Natasha Jones of Amityville is joining other African-American moms in a celebration of the seventh annual Black Breastfeeding Week, a nationwide event meant to bring awareness to the importance of mother's milk in providing babies with nutrients that can be easier to digest than formula, antibodies to fight infection, and other health benefits.
“It’s so easy to get wrapped up in motherhood and forget that it’s a great thing you’re doing, and you have the community behind you,” says Jones, 27, who is breastfeeding her 8-week-old son, Kyre, and also nursed her 4-year-old daughter, Aiylah.
August is National Breastfeeding Month, and the last week of August is a chance for African-American women to talk about challenges specific to them, including, moms say, obstacles expressing milk during the workday and family pressure from the older generation who may believe that formula means progress. In the United States, black women have the lowest breastfeeding initiation rates (64 percent) and the shortest breastfeeding duration (roughly 6.5 weeks) of all ethnic groups, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.
Various events across Long Island have been marking the week, which runs from Aug. 25 to 31. On Friday at 10 a.m. at the Roosevelt Public Library, 27 W. Fulton Ave., for instance, a screening of the film “Chocolate Milk: The Documentary,” which addresses women of color and breastfeeding, will be followed by a question-and-answer discussion. While the event is free, people must RSVP at 516-377-0157, ext. 304 or by emailing WIC@Catholiccharities.cc.
"We have a very high infant mortality rate in the African-American community, and certain ZIP codes in Nassau Country demonstrate that," says Sandra Michel, outreach coordinator for the Catholic Charities Diocese of Rockville Centre Women, Infants and Children program. Breastfeeding helps reduce those statistics by offering a host of health benefits, she says.
Black Breastfeeding Week, whose website blackbreastfeedingweek.org shows more than 120 events scheduled nationwide, was co-founded by former Bay Shore resident Kimberly Seals Allers, author of the 2017 book “The Big Letdown: How Medicine, Big Business, and Feminism Undermine Breastfeeding." She says that when she was nursing her children more than a decade ago, she attended a local breastfeeding support group “and I saw nobody who looked like me.” She says she wanted to bring more awareness of the support available to women of color who want to nurse.
"Having that awareness week to encourage moms, promote it and let them see the benefits of breastfeeding, I think it’s a great incentive,” says Marlyse Bernardin, breastfeeding coordinator for the Women, Infants and Children program at Catholic Charities in Freeport.
“Chocolate Milk” was also shown on Aug. 27 in Wyandanch. And Birth Justice Warriors, an information and advocacy group that addresses African-American maternal and infant mortality in Nassau County, held an informational event on Aug. 24 in Uniondale that looked at historical, cultural and social barriers to black women breastfeeding. “It went very deep in terms of family traditions of breastfeeding and not seeing that across different generations,” says Martine Hackett, associate professor of public health at Hofstra University and co-founder of Birth Justice Warriors.
Hansel Sainevil, 26, of Brentwood, who works with people with developmental disabilities, says she is breastfeeding her son, Osa, 12 months, and plans to also breastfeed her baby who is due in March. “I want to have control of what I put in my child’s body and how he’s growing,” Sainevil says. With her human milk, she knows that he is getting the most natural form of nutrition, she says.
When Latoya Gamble, 33, a stay-at-home mother from Lake Grove,says she had trouble getting her son, Timothy, to latch on, she pumped her breastmilk and fed it to him through a bottle. That's how important she says she believes breastfeeding is. "If people understood it more, more black women would do it,” Gamble says.