Black Breastfeeding Week Offers a Chance to Examine What Works in California
“But I’ve never seen it in brown breasts – and even textbooks don’t show examples with breasts that look like yours.”
Devona Robertson could have been offended, even angry.
Instead she was relieved.
“I was so happy to have an answer that I could have kissed that woman on the mouth,” she recalls. “Still, it seemed strange to me that a professional would not have had exposure to brown breasts, not even in books.”
She didn’t know it at the time, but that moment led to Robertson’s career in birth and lactation support.
Twelve years later, nothing has changed and yet everything has changed.
“I love supporting women,” she said. “I love supporting families. This work is heavy and still so rewarding.”
Robertson’s passion for birth and breastfeeding in the Inland Empire is undeniable. She works with Riverside University Health System’s Public Health WIC Program – Sistah Connection, which supports Black families through monthly support groups, hospital visits, home visits and phone support. The California Breastfeeding Coalition (CBC) board member also organizes two Black Breastfeeding Week events, one in Riverside and one in San Bernardino.
“We all need to be listened to, supported and invested in,” she said, which is why her events are open to just about anyone. “If breastfeeding is part of their past, present or future, they are welcome. If they had a good experience, bad experience or neutral experience, they are welcome. We need all voices and all perspectives in this work.”
Black Breastfeeding Week, from Aug. 25 through 31, is an opportunity to highlight the work being done to support equity in the field and to advocate for representation. This year’s theme is The World Is Yours: Imagine. Innovate. Liberate.
Dr. Ifeyinwa Asiodu, board president for the CBC, says Black Breastfeeding Week (#BBW19) also offers a platform to share what’s working throughout our state.
Over the last two years, Asiodu spends the week highlighting the efforts and achievements of innovators and change-makers in the area of Black breastfeeding on her Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“Everyday, colleagues around the country and world do amazing work as it pertains to protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding, chestfeeding and the provision of human milk,” she said. “However, Black women and birthing individuals, often do not receive the necessary support, education and resources needed to initiate and sustain breastfeeding and lactation…yet, many go on to breastfeed and provide human milk for their infants. Black Breastfeeding Week allows us the opportunity to highlight experiences of joy, perseverance and resilience as it pertains to breastfeeding in Black communities.”
Adia Gipson, who works with Dignity Health in Sacramento said innovation and liberation come by providing information about how breastfeeding helps both mother and child.
“We need to incorporate more African American breastfeeding role models in our communities, social media and television in order for black women to see this is normal and accepted,” she said. “We must empower the black mother to know that her body is a temple and her breasts are an important part of her temple that allow her to give nourishment to her baby in ways no formula could ever duplicate.”
There is great work being done throughout California to promote, protect and encourage breastfeeding among black women. For a sample of the women behind the work, check out our Black Breastfeeding Week profiles. If you know of people or projects that should be highlighted as well, let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.