate for infant and maternal health. A former writer at Fortune and senior editor at Essence, she is the author of The Big Letdown—How Medicine, Big Business and Feminism Undermine Breastfeeding(St. Martin’s Press). A former Food & Community Fellow with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Kimberly is a divorced mother of two who lives in New York. Learn more at www.KimberlySealsAllers.com and follow her on Twitter at @iamKSealsAllers.

Guest Post – Facts Not Fear: Protecting the One Place Where Fear Does Not Belong

We live in a world of fear. From the recent terrorist attacks in England to last year’s Orlando nightclub massacre. We have seen how the fear of outsiders has sparked powerful political movements around the world. As a frequent business traveler I sense my own anxiety as I sit on planes and trains, and as a mother I know the feeling that sweeps over me whenever I receive an incoming phone call from my children’s school.

Yes, we live in times of fear and anxiety—much of which is beyond our control.

But there is one place where fear should not exist. There is one area, where, as women and mothers, that we should insist that fear not enter—that is in the precious act of feeding our babies. From the time they are first placed in our arms, we are anxious that we will do our best. Yes, we are nervous that we will make mistakes. But we should not be made to dread our ability to mother—particularly when it comes to feeding our infants—one of our very first tasks.

That’s why a recent spate of fear-based marketing, particularly from the Fed Is Best Foundation, stoking fears that exclusive breastfeeding kills babies is both erroneous and irresponsible. But it is also the type of insidious marketing that preys on a mother’s existing insecurities that should make all women concerned. If the only way Fed Is Best can make its point is by sensationalizing infant deaths and undermining our confidence in our bodies—then maybe their point needs to be carefully considered.

Or, as women, we insist that they make it with valid facts and sans the fear mongering.

Let’s face it, women are sold fear and anxiety as a marketing tool every day. In fact, the strategy, officially known in business circles as FUD—fear, uncertainty and doubt—was designed by an IBM executive decades ago to persuade buyers to feel “safe” with IBM products rather than risk a crash, virus or server disruption. By the early 90’s it was generalized to refer to any kind of misinformation used as a competitive weapon.

Today, weaponizing fear takes many forms. We fear our faces aren’t pretty enough, so we buy cosmetics. We worry that our body isn’t the right “type” so we are sold diet plans and surgical procedures. We are told our hair isn’t shiny, bouncy or thick enough so we are sold multitudinous hair products. And then we are told to fear that our bodies may not properly do what they are biologically made to do, and we are sold infant formula.

The truth is, our bodies were uniquely made to feed the infants we create. Decades of scientific research proves that formula is nutritionally inferior to breastmilk. Admittedly, societal pressures, structural barriers such as a lack of paid maternity leave, and physicians who receive little to no training in lactation science in medical school, make it very difficult for some women to fulfill their biological norm. Many women who want to breastfeed find undereducated physicians and nurses and limited post-natal support—particularly in the early days after discharge. We have much to overcome.

To be clear, infant formula is necessary. When a mother’s own breastmilk or human donor milk is not available, then infant formula is an important third option that can, at times, save lives. However, women should come to that decision fully informed, not because of marketing efforts designed to incite distrust in their own bodies or threatened with the fear of the death of their infant.

It’s no secret that, especially in the Western world, women already fear they will have insufficient milk. For some, this fear can become a self-fulfilling prophecy because fear and anxiety can literally limit lactation by stifling the letdown reflux that stimulates the milk glands. Feeding into this insecurity by promoting early formula supplementation “just in case” has been a go-to move by the formula industry for years.

As far back as the 1940s, the manufacturers of Borden KLIM evaporated milk ran a radio jingle in the Congo that stoked mother’s fears over insufficient milk. The song went:

The Child is going to die
Because the mother’s milk has given out
Mama o Mama the child cries
If you want your child to get well
Give it KLIM milk

So when Fed Is Best frequently promotes eerily similar headlines claiming, “One bottle would have saved my baby”—it seems to make early supplementation innocuous, while deploying a similar tactic used to spur sales of infant formula. The insidious message is that your breast cannot be trusted but a bottle can—this type of marketing should concern all women.

Instead of fear, we should demand the facts about why physicians and nurses don’t have more education to properly identify lactation dysfunction or failure. We should demand knowledge about other options to increase milk output such as hand expression, which can extract more milk than a pump. If formula must be used, it should be administered as a temporary bridge until a mother’s supply is established, not a breastfeeding killer for mothers who want to nurse. And we should demand standard home visitation immediately after discharge, as is the practice in the UK and other European countries.

Ultimately, women deserve facts not fear. Women have a right to guilt-free, confidence-building information and support. And it’s time that we demand it of everyone—including, and especially, from those claiming to support mothers. We cannot stand by while Fed Is Best insists that fear is best.

Kimberly Seals Allers is an award-winning journalist and nationally recognized infant health advocate. Her fifth book, The Big Letdown—How Medicine, Big Business and Feminism Undermine Breastfeeding was released in January by St. Martin’s Press. Learn more at www.KimberlySealsAllers.com and follow her on Twitter @iamKSealsAllers.