Assistant Professor, Dr. Tisha Felder discusses her research project, Mocha Mamas Milk, and shares her personal breastfeeding experiences in celebration of Breastfeeding Awareness Month.
What is Breastfeeding Awareness Month?
Breastfeeding comes in many forms, including nursing, pumping, and chestfeeding. Public health guidelines state that infants should be exclusively breastfed for 6 months, and following the introduction of foods, continue breastfeeding for up to 12 months or beyond. August is recognized in the United States and across the world as Breastfeeding Awareness Month. Each week in August has a unique focus and annual theme:
- August 1-7: World Breastfeeding Week 2020: Support Breastfeeding for a Healthier Planet
- August 9-15: Native Breastfeeding Week 2020: Strong. Resilient. Latched.
- August 16-24: U.S. Breastfeeding Committee Spotlight on Infant and Young Children Feeding in Emergencies, including COVID-19.
- August 25-31: Black Breastfeeding Week 2020: Revive. Restore. Reclaim.
Why is it important to raise awareness about breastfeeding?
It is important for two reasons: First, human milk is powerful! Four babies are born every second in the world, and there are only two options for their first food at birth: formula or human milk (eg., breastmilk). While there are rare health reasons that prevent some parents from using human milk, human milk continues to be recommended as the ideal food for babies during their first year of life. Human milk—often referred to as “liquid gold”—is recommended because it is alive! It contains living cells, proteins, fats and vitamins that collectively fight off infections and promote healthy growth and development. The health benefits of breastfeeding also extend to the breastfeeding parent, such as reduced risk of diabetes and breast cancer.
Secondly, breastfeeding awareness is important because many parents who desire to breastfeed, face barriers that make it hard for them to provide this powerful nutrition to their babies. Many of these barriers, such as lack of knowledge, lack of support, and lack of workplace accommodation, are issues that can be targeted and addressed by public health and policy interventions. When human milk is not the preferred choice or an exclusive option for a family, infant formula is a healthy alternative.
What has your experience with breastfeeding been like?
It is often said, “Breastfeeding is natural but not easy.” That has definitely been true of my experience! I am a mother of 3, and my breastfeeding experience has been different with each child. For example, I exclusively breastfed my first child for 5 months, my second for 7 months, and my newest baby is currently 9 months and I am planning to continue breastfeeding her at least until her first birthday. With my older two children, I had limited knowledge about breastfeeding; this made returning to the workplace extremely stressful and challenging, even though I work in a supportive work environment! After the breastfeeding challenges I had with my second child, I became both personally and professionally motivated to learn and do more about enhancing breastfeeding in the African American community. That motivation led to research collaborations with Dr. Joynelle Jackson, including to our Mocha Mamas Milk (MMM®) breastfeeding education and support project funded by UofSC College of Nursing.
Having worked on the MMM project nearly two years before I had my newest baby, I had learned a lot about breastfeeding. Two key things I did differently with my current baby versus my other two children was I sought lactation support (early and multiple times!) and began storing human milk within two weeks of delivery. Despite feeling more prepared to breastfeed this time around, I still faced challenges (eg. pain, plugged ducts) that I had to persevere through. As we are currently facing the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been working from home since my baby was born, which has made breastfeeding more convenient.
What does Black Breastfeeding Week mean to you?
The word that comes to mind when I reflect on this recognition is empowering. The reasons for racial disparities in breastfeeding are rooted in historical (eg., wet nursing during slavery) and structural practices and processes (eg., racism) that systematically disadvantage African Americans. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the fact that African Americans are more likely to work in low wage jobs that do not allow them to work from home. These types of jobs are often also less likely to accommodate breastfeeding parents in the workplace. Black Breastfeeding Week is empowering because it allows us, as African Americans, to discuss our collective challenges, while simultaneously creating safe spaces to imagine ways to overcome them. This year, our MMM project will be hosting a virtual tea for local African American health workers (e.g., lactation consultants, doulas) and parents to discuss community breastfeeding needs and existing resources. This year’s theme, Revive. Restore. Reclaim., couldn’t be more fitting.