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A Breastfeeding Tale of Four Cities Part 4: North

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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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Tagged in: diversity underserved

Nekisha Killings MPH IBCLC RLC.  This is part of a continuing series on diversity. Nikki is a lactation consultant in private practice in Lompoc, California and is LER's diversity consultant.