Why was Black Breastfeeding Week in the UK so important?

This August saw Black Breastfeeding Week. While it was the seventh in the US, it was only the second here. Find out more.

Disparity in breastfeeding rates

As well as being a valuable celebration of breastfeeding, Black Breastfeeding Week was crucial in highlighting the benefits of black mums breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding rates across the UK are low, with only 1% of babies being breastfed exclusively at six months. However, there is a disparity between the number of black mums who have ever breastfed compared to the number of white mums.

Journalist and campaigner Kimberly Seals Allers, one of the creators of Black Breastfeeding Week which has been running for seven years in the US, writes: ‘Black women have unique cultural barriers and a complex history connected to breastfeeding.

‘From our role as wet nurses in slavery being forced to breastfeed and nurture our slave owners children often to the detriment of our children, to the lack of mainstream role models and multi-generational support, to our own stereotyping within the community – we have a different dialogue around breastfeeding and it needs special attention.’

Ruth Dennison, a London doula, agrees that the history of breastfeeding trauma is still resonant within the black community in this country, and ‘may still be hindering breastfeeding today.’

She also highlights cultural reasons for black mums introducing other alternatives to breastmilk early, including lack of skilled breastfeeding support and social pressures.

Higher infant mortality

Asian British and Black British families suffer twice the infant mortality of White British families

Shockingly, evidence from the Office for National Statistics suggests that Asian British and Black British families suffer from twice the infant mortality of White British families.

Seals Allers writes that: ‘The high infant mortality rate among black infants is mostly due to their being disproportionately born too small, too sick or too soon. These babies need the immunities and nutritional benefit of breast milk the most.’

Dennison concurs that: ‘Breastfeeding/breastmilk have countless health benefits for mother and child, it can help prevent many illnesses, infections, diseases and reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden infant death syndrome).’

NCT’s Parent Content Manager, Sanjima DeZoysa, shares her personal experiences of breastfeeding as a first-generation British Asian, and explains why she thinks Black Breastfeeding Week is so important.

Read Ruth Dennison’s blog about the significance of Black Breastfeeding Week, and visit the Black Breastfeeding Week website.

Get support with breastfeeding or bottle-feeding your baby.