August is National Breastfeeding Month, created to raise awareness about the importance of a “landscape of breastfeeding support”. The last week of the month is also recognized as Black Breastfeeding Week, a special focus that highlights the racial disparity between white and black breastfeeding rates—along with infant mortality and other health outcomes.

The Health Fund recently awarded a grant to the Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association to expand their doula program, and to celebrate Black Breastfeeding Week we spoke with founder and executive director Kiddada Green about the organization’s past, present, and future. Read on to learn from Green how BMBFA was hatched at a kitchen table, why she helped create Black Breastfeeding Week, and why they’re focusing on a doula program.

Black Mothers' Breastfeeding Association LogoThe history and mission of BMBFA

During the time that BMBFA’s founder, Kiddada Green nursed and mothered her first child, Anaiah, a passion for first food sparked. Throughout the time she spent nursing Anaiah, she quickly realized that there were very limited societal and social supports for breastfeeding mothers. She noticed that she had few people within her own family who could, through personal experience, connect with her breastfeeding stories, celebrate her breastfeeding triumphs or offer suggestions for her breastfeeding troubles.

She began to build a network of social support through personal friendships and Café Mom, a social media site. Through her experience and research, she realized that the lack of breastfeeding role models and multi-generational support was commonplace for black women—multitudes of historical, institutional, and social barriers block access to the first food for black babies.

Although she had built personal networks to triumph barriers and successfully breastfeed her child, Green believed that placing a woman in an environment of isolation and expecting for her to independently hurdle roadblocks was unfair. She decided to expand her personal networks and forge grassroots efforts to engage a community of mothers to eradicate racial disparities in breastfeeding rates. Thus, BMBFA was birthed at her kitchen table, with her mother, Doris Jordan, and aunt, Debbie Clark, as co-founders.

BMBFA’s signature program, the Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Club (BMBFC), launched in 2008 in Detroit. BMBFC is an opportunity for families to have mother-led fellowship and community supported conversations and about all things parenting and breastfeeding. BMBFC is now in two additional states, Louisiana and Maryland. For moms in remote areas or who have limited access to adequate breastfeeding support, BMBFA joined forces with the Mavin Foundation to provide virtual support through mobile technology.

The creation of Black Breastfeeding Week

As the ground began to swell nationally to reduce racial disparities in breastfeeding rates, Green joined forces with two other leaders in the field, Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka and Kimberly Seals Allers.  They are the co-creators for Black Breastfeeding Week, a nationally recognized celebration. We asked Green about the motivation behind creating Black Breastfeeding Week, and she gave us their top five reasons:

  1. The high black infant mortality rate – According to the CDC, increased breastfeeding among black women could dramatically reduce infant mortality rates.
  2. High rates of diet-related disease – Breast milk is more than a food.  It is preventative medicine used to reduce upper respiratory infections, ear infections, childhood obesity and more.
  3. Lack of diversity in lactation field – the few black lactation consultants that exist in the field means that black mothers are less likely to receive culturally appropriate support and care.
  4. Unique cultural barriers among black women – cultural nuances and historical trauma mean that black families need a different dialogue about breastfeeding behaviors.
  5. Desert-Like Conditions in Our Communities – first food deserts — a term  coined by Kimberly Seals Allers to describe conditions in many areas where women cannot access culturally relevant support for the best first food-breast milk.

The Community-based Doula Accreditation Program

In July, BMBFA received a $39,600 grant from the Health Fund to begin the pre-application process for HealthConnect One’s Community-based Doula Accreditation Program (CBDAP). Research like The Perinatal Evolution [PDF] shows that these programs play a critical role in improving maternal and child health in underserved birthing populations, and the accreditation process is designed to help HealthConnect One’s Community-based Doula replication sites systematically approach accreditation.

The Community-Based Doula Program is a unique, innovative program model that provides extended, intensive support to families throughout pregnancy, during labor and childbirth, and in the early months of parenting. The presence and involvement of the community-based doula at birth distinguishes this program from all other home visiting models. One significant factor: the community-based doulas are of and from the high-risk communities being served.

This program model combines culturally appropriate peer-to-peer support with a life course approach that focuses on the perinatal year and the early months of parenting, a sensitive period in which families have a unique openness to change, learning and growth. Green explained that this represents a new approach to perinatal support, one that makes good use of the power of relationships and the power of birth. Doula care shifts the power during labor and childbirth by providing mothers with information, tools, and confidence to speak up and advocate for the care, time, and attention they need.

Some of the most compelling findings from The Perinatal Evolution were the high breastfeeding rates and low cesarean section rates achieved by the Community-Based Doula Programs implementing this model. Women supported by a high quality Community-Based Doula Program breastfed their babies at dramatically higher rates, with women in the program sometimes breastfeeding at twice the rate of the comparison group, particularly black women, and young, low-income mothers. Green and BMBFA see the doula program as an ideal way to move their mission forward, and the Health Fund is proud to partner with them as they continue to work for the health of mothers and babies.

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