Breastfeeding seminars

Providing Breastfeeding Support for Black Moms in Tennessee – NWILife

As a mom of three, Kimathi Coleman knows firsthand the joys — and challenges — of breastfeeding.

Kimathi turned this knowledge into a calling through her volunteer work with BSTARS in Memphis, Tennessee. BSTARSshort for Breastfeeding Sisters That Are Receive Support, helps rebuild the culture around breastfeeding by providing informational and emotional support to increase breastfeeding rates among black women.

Last year, the UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Tennessee awarded BSTARS a $5,000 grant to help with their efforts.

“UnitedHealthcare is committed to improving maternal health and supporting mothers from the start and throughout their care journey,” said Lauren Barca, executive director, Population Health & Quality for UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Tennessee. “By partnering with local community organizations like BSTARS, we are able to work together to help mothers and babies live healthier lives.

BSTARS hosts virtual meetups every second and last Wednesday of the month on Facebook and Instagram. Co-founder Tiana Pyles often answers questions and interviews other community health experts. The organization also hosts an annual community baby shower and sponsors a 2-mile walk during Black Breastfeeding Week in August.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for a child’s first 6 months, then introducing solid foods while continuing to breastfeed until the child is a year old or older.

Breastfeeding can keep both mom and baby together in good health. Benefits for babies include lower risks of asthma, ear infections, gastrointestinal infections, obesity, serious lower respiratory illnesses, sudden infant death syndrome and diabetes type 1. Breastfeeding mothers have reduced risk of breast cancerhigh blood pressure, ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Not all breastfeeding journeys are the same, and that’s where BSTARS can help.

Volunteers like Kimathi meet the women where they are. Some moms-to-be come to BSTARS and know nothing about breastfeeding. No one they know has breastfed, but they want to know more. Others already know it’s something they want to do.

“They must be the ones who are living this journey,” Kimathi said. “I can’t make a decision for them, so I see what they’re looking to get out of this and how they want to move forward.”

Kimathi has become a Certified Lactation Consultant®which is a national certification for those who have demonstrated the skills and knowledge to provide clinical breastfeeding counseling and management support to families.

“Breastfeeding is work. It comes naturally in a way, but you still have to work for it,” Kimathi said.

A CLC can provide the extra support mothers need, and BSTARS also helps Black mothers with the costs and journey to become certified. According to Lactation Policy and Practice Academyonly 9.9% of all CLCs are black, African-Caribbean, or African-American.

“That’s a lot of money,” Kimathi said. “That’s another hurdle. We also need it in our communities.

Encouraging healthy pregnancies and births is more important than ever. Maternal health outcomes in the United States have reached crisis levels – and they only get worse.

Among black women in Tennessee, the rate of preterm birth, defined as a live birth before 37 completed weeks of gestation, is 43% higher than that of all other women. Nationally, black mothers experience preterm birth rates of approximately 49% higher than those who are white or Hispanic.

Through BSTARS, Black mothers in the Memphis area are receiving extra encouragement and education that can make all the difference.

“I am a lifelong participant. I’m not going anywhere,” Kimathi said. “Even though I don’t have any more babies, I will be there to offer support.”