Last week I came across an extremely well-written article by Kimberly Seals Allers of MochaManual.com, called Dear White Women: Beyonce is OUR Breastfeeding Moment. Please Step Aside. In her article, Kimberly discussed her disappointment with the media coverage of Beyonce, one of the most iconic and popular African American women at this current time, nursing in public. While this was a wonderful moment for all breastfeeding advocates, it truly was a significant event for African American women, who have statistically had low breastfeeding initiation and duration rates. Here is my interview with Kimberly Sears Allers.
Robin: Why is Beyonce breastfeeding in public so significant for the African American community?
Kimberly: Beyonce breastfeeding in public is particularly significant for our community because we just haven’t had as many high profile African American celebrities come out and support breastfeeding. Like it or not, role models matter. Celebrities can help create a lifestyle cache and trendiness, particularly among young women, that helps broaden our ideas about who breastfeeds in the black community. When you look at the high infant mortality rate among African American infants, and we know how critical breastfeeding is to saving these babies lives and reducing their risks of respiratory infections and childhood obesity, the possibly the power of one highly-visible black celebrity breastfeeding could potentially save one more infant, and help one more baby become a healthier child is significant beyond words for me.
Robin: In your opinion, how could this media event been covered more appropriately?
Kimberly: For years I have been writing that black mothers are absent from the mainstream “mommy” conversation in this country and it seems our invisibility has carried over with this instance. The media was, for the most part, negligent by not connecting the dots between Beyonce as a black woman breastfeeding an African American child–both of whom are statistically less likely to breastfeed or be breastfed, and highlighting the particular significance for black women who have had historically low breastfeeding rates for over 40 years. This was also a rare, and unfortunately missed, opportunity for those who speak for the breastfeeding movement to connect those dots for them and millions of others. When we have the opportunity for a national microphone, I believe we have to hold our own leaders and the media accountable for thinking about all the issues and looking at these news events from all angles.
Robin: How can lactation consultants better support African American breastfeeding women in our communities?
Kimberly: The most important thing is to understand the cultural nuances of breastfeeding for an African American woman. Breastfeeding is not about simplistic messaging that breast is best; we know that and want that. But many of us are first generation breastfeeders with little or no multi-generational support. Help us with the how. Studies show that our male partners, grandmas, aunties and extended family members have a greater influence on our decision and breastfeeding duration than other women… so target the whole family. Understand the power of media stereotypes, our own internal stereotypes about who breastfeeds in our community, the residual effects of our breastfeeding experiences during slavery, and the role of aggressive infant formula marketing. Educate us so that when our mother or grandmother question if the baby is getting enough, we have an educated answer. Empower us to have more confidence in our bodies and our ability to “do this” even if, and especially if, we don’t have much social support. Having a broader understanding of what this woman is dealing with, beyond the latch issue, a lactation consultant may actually be there to assist, which can mean so much in terms of true support.
Robin: Now, please tell us all about your new project, Black Breastfeeding 360°.
Kimberly: I’m so excited about this! For years, I’ve been frustrated by the superficial news coverage of breastfeeding issues in our community. There is always reporting of the low statistics, with little or no insight into the complexities I previously mentioned or the lack of role models or the lack of social support. So I created Black Breastfeeding 360° as an online content library for media professionals to get everything they need to know on the full spectrum of the black breastfeeding experience. And I created BB360° as a place for women, mothers, and fathers to learn, share and hear the breastfeeding experiences of others. BB360° features articles and commentaries that any media outlet can use for research or download for free use in their publication. It features audio and video clips of real mothers, fathers and grandparents talking about their true thoughts and feelings about breastfeeding, and it features practical tips and resources specifically written for any black woman nursing her child or even thinking about it. I was supported to create BB360° through my Food & Community Fellowship with the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, funded by the Kellogg Foundation, and I’m so grateful. It’s my baby and I’m breastfeeding it, so I know it will be healthy and robust.
Kimberly Seals Allers is a leading voice on African American motherhood, author of The Mocha Manual™ series of books and founder of www.MochaManual.com, a parenting and lifestyle destination and blog for African American moms and moms-to-be. An award-winning journalist, Kimberly is also a popular public speaker and consultant on the mom of color market, and fiercely committed to reducing the high infant and maternal mortality rates and increasing the low breastfeeding rates in the African American community.
In 2011, Kimberly was named an IATP Food and Community Fellow, funded by the Kellogg Foundation, with a mandate to increase awareness and reducing the barriers to access to “the first food”—breast milk, in vulnerable communities.
In addition to her popular blog on MochaManual.com, Kimberly blogs about the African American parenting experience for Babycenter’s Momformation.com and is a regular commentator for Essence.com and LiftetimeMoms.com.
Her first book, The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy (Amistad/HarperCollins) a hip, funny and informative pregnancy guidebook for women of color, put her on the map as a pregnancy and parenting expert with real-deal insights. The book was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and later turned into The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy DVD, available at Walmart.com. Her book series also includes The Mocha Manual to Turning Your Passion into Profit, and The Mocha Manual to Military Life—A Savvy Guide for Girlfriends, Wives and Female Service Members.
A graduate of New York University and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Kimberly is a divorced mom of two who lives in Queens, New York.