A few nuggets from the “First Food” Forum

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend “The First Food Forum: Growing a movement so all children thrive” sponsored by the WK Kellog Foundation.  It was a wonderful conference.  One of my primary goals during the event was to make sure everyone I spoke with understood that there IS a connection between a mother’s pregnancy and birth experience, and her infant feeding choices.  Too often the breastfeeding world, the birth world, the reproductive rights/reproductive justice worlds are separated. The reality is we are all fighting the same fight. We are fighting so that women… and no one else… have control over their personal bodies.  It doesn’t matter if your voice is around procreation, birth, or infant feeding choices, we have the same bottom line.  It’s a shame we don’t connect collectively more often.

Over the past year, I have learned a lot about breastfeeding that I never knew or didn’t completely understand.  Things about the culture and politics of breastfeeding,  the racism in breastfeeding certifications, the racism in breastfeeding politics and culture, the laws and payment structures of lactation and lactation support etc.  At each turn of lactation education, I was reminded that we really need to connect more.  One of my midwife mentors Shafia Monroe often talks about the Community Model of Care.  She reminds us that the Black Midwife and the tradition of Black Midwifery in this country included care of mother before, during, and after birth. AND it included care for the infant, and the family as a unit. Today we are so separate and fragmented we often work in silos.  It’s this fact that I believe is intricately linked erinatal disparities and the USA’s poor outcomes as a whole… but I digress.

Below, in no particular order, I share a few nuggets of wisdom and ideas that  I brought home with me from this breastfeeding forum.  I hope at least one of them can help you as you care for families during their childbearing years.

Nugget:   Above I mentioned the need for the breastfeeding, birth, and reproductive justice movements to work more collectively.  There is also a space to align ourselves with the pink ribbon and red dress movements.  As an aside… I am not particularly a fan of “pink washing” however I do understand that women who breastfeed are less like to get breast cancer.  That being said, as folks are sporting their pink ribbons and red dresses, as interviews are given, PSAs sent out, and articles are written, information should be shared not only about the breast cancer or heart disease, but included should be information about the link between breastfeeding and reduced risks of both.

Nugget: Have you heard about the mPINC survey? From the CDC website:  “Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care (mPINC) is a national survey of maternity care practices and policies that is conducted by the CDC every 2 years beginning in 2007. The survey is mailed to all facilities with registered maternity beds in the United States and Territories.”  These surveys create reports based on state and facility data.  They are not the same as actual report cards for a facility on breastfeeding but they certainly might be the catalyst for some facilities to change their practice. Let’s hope so.  Read more about the mPINC here.

Nugget:  Let’s talk about WIC.  Did you know WIC is the is the number one distributor of formula in our country?!?!  SERIOUSLY?? And the government pays for this formula that is doled out like candy to children on Halloween. And that’s a perfect way to describe it cause this is indeed scary.  There is so much to be said about the BILLION dollar formula industry that I will save it for anohter post but his revelation was like a slap in the face. And since were on the topic of WIC… what’s in a name?? We all know WIC stands for Women Infants and Children right?  Have you ever really thought about that name? Its mission talks about the health and well-being of women, infants, and children and yet it neglects to mention a KEY component to healthy babies and families is partner involvement.  In most families that partner is a Man. Men are excluded from the picture literally and figuratively.  The WIC office basically has a sign that says “women only.” In order to heal the family we have to include EVERY member of the family. Clearly there is some work to be done in this arena.

Nugget:  Speaking of men… One of the best break out sessions I attended was the session about including fathers in the conversations and advocacy work around breastfeeding. There is a model program in the Dallas area where men are encouraged to be breastfeeding champions… breastfeeding ambassadors.  Getting fathers on board with breastfeeding is an important factor in creating healthy breastfeeding communities.  The program in Dallas in run by Muswamba Mwamba who is a father of four, an MPH, CLC, and IBCLC just list a few of his credentials.  Are you interested in creating a successful male support program for breastfeeding in your community? Give him a call, he is knowledgeable, passionate, and personable. And most importantly, from what I learned during this session… he is a HE.

Nugget:  I posted this one on my facebook page the other day.  We have all heard the conversation about providing women with private, clean places to nurse their infants while they are out and about. The idea is that these places will help support mothers who want to breast feed “in public.” The question raised during a conversation at the form…… Does this help or hurt?? If we provide private spaces for moms does that put breastfeeding “in the closet”? If it’s in the closet, breastfeeding is still not “normalized” in our society. We certainly want to provide these spaces for moms who feel most comfortable there. But how do we walk the fine line. We don’t want these spaces to become the REQUIRED place where ALL moms HAVE to go to breastfeed. What do you think?

Nugget:  My favorite presentation of the event was without a doubt the closing session key note with Kimberly Seals-Allers founder and creator of The Mocha Manual as well as Black Breastfeeding 360. If you don’t’ know about her… you should. Her presentation was passionate, personal and right on! Two of my favorites points from her  ONE:  Never let the circumstances or the conditions in a Black woman’s life determine what you believe about her character.  TWO:  As we discuss African American women and breastfeeding, let’s not romanticize wet nursing. It was NOT a romantic event and we cannot comment on wet nursing without also recognizing the historical trauma that continues to affect Black families as a result of this practice.  I’m not giving you direct quotes.  I was too engaged while she spoke to take actual notes. What I can certainly say is this.  If anyone left the room uninspired after hearing Kimberly speak… they clearly were not awake.

Welp that’s it for now. I wish these Nuggets were real gold for you. But alas they are not. They are simply ideas, concepts and conversation starters about mother’s milk ~ That life giving substance that some call Liquid Gold.  Will any of these Nuggets help you in your work? Did any of them make you say “hmmmmm?”  If so… tell me about it!

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