Guest Post in Honor of Black Breastfeeding Week by Morgan White, Director, BEAP
Black women, once again, are finding their power in advocating for themselves when no one else will. The power in leaning on each other and on our communities. When we talk about breastfeeding for Black women in America – it’s three fold.
In the book “Skimmed: Breastfeeding, Race, and Injustice,” Andrea Freeman writes that one, there is something radical about Black breastfeeding when you understand the roots of it. Two, there is something just as righteous in not allowing the archaic definitions of what it looks like to be a “good Black mother” determine your breastfeeding journey. Three, too often we forget that we have a choice in the matter altogether.
Black Breastfeeding and Formula – History is Important
“The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” – Malcom X.
Since Slavery, Black women’s bodies have been used and experimented on and this was no different when it came to the baby formula industry as described in Freeman’s book. From her book, we learn about the “Fultz sisters” – the first-ever recorded set of Black quadruplets. They were experimented on and then exploited through race-based marketing, to sell baby formula to Black families.
A lifetime of work that left them with less than a few hundred dollars in their bank accounts by the time they graduated high school, the Fultz sisters were just one example of the many ways formula companies intended on securing the Black dollar.
Formula companies also profited from their relationship with the government. Freeman writes: “The U.S. government is the single largest purchaser of formula in the United States.” Through rebates from formula companies, the government is able to purchase formula at a cheaper price, and use that money to subsidize programs like WIC, which it uses to send out products like formula.
Black families disproportionately make up the majority of people on WIC and other forms of government assistance. Families stop receiving free formula after six months but by this time, many are reliant on it.
“The product allows many women to participate fully in the workforce – absent the structural support needed to make both working and breastfeeding possible. Formula is a 70 billion dollar industry first designed to help infants without access to breast milk – now serves as a common replacement to human milk,” Freeman writes.
These same families are now dependent on it and become routine purchasers. They then buy the products directly from the formula companies at higher prices which offsets government discounts and helps private companies continue to make more money.
Black Breastfeeding is a Superpower
It is the reclaiming of our bodies for our babies at the intersection of choice and resilience. It is telling the system no matter what I’m going to feed my baby with my body because that is my choice. Breastmilk provides your baby with nutrients like Vitamin C & D, it is full of immunoglobulins that protect babies against pneumonia, diarrhea, ear infections, SIDS and asthma among other things and it is always more beneficial health wise for baby.
We often hear moms share stories of not getting the right support, enough support or any support at all in wanting to breastfeed. We are here to remind you that you got this Queen. Your ancestors did this – you can too because the power is already in you. We encourage every birthing person to seek out the support of a doula, midwife, lactation consultant, mommy support group and anyone who will help you do exactly what you want to do as much as you can.
About the author:
As the Director of the Birth Equity Advocacy Project, Morgan White is putting her decade of government experience advocating for Civil Rights and Women and Children’s rights to incredible use as she leads a team focused on addressing and improving the birthing experience and health of Black women and babies.
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or postpartum and looking for culturally competent support, resources and care, join our community at MeetMae.com. We would be honored to be part of your journey!