INDIANAPOLIS — Sierra Woods says she’s the only black lactation and breastfeeding specialist in private practice in Indianapolis.
Woods is a registered nurse (RN) and a internationally certified lactation consultant. Born and raised in Indianapolis, Woods is a breastfeeding mother of two who says supporting and advocating for breastfeeding is her calling in life.
“It was just a growing passion,” Woods said.
When she gave birth to her boys, Woods struggled to breastfeed and sought professional help.
“It was hard for me to find someone who looked like me, who was on the pitch. But when I did, I was so happy!” Woods explained.
She opened her businessMelaMamain 2020, offering one-on-one breastfeeding support, lactation counseling, and return-to-work assistance in Indianapolis.
“I was like, ‘I have to do this; it’s really a need,'” she pointed out.
Breastfeeding is a essential factor for improving public health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it has many health benefits for infants, children, and mothers.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months. The Academy also advises continuing breastfeeding while introducing foods for an additional six months.
According to a 2017 report in the New York Times, 61% of black mothers have started breastfeeding compared to 78% of white mothers. In 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote that black women also breastfeed during shorter durationswith 44.7% of black women breastfeeding at 6 months, compared to 62% of white women and 57.6% of women overall.
“In the days of slavery, African Americans actually had to feed the children of their slave owners,” Woods explained. This part of black and African American history has been linked to why generations of black mothers did not breastfeed their children, either due to a lack of supply or due to psychological trauma.
In addition to generational trauma, Woods says there are several other factors that keep women in general from breastfeeding: the sexualization of women’s bodies, barriers to work (such as paid maternity leave and a designated space to pump ), stigma and inequity in health insurance.
Woods acknowledges that the number of black breastfeeds has increased from years past, but it’s about keeping it going for more than a few months.
Perhaps it’s thanks to designated research, the growing support for black lactating boobs, and the push to educate the public about it. Organizations such as Black Breastfeeding Week, and locally, the Indiana Black Breastfeeding Coalitionpromote and work directly with black communities.
MORE: Indiana needs more black and brown doulas. Its a question of life or death.
Breastfeeding isn’t something you wake up one day knowing how to do, Woods told WRTV. It takes work and practice.
“My biggest advice [to new mothers] would, don’t just assume it’s natural and then don’t ask for help and just give up,” Woods said. “All you have to do is have someone by your side to help you.
Before opening her private practice, Woods was a postpartum nurse. While in hospital, she continually counseled women through the breastfeeding process.
Woods said she spends a good chunk of her time coaching mothers. She helped them overcome discouragement, inability to latch on to their baby, sore nipples or thoughts that they were breastfeeding the wrong way.
“What people don’t realize is that there’s actually a lot more to do. It’s something you don’t know how to do. You’ve never done it before, your new baby has no idea, so it’s really something you learn,” Woods explained.
Jade Townsend is a first-time mother who reached out to Woods. Townsend told WRTV she realized upon returning from the hospital that she would need more support.
“I was there Tuesday and Wednesday,” Townsend explained. “I came home and was like, ‘Oh, I still don’t know what I’m really doing.’ So my midwife suggested Sierra (Woods), I reached out, and then I think she came literally like the next day.”
Townsend said it was hard to really learn how to breastfeed before having her baby.
“I’ve watched some things before, but you really don’t know what you’re doing until it happens,” she explained.
Because Woods’ mission is to challenge the misconception that breastfeeding will come “naturally” once the baby is born, she also offers prenatal coaching to address concerns and fears expectant mothers may have. before giving birth.
MelaMama will also speak with your family. Because women’s bodies are often sexualized, Woods says men in heterosexual relationships know next to nothing about breastfeeding, let alone its importance.
“I want the father there. So I can talk to them more like, ‘What do you think? Why do you feel like you don’t want her to breastfeed? Can I tell you the reasons why she should breastfeed? As if there are benefits for mom and baby from breastfeeding, as well as for you!’ “
Shakkira Harris, WRTV digital reporter, can be reached at [email protected] You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.