By South OB Girl / OB Rag
San Diego based photographer Vanessa Simmons has attracted quite a bit of attention nation wide with her “Normalize Breastfeeding Tour.” She has previously been featured in Vogue, The Huffington Post, and here at The OB Rag/San Diego Free Press.
Vanessa started Normalize Breastfeeding in 2014 – a project intended to bring awareness to breast-feeding through photography.
And August is National Breastfeeding Month (which many of us may not have known). And August 25 – 31st is Black Breastfeeding Week.
Black Breastfeeding Week (BBW) was created because for over 40 years there has been a gaping racial disparity in breastfeeding rates. The most recent CDC data show that 75% of white women have ever breastfed versus 58.9% of black women.
BBW is intended to focus on the racial disparity and draw attention to the issue. Here are the top 5 reasons behind BBW :
1. The high black infant mortality rate:
Black babies are dying at twice the rate (in some place, nearly triple) the rate of white babies. The high infant mortality rate among black infants is mostly to their being disproportionately born too small, too sick, or too soon. These babies need the immunities and nutritional benefit of breast milk the most. According to the CDC, increased breastfeeding among black women could decrease infant mortality rates by as much as 50%.
2. High rates of diet-related disease:
When you look at all the health conditions that breast milk—as the most complete “first food,” has been proven to reduce the risks of—African American children have them the most. From upper respiratory infections and Type II diabetes to asthma, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and childhood obesity—these issues are rampant in black communities. And breast milk is the best preventative medicine nature provides.
3. Lack of diversity in the lactation field:
Not only are there blatant racial disparities in breastfeeding rates, there is a blatant disparity in breastfeeding leadership as well. It is not debatable that breastfeeding advocacy is white female-led. This is a problem. For one, it unfortunately perpetuates the common misconception that black women don’t breastfeed.
4. Unique cultural barriers among black women:
While many of the obstacles and complications to breastfeeding are universal, African American women also have unique cultural barriers and a complex history connected to breastfeeding.
5. Desert-Like Conditions in Black Communities:
Many African American communities are “first food deserts”—a term coined to describe the desert like conditions in many urban areas where women cannot access breastfeeding support. It is not fair to ask any woman to breastfeed when she lives in a community that is devoid of support. It is a set up for failure.
Ms. Simmons is celebrating BBW through sharing her extensive documentation of black mothers breastfeeding. Her photos are not just of mothers in San Diego. Simmons has been on a tour of the country on her Normalize Breastfeeding Tour. She has toured to:
Las Vegas, Nevada
New Orleans, Louisiana
“In the past 365 days I have documented a wide range of very peaceful, loving, and joyous moments among the mothers who, statistically, are less likely to initiate breastfeeding after birth, less likely to breastfeed exclusively for a minimum of 6 months, and are less likely to breastfeed for the entirety of infancy, a recommended two year minimum according to the World Health Organization.
Yet these mothers that I have photographed, like myself, have actually accomplished so much more.”
Simmons’ images showcase black mothers across the country breastfeeding their babies, toddlers, and children.
Through these images and through Normalize Breastfeeding, Simmons has a message for black women:
“Yes, we do this. Black mothers do breastfeed. We even breastfeed babies past one year of age!”
The women in her photos, including herself, are (thankfully) not part of the unfortunate statistics.