BUILD Initiative Blog | Michigan Launches Black Breastfeeding Col
Strong Foundations For Our Youngest Children

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Lonias Gilmore, MPH, Childhood Obesity Prevention Specialist, Michigan DHHS

Shatoria Townsend, MPH, CLC, State Breastfeeding Coordinator, Michigan DHHS

The benefits of breastfeeding are remarkable. Save the Children tells us that it “increases a child’s chances of survival, boosts [the] immune system, and reduces the mother’s risk of ovarian and breast cancer. In addition, breast milk changes every day to meet a baby’s needs and releases a hormone that’s calming for both mother and child.” And yet, according to the CDC, 73.7 percent of Black infants are ever breastfed compared with 86.7 percent of White infants. It is due to this racial disparity, that has existed for over 40 years, that Black Breastfeeding Week was created.

There are five major concerns Black Breastfeeding Week focuses on:

  • The high Black infant mortality rate.
  • The high rates of diet-related disease.
  • The lack of diversity in the lactation field.
  • The unique social burdens Black women face.
  • “First Food” Desert Conditions (lack of support for breast feeding) in Black communities.

In addition to providing a moment to reflect on the historically gaping racial disparities in Black birth and breastfeeding rates, Kimberly Seals Allers, founder of Black Breastfeeding Week, notes that “Black Breastfeeding Week is an important time for us to really celebrate what Black breastfeeding means. We really talk about Black breastfeeding as social justice, as a way of reclaiming the narrative about Black women not being good mothers. It is all about lifting up those stories.” 

Michigan Advances the Cause of Black Breastfeeding Week 

  1. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has declared August 25 – 31 as Black Breastfeeding Week in the state of Michigan. 
  2. The Mi Milk Collective was convened by Shatoria Townsend, the State Breastfeeding Coordinator, and is led by Black women representing hospital systems, community organizations, birth workers, and lactation professionals throughout the state of Michigan dedicated to serving Black families. Mi Milk Collective has teamed up with Priority Health to create a scholarship dedicated to financially supporting aspiring Black lactation professionals. 
  3. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) recognized the creation of the new collaborative statewide group, Mi Milk Collective, in a press release.
  4. The Mi Milk Collective has established the following Black Breastfeeding Week policy priorities:
  • All policies should prioritize the relationship between mother and child since healthy attachment and social-emotional development start during the first 1,000 days and are the foundation for a lifetime of optimal mental and behavioral health.  
  • Keep parents and newborns together in critical hours after birth, including during crises and emergencies.
  • Support and promote breastfeeding as a chronic disease management and prevention strategy.
  • Equitable compensation for lactation professionals should be based on the levels of clinical skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions involved in doing the work.
  • Establish health and sex education standards that include breast anatomy and physiology and function, including the composition and nutritious value of human milk.

The Mi Milk Collective is Hosting Two Upcoming Events

  • Friday, August 28: The Genesee County Breastfeeding Coalition will host a panel discussion on Black Breastfeeding. Tune into the discussion at 2:00 PM ET.
  • Monday August 31: The Southeast Michigan IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants) of Color, Milk Like Mine, and YOLO Breastfeeding will host Instagram and Facebook Live Virtual Baby Showers. It will include games and education on breastfeeding during the pandemic.

According to Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS, “Successful breastfeeding can protect babies against allergies, sickness and diseases like diabetes and cancer. This week is an important and necessary step towards recognizing and addressing racial disparities that continue to exist.” 

Mi Milk Collective will continue to prioritize closing the breastfeeding disparity gap in Michigan. The new group’s efforts to establish the first state-declared Black Breastfeeding Week in the virtual realm are an inspiring step in that direction. The BUILD Initiative congratulates the Mi Milk Collective on its success!

Mi Milk Collective partners include:

  • Berrien County Breastfeeding Coalition 
  • Breastfeeding Coalition of Calhoun County 
  • Brilliant Detroit
  • Feed The Babes 
  • Genesee County Community Action Resource Department
  • Healthy Start Strong Beginnings
  • Henry Ford Health System 
  • Ingham County Breastfeeding Coalition 
  • Metro Detroit/Wayne County Breastfeeding Coalition
  • Michigan Breastfeeding Network
  • Milk Like Mine
  • Regional Health Alliance of Battle Creek
  • Southeast Michigan IBCLCs of Color 
  • SHINE
  • Twintifull
  • WIN Network
  • YOLO

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