This week marks the second annual Black Breastfeeding Week (learn more here). We asked Kimberly Durdin, IBCLC, SMW, to share with us her reflections on her path to becoming an IBCLC, why we need Black Breastfeeding Week, and how we as IBCLCs can support Black women in our profession.
23 years ago, I was a brand new mom, with a weeks old baby daughter, who I was struggling to breastfeed. In spite of the support my mother (who had breastfed) and my husband, I needed more. I struggled with sore nipples, Caesarian recovery and thoughts of giving up. A new mom friend told me about our local La Leche League group and one day, I stumbled into the monthly meeting with my baby in my arms.
I received the support and help that I needed, and with the help of that leaders encouragement, I came back to more meetings and gained a community I didn’t even know was forming around me. Four months into nursing my daughter, this leader encouraged me to do more . . . she suggested I become a La Leche League leader. I had no idea what that entailed and I surely felt unqualified to even attempt that journey. Patiently she keep after me, reminding me of what she said when the suggestion first left her lips: “There are not a lot of black women doing this [breastfeeding and becoming La Leche League Leaders]. You’d be a great role model.”
Although it took me four years and a winding path to actually make that happen, I did become a LLL Leader (yes, one of the few African American ones). I also became a breastfeeding peer counselor through the WIC program and, years later, an IBCLC. Although I have had many mentors over the years that I continue to value and learn from, I can’t thank enough Lucy Koteen, long time La Leche League Leader from Brooklyn, NY for not only seeing something in me that I didn’t see in myself, but for also being such an outstanding, open-minded person. She was aware not only of her privilege, but also of the issues around her, beyond the ones in her immediate world (for example, breastfeeding in the Black community) and sought ways in which she could be of support.
She believed that all women should have support for breastfeeding and sought out ways to bring the information to underserved audiences such as young black and brown pregnant and parenting girls. She knew that someone who looked like them could perhaps deliver a message that may have more impact than hearing it (in her case) from a “wealthy older white lady telling these girls that they should breastfeed.” She got out of the way . . . it wasn’t about her. She didn’t need money and she didn’t have an agenda but to help as many woman as she could. She wasn’t a lactation consultant, and never became one. Because of her, a seed was planted in me and slowly, very slowly – and with the help of many other mentors along the way – a lactation professional emerged. As I grew into this profession, it was not only my own actions, but the support (and sometimes that support was strictly financial) of others who believed in me that actually made my dream of becoming a lactation consultant a reality. I could not have done this without the support of folks like Lucy. Actually, I could have done it, I would do whatever it took, but they helped me navigate looming obstacles. In the process I’ve been able to help innumerable families, many who look like me and many who don’t. (I’ve also been able to help women who look like me enter the profession, too.)
This past July, I attended the Inaugural and historical Lactation Summit 2014 hosted by ILCA, LEAARC and IBLCE. Afterwards, I talked with a number of Summit attendees from the dominant culture. I was surprised to learn that many were unaware of the struggle that women of color have experienced in breastfeeding their own children, in receiving culturally competent care, and in obtaining the required education, mentoring, opportunities and financial support needed to sit for the IBCLC exam. The barriers are financial, cultural, systemic and logistical. When dominant culture women aren’t aware of the challenges that women of color face, that lack of awareness becomes a barrier of its own.
Many also told me their eyes have been opened in a new way to inequities on various levels. These inequities harm Black women, but they also derail our profession.
Would you like to help? Are you wondering what support looks like? Here are some ways you can take action in your community:
One: Give to an educational scholarship of your choosing that will directly benefilt a candidate of color. A great way to do this is to list your educational scholarship or opportunity with The Grand Challenge.
Two: Contribute to cost of trainings for candidates of color.
Three: Offer to mentor candidates. Bring them into your practice. Open doors for them that they wouldn’t have possibly been able to open without your connection.
Four: Contribute to expenses related to obtaining certification such as traveling expenses and testing fees.
Five: Contribute to educational fees associated with obtaining CERPs.
Six: Offer free/reduced price or scholarships for classes you may offer to expectant and breastfeeding parents so that more community members can be educated, and also this helps to seed and grow the next generation of lactation and childbirth pros.
Seven: Respect and understand that some women of color are much more open to receiving health messages from other folks of color. Dominant culture women must learn to respect that and not feel threatened by it. Events like Black Breastfeeding Week help to strengthen cultural pride and awareness around our herstory of breastfeeding . . . our struggles challenges and triumph that are unique to our community, our shared herstory.
I hope that dominant culture breastfeeding supporters do not perceive Black Breastfeeding Week as some sort of woman of color protest. Black women rarely see images of women who look like them breastfeeding. Many breastfeeding promotion campaigns do not include images of black women breastfeeding. Events like Black Breastfeeding Week help black women see breastfeeding as something they do, too . . . not just something white women do.
Kimberly Durdin, IBCLC, SMW, is an internationally board certified lactation consultant, childbirth educator, speaker, trainer, former birth and postpartum doula and a retired La Leche League Leader. She has helped thousands of families have a satisfying and empowering experience of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and parenting. Kimberly has served families in New York City, Los Angeles and Washington, DC, where she was named one of the best lactation consultants in 2004 by Washington Families magazine. Learn more here.