Mocha Mamas Milk works to improve the health of black moms and their babies.
COLUMBIA, SC – This week is Black Breastfeeding Week and Mamas Mocha Milk to celebrate. The research team of University of South Carolina College of Nursing promotes the health of African-American moms and their babies, according to its website.
“There are huge gaps in research knowledge about strategies that could be used to help improve breastfeeding, especially in African American families,” Tisha Felder, co-lead of Mocha, told me. Mamas Milk and associate professor at USC.
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It’s something she’s trying to fix.
Felder strives to better understand the barriers that exist for Black women when it comes to breastfeeding.
Ebony Toussaint is the mother of three children under the age of five.
She chose to breastfeed when she was pregnant with her first child. She says that despite some health disparities, she found breastfeeding as a black mother was the best decision for her.
“Black maternal mortality, I know all about our diabetes rates, our hypertension and how that leads to heart disease and all the different things, so for me it was a lot more empowering to fight that data and give my children the best start in life,” said Toussaint.
In addition to health disparities, Felder says lack of representation is a barrier for black mothers.
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“Breastfeeding can feel isolating,” explained lactation consultant and mother Shannan Clarke. “Breastfeeding is natural, but it’s not easy. And I get it. I’ve been there and so many other women have too.”
Clarke has two children she chose to breastfeed. At first she said it was difficult because she had no examples. To learn how to navigate motherhood, Clarke took parenting classes.
“But I was the only black mother in those circles,” she began. “And not having someone to really be able to talk about what was going on, who I felt like I was representing myself, who was part of my community, was a friend of mine…in some ways it was kinda discouraging.”
Now Clarke hopes to change that. She is currently breastfeeding her second child and now serves as an example to other mothers that black women can – and do – breastfeed.
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Felder says that’s a message that Mocha Mamas Milk supports and tries to amplify.
“When you look in the media, you don’t usually see a lot of photos or videos of black women breastfeeding,” Felder said. “And although our numbers are not as high as we would like, we can look back over the last decade and see that the numbers are increasing.”
In addition to representation, accessibility to appropriate resources is important, Felder told me.
With her newest child, Toussaint said access to a lactation room through USC was “honestly amazing.”
“Just having a room ready and available makes all the difference and I feel welcome. It makes me feel like people realize this is a valid medical need. My kids need food,” she said. “Having a lactation room means a lot. Not just the environment, but I think mentally and emotionally having that support and that feeling makes you feel valid and continue your choice to breastfeed and breastfeed.”
Clarke agreed. At the job she had when breastfeeding her first child, Clarke said there was no easily accessible breastfeeding room. Now with a new employer, she has a private, clean room to express her milk.
“This time I felt much more prepared and also well supported by the company I work for,” Clarke explained.
This allowed Clarke to breastfeed her second child for a longer period, she said.
Toussaint is currently studying at USC. She told me that she uses the lactation rooms available at twelve different locations on campus. Emily Cato, acting director of strategic health initiatives at USC Student Health Services, said students, faculty and staff caring for a child under five can join the Parent and Kinship Care Network.
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This network shows mothers different places on campus that are available to breastfeed or pump.
“It allows working mothers to return to school or work and to be able to continue to follow the advice of American Pediatrics for continued breastfeeding, which allows people to be able to continue this by pumping in a safe space. and private while on campus,” Cato said.
On Saturday, Mocha Mamas Milk is hosting a family party event at Leo’s Landing – Saluda Shoals Inclusive Playground from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.