What is the significance of Black Breastfeeding Week?
Black Breastfeeding Week was originally designated in 2013 by nationally recognized breastfeeding advocates and Black maternal health trailblazers Kimberly Seals Allers, Kiddada Green, and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka. Since its inception, the campaign has been held annually from August 25-31 with the intention of raising awareness and empowering breast/chestfeeding persons within the Black community. Black Breastfeeding Week’s purpose is to close the racial disparity gap in breastfeeding rates while encouraging folks in the medical field to provide lactating mothers and birthing persons with the support and resources that they need to begin and stay the course throughout their breast/chestfeeding journey.
How does Black Breastfeeding Week tie into the objectives of the AAIMM Initiative?
In the United States, we are experiencing a Black maternal and Black infant health crisis. Black moms and babies are 3 to 4 times (and in some areas even 5-6) more likely to die during and after childbirth and during the first year of life than our white counterparts/white babies. The root cause is easy to identify: racism. The solution is not. Ending this disparity involves solutions that are comprehensive, far-reaching, and move beyond the category of a “Black problem” into where it belongs as a United States problem. Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), once said, “What if governments had a proven, cost-effective way to save babies’ lives, reduce rates of malnutrition, support children’s health, increase educational attainment and grow productivity? They do: It’s called breastfeeding. And it is one of the best investments nations can make in the lives and futures of their youngest members—and in the long-term strength of their societies.”
Black breast/chestfeeding specifically addresses the high rates of Black infant & maternal mortality. It is a tool available to us that we can (and do) use to offset the negative impact of stress that racism, experienced in this country, has on our bodies and those of our babies. It is resistance. It is beauty. It is raw. It is activism in its truest and purest form.
Facts: Breastfeeding decreases rates of ear infections, asthma, gastrointestinal infections, SIDS, Lower Respiratory infections, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity in babies/children and decreases rates of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, overweight/obesity, and Type 2 diabetes in lactating individuals.
Why does the campaign messaging say: “Breast/Chestfeeding”?
The terms "breastfeeding" and "chestfeeding" are used interchangeably and together to describe the action of feeding an infant human-milk. The term "chestfeeding" is offered as an alternate term for lactating persons that prefer not to use the term "breast" when referring to their own bodies. This is the AAIMM Prevention Initiative’s commitment to caring authentically about the wellbeing of all individuals and to inclusivity (adapted from BreastfeedLA).
How can non-breast/chestfeeding individuals support these efforts?
If you are a business owner with a brick and mortar location, you can provide a safe, comfortable, non-restroom location or accommodations for breast/chestfeeding individuals to feed their infants. This can be as simple as providing a comfy chair or as special as a separate nursing lounge or room for lactating individuals.
- For others, familiarize yourself with the laws around public breast/chestfeeding and breast/chestfeeding in the workplace or at school. Advocate for those for whom reasonable accommodations are not being made. Support breast/chestfeeding individuals by treating it as a normal activity—not something to be gawked at or questioned about. Remember, these are simply tiny humans taking in nutrition the same as larger humans do when they have meals. Ask yourself, how do you feel when someone stares at you while you’re eating?
- If you are a business owner with a brick and mortar location, you can provide a safe, comfortable, non-restroom location or accommodations for breast/chestfeeding individuals to feed their infants. This can be as simple as providing a comfy chair or as special as a separate nursing lounge or room for lactating individuals.
What are the current laws around public breast/chestfeeding? Is it illegal?
Public and private breast/chestfeeding is legal in all 50 states, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. While breast/chestfeeding is legal everywhere, it is our wish to also have it celebrated, supported, and welcomed everywhere.
What are the current laws regarding breast/chestfeeding at work and/or school and accommodations made for lactating individuals?
- Senate Bill 143 (SB-142) went into effect on January 1, 2020. In summary, it requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide lactating employees a safe, clean place to express milk (not a restroom). These accommodations must be in close proximity to your workspace, have at least a chair, electrical outlets, table for use, sink with running water, and refrigerator to store milk. If a refrigerator cannot be provided an employer may provide another cooling device suitable for storing milk, such as an employer-provided cooler. In addition to these accommodations, employers must include a lactation policy into their employee handbook. Companies with less than 50 employees can apply for exemption but are strongly encouraged to provide accommodations. Employers are also required to provide unpaid break periods to express milk; preferably coinciding with paid break times. Any business who violates any one of these is subject to a fine $100/day.
- Cal. Government Code § 12926 (2012) states it is unlawful to engage in specified discriminatory practices in employment or housing accommodations on the basis of sex. The law provides that, for purposes of the act, the term sex also includes breastfeeding or medical conditions related to breastfeeding.
(AB-2785) went into effect on September 30, 2018. It applies to the California Community College system, and California State University system. It ensures that lactating students are provided with access to a private and secure room on campus to pump and express milk to their children. Also given reasonable time to do so, and without penalty.
California requires require schools operated by a school district or a county office of education, the California School for the Deaf, the California School for the Blind, and charter schools to provide reasonable accommodations to a lactating pupil on a high school campus to express breast milk, breastfeed an infant child, or address other needs related to breastfeeding.
- California requires require schools operated by a school district or a county office of education, the California School for the Deaf, the California School for the Blind, and charter schools to provide reasonable accommodations to a lactating pupil on a high school campus to express breast milk, breastfeed an infant child, or address other needs related to breastfeeding.
- Cal. Penal Code § 4002.5 (2018) requires a County Sheriff, or the Administrator of a county jail, to develop and implement an infant and toddler breast milk feeding policy for lactating inmates detained or sentenced to a county jail that is based on accepted best practices (AB 2507).
- The state of California is one of 22 states that exempts breastfeeding mothers from jury duty or allows jury service to be postponed.
How can an employee respond to an employer if faced with hindrances to breast/chestfeeding?
Whether someone is a fast-food worker or sits at a desk in a corporate office, their rights are still the same. All too often, we feel as though we don’t have the right to speak up and advocate for ourselves. However, our voice and rights matter. Lactating individuals who are experiencing barriers to breast/chestfeeding at work can report their employer to the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Source: California Breastfeeding Coalition.
How to respond to harassment when breast/chestfeeding in public.
Try to remain calm, stand your ground, and remember your legal rights. Some find it helpful to print out a copy of their state’s breast/chestfeeding laws and have them handy to refer to in case of harassment. Being prepared when out in public in case of the need to breast/chestfeed by wearing easy-access clothing (nursing bra, nursing top or dress) when and if applicable can help the process in case there are no reasonable public accommodations. Keeping an extra nursing pillow in the car or taking one with you can also help in situations where there is no comfortable place to nurse.
If approached, first ask for clarity on what is being asked of you/said to you. Reiterate that it is your legal right to feed your baby in any public location, as it is the legal right of all lactating individuals in all 50 states. Here are some organizations that may provide additional information, resources, and support:
- March of Dimes
- Black Infants and Families & the AAIMM Prevention Initiative’s Black Breastfeeding Week Campaign Hub
What is the impact of breast/chestfeeding on infant and maternal health?
It’s good for physical health
Here are some key points from the March of Dimes about why breastfeeding is healthy for babies:
- Breast milk has hormones and the right amount of protein, sugar, fat and most vitamins to help babies grow and develop.
- Breast milk has antibodies that help protect babies from many illnesses. Antibodies are cells in the body that fight off infection. Breastfed babies have fewer health problems than babies who aren’t breastfed. For example, breastfed babies don’t have as many ear, lung or urinary tract infections. And later in life they’re less likely to be overweight or have asthma, certain cancers and diabetes (having too much sugar in the blood).
- Breast milk has fatty acids, like DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), that may help a baby's brain and eyes develop.
- Breastfeeding can reduce a baby’s risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is the unexplained death of a baby younger than 1 year old.
- Breast milk is easy to digest. A breastfed baby may have less gas and belly pain than a baby who is fed formula.
- Breast milk changes as a baby grows so they get exactly what they need at the right time. For example, for the first few days after giving birth, a mother/birthing person’s breasts make a thick, sticky, early form of breast milk called colostrum. Colostrum has nutrients and antibodies that a baby needs in the first few days of life. It changes to breast milk in 3 to 4 days.
It’s good for mental health
When the world is crazy, the breastfeeding journey reminds us to slow down, stop, rest, and rejuvenate. Our babies demand it. Breast/chestfeeding releases the hormones prolactin and oxytocin which are responsible for increasing milk production, promoting calm, increasing feelings of relaxation and encouraging bonding for both mom/individual and baby. No longer will we run ourselves into the ground to prove we are powerful. We are powerful even at rest. Breast/chestfeeding gives mothers/birthing persons and their babies permission to pause and reset.