Reducing the Breastfeeding Disparities Among African American Women: A Commentary from ROSE, Inc.

Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, Inc. (ROSE) seeks to enhance, encourage, support, and promote breastfeeding throughout the USA, by working to reduce the breastfeeding disparities among African American women. We also seek to strengthen the health of their families through, mentoring, breastfeeding support groups, social support, outreach, education, health policies and social marketing. ROSE works with national groups to strengthen local groups that serve African Americans who breastfeed.

It is our understanding that a storm is brewing in the lactation community among International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) and the several other lactation certifying organizations to gain the title of grand matron of the breastfeeding world. The African American community needs all the breastfeeding management assistance we can get in order to overcome the breastfeeding disparities in our community. ROSE is grateful for the work that you all do. We understand that breastfeeding promotion is not enough. To be successful, mothers may need hours of skilled help that is provided when needed. We are of the position that there is a need for several levels of lactation managers. There is a need for the novice, the beginner, the intermediate and the expert lactation specialist. We are of the position that EVERY informed person can help a mother to breastfeed. We are in NEED of every advocate who wishes to be involved with lactation management, to be applauded and welcomed to the table of breastfeeding protection. Everyone does not NEED a cardiologist. Everyone does not need a specialist. However, when a specialist is needed, it is wonderful to be able to refer to the IBCLC.

Becoming and maintaining the designation as an IBCLC is a complicated and expensive process. Many of us, concerned with addressing the disparities of breastfeeding in the African American community do not have the luxury of the time that it takes nor the necessary funds to be involved in this complicated process. This is what we have been told by African American health care providers and community organizers as we travel. That some sort of designation is important for the provider of direct lactation services in the hospital, is an underlying theme. We are of the firm belief that EVERY person, that has contact with and cares for mothers and babies in the hospital, should be trained to assist mothers in the hospital with skin to skin, latch and pumping when necessary. Our goal is to have every African American woman who has successfully breastfed a baby help another African American woman breastfeed her baby. Most of these women will never be an IBCLC.

Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, Inc. recently coordinated a Breastfeeding Summit which involved African American healthcare providers, community advocates, organizations, and government representatives from throughout the United States. We came together to ponder, discuss and debate the breastfeeding disparities in the African American community. We also celebrated. We celebrated the many accomplishments of the breastfeeding advocates that were gathered. This was an African American “Dream Team” of breastfeeding experts. There were 49 persons who assisted with the planning and execution of the summit. Three were African American IBCLC’s. Ten were African American CLC’s. All were experts at what they brought to the table to assist African American women breastfeed their babies.

Discussions during the Summit included: reforming healthcare through breastfeeding, exemplary lactation projects, consulting with doctors on effective initiatives, samples of breastfeeding support programs, saving our babies, reclaiming our breastfeeding experience, a continuum of care from the hospital to the neighborhood which featured primary care, hospital, community and public health and bridging the gap on breastfeeding disparities. These were the concerns of the experts on the planning committee. They were confirmed to be significant issues in our community by those in attendance. The raging debate about what certifying body should reign supreme in lactation management cannot distract us as we seek to save our babies. We could, however use your help with special situations when the occasion arises. ROSE will continue to be about the business of increasing initiation rates and duration rates of breastfeeding in the African American community.

You may contact ROSE, Inc. by sending email to or visiting their website at

Kimarie Bugg MSN, MPH, is President and CEO of Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere Inc. (ROSE), a nonprofit developed to decrease breastfeeding disparities in the African American community. ROSE’s mission is to train African American healthcare providers and community organizations to provide culturally competent encouragement and support so that African American mothers may begin to breastfeed at higher rates and sustain their breastfeeding experience to match the goals expected by the Surgeon General of the United States. Kim has been a bedside breastfeeding counselor in a large metropolitan hospital, managed perinatal and breastfeeding projects and programs at the state level, and has served as a technical advisor to Best Start, as well as for the US Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative. Kim was a founding member and officer of Georgia breastfeeding task force (coalition) and SEILCA. Kim was trained at Wellstart International and has traveled throughout the United States and several foreign countries training healthcare professionals to manage lactation. Kim previously worked for Emory University, school of medicine, department of pediatrics as a nurse practitioner. She also provides the training for Georgia’s WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselors, a proud position held since 2005. Kim is married to Dr. George Bugg Jr, a neonatologist and they have five breastfed children.

Mary Nicholson Jackson, CLC, works in a large urban hospital as a breastfeeding consultant and is the co-president of the Georgia State Breastfeeding coalition. Mary is Vice President of ROSE She is on numerous committees and task forces that address breastfeeding and lactation management in the community. She previously worked with Healthy Mother, Healthy Babies of Georgia. Mary is married and the mother of three adult children. She has three grandchildren.

Betty Neal, R.N., MSN, is a founding member of Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere Inc. (ROSE), a nonprofit developed to decrease breastfeeding disparities in the African American community. ROSE’s mission is to train African American healthcare providers and community organizations to provide culturally competent encouragement and support so that African American mothers may begin to breastfeed at higher rates and sustain their breastfeeding experience to match the goals expected by the Surgeon General of the United States. Betty has worked in women’s health for over 30 years. She completed certification as a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner from Emory University. She recently retired from the State of Georgia Department of Human Resources, DeKalb County Board of Health as a public health nurse and program administration where she managed, developed and implemented numerous statewide and local public health programs. Her past experiences include instruction in a baccalaureate nursing program and mother-baby nursing in a large urban hospital. She has an passion for mothers and babies and believes we must support and ”nurture our mothers who will nurture our babies”.

Andrea Serano, a ROSE Inc. staff member, is from North Hollywood CA., and attended Mount St. Mary’s College with a major in Healthcare Policy and minor in Business Administration. During her course of studies, she participated in the Washington Semester Program- Transforming Communities at American University. She has interned at the U.S. Department of Health and Humans Service in the Office on Women’s Health and at Great Beginnings for Black Babies. Andrea has participated in breastfeeding awareness movements through the use of social media and hopes to one day establish a young women’s development center in the country of Belize.

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9 Responses to Reducing the Breastfeeding Disparities Among African American Women: A Commentary from ROSE, Inc.

  1. Pat Young 25 September 2012 at 14:00 #

    This is a fabulous organization. I, for one, am so glad it has been organized. Let’s go sisters!

  2. Julie Lee 25 September 2012 at 17:15 #

    ROSE, I agree and support the need for another level of lactation educator to assist moms through an affordable and quick pathway. I propose the same for those of us who work in very small rural hospital without help or back- up! Has your group approached USBC to help? I know they are an offspring of ILCA but have many assertive strong voices that can lead you toward the right direction. Good luck and God bless your work!

    Julie Lee RN,IBCLC

    • Julie…FYI/clarification… the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) is not a part of the International Lactation Consultant Association … although the US-based part of ILCA, the United States Lactation Consultant Association (USLCA) is a *member* organization of USBC. USBC is an organization of organizations … “a multisectoral national breastfeeding committee comprised of representatives from relevant government departments, non-governmental organizations, and health professional associations to coordinate national breastfeeding initiatives. USBC is now a coalition of more than 40 organizations that support its mission to improve the Nation’s health by working collaboratively to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding.”

  3. Terry Jo Curtis IBCLC 26 September 2012 at 09:59 #

    I am happy to be a new long distance member of Rose and I believe we will become a strong force in the African American breastfeeding community. As we grow and design new interventions that are suitable to meet our immediate breastfeeding needs for our black population, I hope these solutions will gain favor and become helpful in expanding breastfeeding all over the USA. The one thing that really connects us is sharing ideas with each other. And encourageing,and yes sometimes disagreeing and correcting each other with love.I am excited I have already learned so much from being a part of ROSE . I know I am not alone when I say I have been looking to connect with other black breastfeeding advocates like myself. We are not alone in this journey. Ladies you ROCK.

  4. ECBrooks 26 September 2012 at 10:34 #

    Thanks, Kim, for your articulate blog piece about racial disparities in the USA in rates of breastfeeding initiation, exclusivity and duration … and its companion but separate issue of lack of diversity in those who provide lactation support (from mother-to-mother counselors all the “up the ladder” of training and education, to those who have earned the essential credential for lactation support, the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant [IBCLC]). Every mother, everywhere, needs support while breastfeeding … and I especially like your phrasing that “every *informed* person can help a mother to breastfeed.”

    There is plenty of work to go around: Lactating women are everywhere, and they deserve competent, passionate information and support along the way … whether their barriers are reached in pregnancy, during birth, in those first few postpartum days in the hospital, perhaps in the NICU, upon discharge home, while at home as the breastfeeding mother of a new baby, upon return to work or school, when gently weaning … or while just plain living in the community, when going out with children to shop, play, worship, travel, visit friends, or to handle family errands!

    The only real raging debate is: Why is it so hard for every mother, everywhere, to find easy access to this very simple yet essential support from counselors or healthcare providers? Peeling back the onion even one more layer to the core: Why isn’t every mother able simply to turn to her own [formerly-or-currently-successful-breastfeeding] mother, sister, grandmother, aunt, friend or neighbor … to get answers about this common, normal, everyday activity called breastfeeding? ROSE sprang from a recognition that we are nowhere near to that core of the onion.

    Breastfeeding barriers must be tackled on a macro level (with national and international public health policies that recognize breastfeeding as the biologic imperative), and on a micro level (developing accessible community-based breastfeeding support … literally in one’s backyard). When families do have a need for the specialized skill and expertise of an IBCLC, such allied healthcare should be readily available, and easily reimbursed.

    No one group of breastfeeding helpers (doctors, midwives, IBCLCs, peer counselors, those who’ve acquired specialized short-term educational training) can “corner the market” on helping mothers. That is impossible. But a corollary concept is: Each kind of breastfeeding support should be well and honestly marketed to the public — to the mothers, employers, hospital administrators and public health decision-makers who seek varying levels of expertise. Every mother, everywhere deserves to know what went into the education and training of the person who stands before her, offering “Informed support” for breastfeeding. For ILCA, marketing the IBCLC credential and profession is the cornerstone of its Strategic Plan, Vision and Mission: For ILCA, marketing the Role and Impact of the IBCLC is one way of making sure that mothers who need an IBCLC will recognize when they are getting an IBCLC.

  5. Janette Brooke, IBCLC 27 September 2012 at 07:00 #

    Oh this is a difficult topic. Some years ago I suggested to an eminent colleague & friend here in Australia, who at the time was, or around that time, President of ILCA, would it be possible for the IBLCE (International Board of Lactation Consultants Examiners) to look at devising a Certification program to serve a purpose, such as what ROSE is endeavouring to provide. It is well recognized that many would be (prospective IBCLC’s), find the cost and commitment in time, involved in working towards and achieving the IBCLC certification, prohibitive. Plus the cost and commitment in hours needed to re-certify every 5 years. In so saying this, many of these dedicated breastfeeding supporters, with a degree of formal education and evidence of achievement, would be well placed to give expert support & guidance to many breastfeeding families who are struggling in one way or another.
    In my experience, over half a century as a practicing midwife and many years as a Private Practicing Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), I have found that supporting and guiding Mothers in an attachment technique that has been around for centuries, is proving to resolve or eliminate altogether, nipple trauma. This being the most commonest cause of breastfeeding difficulties and often failure of a successful breastfeeding experience. To return to basic, old fashioned principles, that often work for most Mothers, with some modifications if needed to suit individual Mother/baby diad’s where necessary, is very often all that is needed. In recent years, I am finding that all the new inventions if you like, or strategies that are being presented at conferences, workshops etc. are not helpful in avoiding nipple trauma. Many babies I see are nipple feeding instead of breastfeeding because they are not achieving a deep enough latch by e.g self attaching. It breaks my heart to see Mothers with near perfect or perfect breast and nipple anatomy, experiencing nipple damage that in my belief should never have occurred if these Mothers had been shown how to achieve a deep latch in the first 48 hours before their milk came in and their breasts filled. So many Mothers say to me ” why hasn’t anyone shown me how to do it this way before” when they experience the comfort of a better latch (even though their nipples are far from healed).
    So can I again suggest that some sort of recognized program, with a credential/certification be developed to enable experienced breastfeeding support persons to be able to provide the basic guidance to breastfeeding Mothers and their families and then refer Mothers onto IBCLC’s for more complicated issues when necessary or when what support they have offered has not resolved the issue presenting.

  6. consciousdaughters 29 September 2012 at 20:37 #

    Reblogged this on Conscious Daughters and commented:
    Great article! And much needed in our community.

  7. Lugenia Grider 31 January 2013 at 11:06 #

    EVERYONE is warmly invited to breastfeeding ROSE Charlotte Launch on Saturday February 16, 2013 @ 1:30-3:00p. Help us support African American Breastfeeding Moms at Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte, NC. Hope to see you there! 🙂


  1. Reducing the Breastfeeding Disparities Among African American Women: A Commentary from ROSE, Inc. | breathe. push. grow. - 1 February 2013

    […] by permission; Original post appeared on Lactation Matters, the official blog of the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA) – September 25, […]

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