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Posted by on in Diversity in Breastfeeding

Reaching our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE) holds an annual Summit to engage and educate breastfeeding leaders who are on the front lines of supporting families in their communities.  Breastfeeding rates amongst Black and Latinx families are lower than their white counterparts.  https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/data/reportcard.htm and https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/resources/breastfeeding-trends.htm

This year’s theme was achieving health equity through breastfeeding

NAPPLSC sponsored a “retreat” prior to the ROSE summit.  A retreat sounds nice, right?  Discussing real issues facing our communities, being inspired, maybe some self-care involved for lactation support providers.  The event was called the Amazing R.A.C.E.: Rejuvenating A Community of Excellence.   I should have realized that it would not be what I envisioned, when the organizers told us to wear comfortable shoes!

Teams were randomly chosen and we were told to get to know each other quickly because we would need all the skill sets of our members, to succeed.  The goal was to come up with an innovative program to support breastfeeding families.  To brainstorm, create a vision, operationalize and implement with measurable outcomes. Final presentation was the next day. 

Five people in our group with many years of serving breastfeeding families, this project should have been a piece of cake.  HOWEVER, the organizers found creative ways to get us out into the city.  They would tempt us with additional funding if we won a contest.   They would provide a clue via Facebook LIVE.  Our team would need to figure out where the next grant opportunity announcement would be presented, and RUN to that location.  To win the funding for the mini-grant, we had to create and upload social media videos, MEMEs or participate in a spoken word competition.   Clues were given at all times of the day and night. Therefore, we had to break up into smaller groups to sleep or work on creating those products to win contests.

This experience was a real-life example of how challenging writing grants to fund breastfeeding projects can be.  We don’t live in a bubble and exclusively write grants.  We have work responsibilities, family

obligations and LIFE.  While this event was completely different than what I expected, I had a good time getting to know others from around the country.  To listen to each other, add our skill sets and background to create a fantastic final presentation.  I can’t wait to see what NAPPLSC will create next year.  I hope to see you ALL there!

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Rounding out our series on the landscape of breastfeeding in the US, we’re shifting our focus northward to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We’ll quickly assess the challenges that exist, then highlight a lactation support group that is working to close gaps and reach families in innovative ways.


According to the CDC’s Breastfeeding Scorecard, northern states are trending remarkably well in the measures that are tracked. With the exception of Wisconsin and Michigan, all northern states are outpacing total US are on pace to continue doing so. Overall, Wisconsin is very close to hitting the HP markers, and is on pace to do so by 2020. The state is outpacing total US in every breastfeeding measure except initiation, where it is within 1 percentage point of total US and within 2 points of the Healthy People 2020 goal. The clearer picture emerges as we look at the breastfeeding support measure. Wisconsin lags significantly in almost every measure of support. As we’ve noted in earlier segments of this series, one of the major contributors to a state’s success or lack of success lies within its underrepresented communities and the efforts to close gaps in breastfeeding initiation, duration, education and support within specific swaths of residents. In the case of Wisconsin, we can find exactly that in the efforts of Dalvery Blackwell and the African American Breastfeeding Network (AABN).


Based in Milwaukee, the AABN has enjoyed some tremendous wins in closing the disparity gaps among African Americans, and making lasting change in a community that desperately needs focused support.

Please share a little about AABN’s inception.

The African American Breastfeeding Network was formed in 2008 to (1) address breastfeeding disparities (2) increase awareness of the benefits and value of mother’s milk, (3) build community allies, and (4) de-normalize formula use. Our mission is to promote breastfeeding as the natural and the best way to provide optimal nourishment to babies and young children. Our vision is to live in a world where breastfeeding is the norm within the African American community.

How has the organization grown/evolved since it began?

Next year AABN will be celebrating 10 years!  We are very excited about our journey, proud of our accomplishments and are eagerly looking forward to another 10 years of serving families. Our work together with our partners moves the entire state of Wisconsin closer to achieving the 2020 breastfeeding recommendations.  Our accomplishments include…

  • January 2017: Front Page Feature in the Milwaukee Community Journal
  • April 2015: Quoted in Essence Magazine, “10 Things People Are Talking About”
  • January 2015: Associated Press news article, photos and video
  • August 2014: Featured in CDC Breastfeeding Report Card
  • October 2014: Featured in Black Child Development Institute’s Wisconsin report Being Black Is Not a Risk Factor
  • February 2012: Featured in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel breastfeeding video
  • February 2011: Featured in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel series on infant mortality, Empty Cradles

How is the community better off due to your presence?

The awareness and breastfeeding rates have increased because of our efforts. For the last 9 years AABN has been working diligently to eradicate inequities and disparities though our program hallmark, Community Breastfeeding Gatherings (CBGs).  Taking place at two local YMCA sites-- Parklawn and Northside-- CBGs are designed to: 1) increase breastfeeding rates, especially duration and exclusivity, 2) enhance father engagement, 3) increase access to trained lactation support persons of color, 4) provide lactation support services in hospital, home and CBG settings, and 5) enhance referral networks with health care provider systems. By incorporating community-based, culturally tailored health education, leveraging peer support, and engaging the entire support system including fathers, AABN positively impacts breastfeeding rates Clinic. Prenatal and postpartum support is provided by a Father Peer Advocate (FPA) and Community Breastfeeding Peer Counselors (CBPCs). Mothers experiencing lactation challenges are referred to AABN’s International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Mothers receive support as long as they are breastfeeding. We estimate that at least 500 pregnant and/or breastfeeding mothers have benefited and countless support persons attended through the years, and last year we reached 120 pregnant women!  Data collected in partnership with the Center for Urban Population Health reveals the following data:

  • 91% initiation
  • 30% exclusive breastfeeding at 3 months
  • average attendance at the Northside YMCA is 15 families/Average attendance at the Parklawn YMCA is 8 families
  • mean age for women is 23 years old
  • 76% of pregnant and breastfeeding women attending CBGs live in zip codes of greatest need and having a huge inequality hole in health care access
  • 93% of post-CBG survey respondents reported that they were more likely to breastfed or continue breastfeeding after attending a CBG

Could something like the AABN be duplicated elsewhere?

Yes!  I believe our model could be duplicated elsewhere. Anyone who is interested, please email aabn@ymail.com

AABN’s motto is “together we are building a breastfeeding movement”. As a student or professional lactation supporter, you have an opportunity to make an impact and to reach communities that have a greater need or unique barriers to success. LER is inviting you to join the movement alongside Dalvery Blackwell, TaNefer Camara, Tiana Pyles, Jada Wright-Nichols, Ngozi Walker-Tibbs and all of the dedicated lactivists who are working within their communities to change the face of breastfeeding and to reach those who need it most.
While this series has come to a close, the conversation will continue in various ways as LER will work to prepare the next generation of lactation supporters to be informed and equipped resources to all breastfeeding families. Stay tuned for future blog posts, course additions, and advocacy opportunities as we do our part to impact the landscape of breastfeeding in the US and beyond.

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Continuing our series on the landscape of breastfeeding in the US, we’re shifting our focus westward to Oakland, California. We’ll quickly assess the challenges that exist, then highlight a lactation support group that is working to close gaps and reach families in innovative ways.

While it’s true that no other area is consistently underperforming as significantly as the South when compared to the CDC’s Breastfeeding Score Card, there is room for improvement in every direction. This is true even on the West coast, where state breastfeeding rates are excellent at a glance. Per the scorecard, California is outpacing the national average in nearly every measure. California has already reached the Healthy People 2020 goals, and is on a trajectory to continue to outpace most states in the coming years. The data highlights some of the many things that are working well in California, such as the high percentage of Baby Friendly Hospitals (which directly correlates to the percentage of babies who receive solely breastmilk during their first two days of life), and childcare regulations that support breastfeeding success in the long run. California gets it right in many ways. However, as much as it is an anomaly, some pockets of California are also plagued by the same obstacles to success that we saw in the deep South and in Appalachia. As we’ve seen, some key factors have a detrimental impact on whether babies get mother’s milk as early, as often, and for as long a duration as is ideal. These factors include race, economic status, and access to quality care. The scorecard shows a significant gap in the number of births to the number of lactation supporters statewide. For example, in terms of free or low cost support, there are only around 2 certified lactation counselors and less than one La Leche League leader per 1,000 live births. Both of these figures are lagging compared to national averages.

So what support is there for parents who need help breastfeeding but may not be in a position to hire an IBCLC? One such solution has been working well in Alameda County, and specifically East Oakland. We caught up with the renowned TaNefer Camara, to discuss her community support group, The Lactation Café (TLC).

California scored well on the last BFing ScoreCard. How does East Oakland compare?

Overall California's breastfeeding rates are impressive and in some areas exceed national averages. In East Oakland, breastfeeding rates do not reflect state averages. East Oakland is an area that is still very much segregated by ethnic and socioeconomic lines. Some areas - particularly the community where The Lactation Cafe is held - are largely Black and Hispanic. While there has been an increase in breastfeeding initiation and duration rates over the past 5 years in Alameda county, there remains pockets of community that could benefit from additional support. Many of the families are receiving the message that breastfeeding is important but they fall short of breastfeeding goals due to work conditions, lack of familial support, medical reasons or misinformation.

Can you tell us a little about the group’s inception and how it has grown/evolved since it began?

The Lactation Cafe began as a pilot program sponsored by First 5 Alameda County. We started off with maybe 4 participants and grew to serve 10-15 moms each group. We collaborated with local health programs, hospitals and clinics to engage new families. The next phase will focus on sustainability and community capacity building. We hope to develop group participants into leaders who will lead and facilitate future groups.

How is the community better off due to your presence?

The Lactation Cafe has been a safe place for families to receive concrete support in times of need, gain knowledge of child development, build social connections and get the support they need to meet their breastfeeding goals. Moms who attend TLC and other groups in our community are able to share what they learn with other mothers, they become advocates for themselves, their children and their community members and they support one another.

Could something like the The Lactation Cafe be duplicated elsewhere?

Absolutely! TLC can be duplicated. We used the Strengthening Families framework as our guide and in alignment with our breastfeeding curriculum. The key to a successful group is outreach, engagement and community partnership. Oh, and good food. Whole some food and nutrition was a major part of our group.

Wherever there are breastfeeding disparities, local activists like TaNefer Camara, Tiana Pyles, Jada Wright-Nichols and Ngozi Walker-Tibbs are rising up to meet the need. Their work is changing the landscape of breastfeeding throughout the United States in real and impactful ways. As a student or professional lactation supporter, you too, have an opportunity to make an impact and to reach communities that have a greater need or unique barriers. We’ll highlight one more group in the North to round out our four cities tour next month and to bring this series to a close. The conversation will continue in various ways as LER works to prepare the next generation of lactation supporters to be informed and equipped resources to all breastfeeding families.

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