Breastfeeding is Life or Death for Communities of Color

May 16, 2017

We see breastfeeding as a life and death
for communities of color –

and an essential part of closing our health disparities.

Camie Goldhammer, MSW, LICSW, IBCLC

*Excerpts from the KUOW article by Ann Dornfeld, link below

It was her own experience birthing and breastfeeding, that spurred Camie Goldhammer on to her journey towards breastfeeding equity. The labor was intense and “I had not taken a breastfeeding course,” Goldhammer said. “I’d never really seen anybody breastfeed. No one in my family had done that.”

Goldhammer is Sisseton-Wahpeton, a tribe from South Dakota. Breastfeeding rates are low among Native women. But Goldhammer thought she’d give it a try. “And so I latched my baby on, and in that moment I had what I call a ‘spiritual awakening’ where I felt the fireworks, and just, like, warmth and amazingness, and really felt the presence of all my ancestors with me.”

Before she gave birth, her work focused on issues of attachment and bonding between Native parents and children. Breastfeeding was an epiphany. “I was just like, ‘This is the answer, this is everything. In all this work that I’ve been doing, how has no one ever told me about breastfeeding?'”

Breastfeeding has benefits far beyond mother and child bonding. In King County, black and Native American babies are more than twice as likely to die as white infants before their first birthdays. Public health officials say breastfeeding is one key to lowering infant mortality rates — including the rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Goldhammer dove into breastfeeding research and became a licensed lactation consultant — a specialist who gives mothers advice about how to help their newborn latch on comfortably and get enough to eat. She’s one of just a handful of lactation consultants of color in the state.

Goldhammer said there are many reasons why breastfeeding rates are lower among many women of color. Studies show that when white women give birth, they’re more likely to be given breastfeeding help in the hospital. Many low-income women go back to work soon after giving birth, to jobs where pumping milk is difficult or impossible.

For women who need help breastfeeding, lactation consultants can be unaffordable or hard to access in certain parts of town. And Goldhammer said women of color can be uncomfortable inviting health care providers into their homes given this country’s ugly history with unjust child removals.

Angela Tam and her husband Herman hoped that Angela would breastfeed their first daughter, Rosalee. Tam had so many problems trying to nurse Rosalee that she found herself stuck at home all day every day, constantly pumping milk to fill bottles for a baby who couldn’t latch on to the breast.

“I gave up on breastfeeding,” Tam said. “I posted all of my breastfeeding supplies on Facebook to give away.” Goldhammer saw the post and invited Tam to her free, weekly drop-in lactation clinic in South Seattle.

The Tam family, one of Camie’s lactation support

Angela Tam struggled to nurse her firstborn daughter and posted her nursing supplies for free on a mom’s Facebook group. Goldhammer invited Tam to a free drop-in nursing group and helped her daughter, at five months, learn to latch onto her mother’s breast.Until then, Tam had white health care providers for her baby.

“I think breastfeeding is so intimate. You bare your breast to a stranger that comes in to help guide your baby to your breast, again and again, maybe a thousand times over,” Tam said. “I think having a person of color be a part of a really intimate part of our journey, it takes a little bit of the scariness that comes with the vulnerability out of the equation.”

Goldhammer says she sees breastfeeding knowledge as a human right. And, she says, there’s too much at stake to require people to pay for it. “We see breastfeeding as a life and death for communities of color, and an essential part of closing our health disparities,” she said.

Camie Goldhammer was a recent featured panelist (“Embedding Racial Equity into Practice,” with Simran Noor and Kimberly Seals Allers) at the 2017 California Breastfeeding Summit in Anaheim, CA.

Please read the article “Breastfeeding is ‘life or death for communities of color