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Improving Birth by Celebrating Black Breastfeeding Week

I've experienced a fair amount of controversy as a blogger. I'm no stranger to defending my views with supportive statistics and personal passion. However, on Monday when I posted “Plus Mommy celebrates Black Breastfeeding Week!” and shared a picture from the Black Breastfeeding Week's Facebook page I didn't even consider I'd receive any backlash.

Sadly, I was so naïve.

Black woman and black son

Black Breastfeeding Week

Before I talk about what occurred on my Facebook page, I'd like to rewind back to the end of June when I attended the second annual Birth Activist Retreat.

At this retreat, I had my world rocked by an inspiring woman named Sherry Payne, founder of the Uzazi Village. Her talk was entitled “Birthing While Black” and she spoke in front of 40 female birth professionals from across the United States. 40 white women.

She shared startling statistics like how black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women and babies are twice as likely to die.

When a few women in the audience addressed their concerns about offending black women by speaking about these issues Sherry said, “Educate yourself about the problem. Approach with a sense of cultural humility and with an open heart.”

I remember writing these words down as she spoke them because I was so moved by what she was saying. She also talked about how we needed to sit with our discomfort and then move forward.

These shocking statistics aren't going to change unless people are willing to talk about them and then act.

As with any exciting experience within my life, I called my mom.

I shared with her everything Sherry taught me and I was excited to do better now that I knew better. See, I've always felt like I tried to reach out to other races but then I took a look at my breastfeeding gallery on the Plus Size Birth website. There were seventy-five photos and only three photos of black women nursing (two from the same woman).

I had tons of room for improvement.

Related: The Best Plus Size Nursing Bras And Plus Size Nursing Tanks

Fast-forward to this Monday. A friend of mine, on her personal Facebook page, shared a link to Black Breastfeeding Week. I saw it and wanted to share on Plus Mommy.

I know I would've shared this link regardless of my new knowledge but now I had, even more, passion about bringing awareness to the issues black women face with birth.

Immediately comments came pouring in from “why isn't there a White Breastfeeding Week” to accusations of me perpetuating the racial divide by sharing Black Breastfeeding Week.

I was shocked! As the minutes ticked by the comments only got worse.

I responded to the negativity by sharing the knowledge that Sherry had imparted to me in a third post. That didn't stop the attack on the first two posts.

While some women spoke out in defense of Black Breastfeeding Week I felt the need to respond even stronger.

Two hours after the original two posts I shared this;

“I guess I'm pretty ignorant because I didn't have a clue celebrating Black Breastfeeding Week would turn ugly. I'm saddened. Some people have left my community and I welcome anyone who isn't supportive of me sharing this to do the same.

I strive to improve birth outcomes and that's not going to happen unless we have an open and honest talk about why black women are 4 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. We know that breastfeeding decreases infant death rates and that black women are far less likely to breastfeed. This needs to be talked about. So if sharing Black Breastfeeding Week once a year is upsetting you then ignore the threads I posted or better yet remove yourself from my page.

What upsets me is women and babies dying because people aren't having this conversation.”

Related: 6 Things Every Plus Size Breastfeeding Mom Needs

My final response received over 100 comments and reached over 9,000 people.

Black Breastfeeding week was started by black women to bring awareness to heartbreaking statistics, celebrate those who choose to breastfeed, and most importantly to save lives.

A recent study by the CDC found that black women are the least likely to breastfeed and infant mortality rates could be reduced by as much as 50% if they did.

As a white woman, I have come to understand that when people look at me I receive a certain level of privilege because of the color of my skin. I can turn on the television, go to the movies, or open a magazine and see people of my race widely represented.

When I started Plus Size Birth I made it my mission to normalize plus size pregnancy and birth. My mission is incomplete without having women of all races properly represented within my work. What took place on Monday was a strong reminder of that.

If we really want to improve birth outcomes then we need to be willing to talk about and celebrate Black Breastfeeding Week. As Sherry said, we need to sit with our discomfort and move forward.

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Danielle

Thursday 18th of December 2014

Hi there- I am a mom/person of color and I just want to tell you kudos for writing this and standing with other black moms during black breastfeeding week. I think the fact that you formula fed and are not black makes it even more amazing.

It's funny because when I first saw black breastfeeding week, I was taken aback as well...because even though I consider myself informed about baby related things, I had no idea how the statistics broke down.

Danielle

Friday 29th of November 2013

I just stumbled across your blog (thank God) looking for advice on plus size baby wearing and felt so informed with the information provided. This prompted me to look at other posts. I am a young black woman about to have her second child, I breastfeed my first child and was always hard pressed, almost 3 years ago to find: a.) plus size women breastfeeding who could relate to my concerns and daily issues, b.) black women who supported the act of breastfeeding beyond the colustrum period. So, with that said, I appreciate you, I appreciate you as a beacon in the plus size community for seeing beyond your and your viewers comfort zone to help a woman like me! Not only are you helping me but through your choice to speak out, inform, and pass on and be apart of this movement, I can give more resources to my friends and family that are unaware and cannot comprehend the blessing and benefit that it is to breastfeed their children!

plussizebirth

Tuesday 24th of December 2013

Danielle, you wrote this message to me on my birthday without knowing it and I tell you it was one of the best gifts I could've received! Thank you!

Monisha

Thursday 3rd of October 2013

Jen,

First let me say this I am so proud of you!. As a black woman who chose to breastfeed both children, I agree that most black women choose not to breast feed. Out of all my black friends and family, maybe around 90% DID NOT breast feed. Back then I didn't look too much into it but as I am thinking about the issue and being a black woman myself I ask myself why? I can't help but to think that maybe other racially based statistics play apart in this astounding study the CDC did. For instance there are more single african american mothers having children these days; and having a husband or partner can make quite the difference in being able to manage breastfeeding. There are more caucasian stay at home mothers, again because their husbands or partners are able to work while mom gets to stay home and tend to her baby, making it a hell of of lot easier to go through the ups and downs of breast feeding a baby. I can go on and on about why I think these racial statistics play a huge part in the findings of this study and in no way am I saying all black women are all one way and all white woman are another I mean I was a single mother I chose to breastfeed so clearly I am not saying we ALL fall into those categories but I still believe these issues are affecting us as black women. I am however simply agreeing that the study calls for action to be made! We (black women) have not always been this way, I chose to breast feed my children just like my mother breast fed me and her mother breast fed her! Somewhere within the last few decades there has been a shift and we must do something to advocate and promote a change in these findings. I find it to be very sad that you received such negative feedback especially from a group of women who also are clearly "segregated" and placed into their own categories of being "plus- sized" or "big" and that being "plus-sized" meant somehow you weren't in "normal" condition to be a mother or to give birth!! We (mothers) come not only in all shapes in sizes but in all sorts of beautiful colors also. I applaud the work you are doing Jen and being your personal friend only makes it even better. I give you all my support in all your future endeavors my friend :)

plussizebirth

Thursday 3rd of October 2013

Thank you so much for sharing all that you did Mo! You also bring up a lot of important points and questions. I'll forever cherish our time spent talking about birth and babies. Let's do it again soon :)

Nae

Thursday 12th of September 2013

*Standing ovation* This is my first time visiting your blog - what a inspirational introduction! Thank you for your support of all women. I am looking forward to joining your community :)

plussizebirth

Thursday 12th of September 2013

Thank you Nae! It was an honor to take a stand for black breastfeeding week. I plan to be an ally far more often than once a year about this issue.

Kirsti Kreutzer

Tuesday 27th of August 2013

You are such an inspiration! Thank you, Jen, for all that you do for mamas and babies of every size, shape and color :)

plussizebirth

Tuesday 27th of August 2013

Wow thanks Kirsti!