24 Feb

Black Lives Matter: how the Breastfeeding Network is working to tackle racial inequality

In June 2020, against the backdrop of the worldwide protests advocating for an end to racial inequality on a mass scale, the Breastfeeding Network shared a statement on Black Lives Matter in solidarity against racism. It felt especially relevant for BfN to do this given our work with all mothers and our knowledge of the deep inequalities that exist for Black and Asian women in our maternity services highlighted in the MBRRACE report.

Here is that statement again:


Black breastfeeding matters

We stand alongside all Black mothers and families, and are willing to do anything we can to ensure mothers and babies get real change for the better.

At the heart of BfN’s values is empowerment of women, and none of us can feel empowered if we are raising our children with threat from racism.

As a charity we have always believed in social justice for mothers and babies, but often we have felt limited in what to do, in part due to our own ignorance – which is our responsibility to correct.

We hear our fellow Black mothers and families and we are committed to doing more – using our core values of empowerment, empathy and actively listening.

We are committed to learning and educating ourselves.

We will share and amplify Black women’s voices. We are here for you.


Since we made that statement, what have we done?

We have made the commitment publicly to push for anti-racism within infant feeding and across maternity and the early years agenda. We have done this through becoming a more visible ally to the people and organisations who give voice to anti-racism, including providing monetary support for Black Breastfeeding Week and promotion and awareness raising of the FIVEXMORE campaign in our communications.

Across the charity we have questioned ourselves and heard from others to understand our responsibilities to drive up equality and eliminate racist behaviour. While we, like many other breastfeeding support organisations, don’t consider ourselves to be racist, by virtue of the UK’s shocking inequalities we recognise that by remaining passive on these issues we perpetuate the same behaviours that allow racism to flourish. We all need to do more and given what we know about the inequalities that persist within breastfeeding we in particular actually need to do more than most to help correct this. We aim to drive up racial equality in breastfeeding by further committing to supporting ALL families to feel comfortable accessing our support, training, volunteering and working for us. This is at the heart of our work and we know that we can only truly achieve it by becoming a more representative and diverse charity.

So, informed by early work undertaken by volunteers on a working group in 2018/19, we have been asking ourselves …

  • What are the changes that we need to make?

Last summer we heard from many of our peer supporters out in communities who knew more than we did to understand how we can implement a lasting inclusion and diversity action plan for the charity.

  • Where we are now and, and what actions must we take?

Guided by the insights from the volunteer working group, Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority peer supporters from BfN, and colleagues from BRAP, we have mapped the areas and actions that we want to work on. Our Board-approved Inclusion and Diversity Action Plan will document change in the following areas:-

People we support

We have always recognised that some women face higher barriers to breastfeeding support. This is why we have and will continue to keep our training for mothers free. We have also always targeted our work in areas where breastfeeding rates are at their lowest. We routinely collect ethnicity data on our helplines and across our commissioned services but we don’t have a complete picture for our volunteers across the charity. We believe that increasing access to our training is key to building a more diverse charity. However, we recognise that even the act of volunteering is problematic for individuals and communities who are not able to afford to volunteer.

We provide a universal service meeting mothers on-wards, and we know that our home visits reach a diverse community, but many services are based at our community groups and attendance at groups is not representative. Through our action plan we are seeking partnerships with others to help us build representation across our community groups and drop-ins. We recognise that with a few exceptions the majority of the people we support across our helplines and in our commissioned services are white and we want to change this through encouraging wider access to our training. The charity has a tradition of offering minority language lines. We proactively maintain specific helpline support for Welsh, Polish, Bengali/Syheti women and families – and are able also to offer helpline support in various other languages, because of the diversity and strength in languages that our networks possess. While we see this as a strength it can also be a practical weakness as language lines rely on volunteers. We will proactively report on the take-up of our language lines and develop less volunteer-reliant ways of supporting families who require support in a different language. 

Board

While progress had been made to engage younger mothers with lived experience of breastfeeding on the Board as Directors there has been a clear lack of diverse ethnic representation on our Board of Directors for some time. In November 2020 we were pleased to welcome two new board members and there is an ongoing commitment to ensure strong representation on the Board to support effective decision-making.

Workforce and volunteers

BfN attracts a diverse range of candidates for jobs but we need to do more work to see if the people who get offered jobs are also representative and diverse. We commit to doing an employee survey in 2021 and benchmarking with other appropriate organisations.

We will also explicitly recruit staff from diverse backgrounds for a range of specialist and skilled roles across the organisation.

Training and Supervision

We are working with a partner to undertake a review of our Helper training and resources to ensure equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility. This will be complete by February 2021 and then we will look to extend the review across the rest of our training resources over the course of the year.

Our commissioned work in Cheshire and Merseyside, where some trainees were recruited through the Black Mum Magic Project, will provide invaluable ongoing learning for our training. As the vast majority of our trainees are white, attracting, training and retaining women from more diverse ethnic backgrounds is a key focus of our work in many communities. We intend to offer targeted training to these communities independently or in collaboration with a partner. 

Internal Culture

We recognise that we have not done enough to help our workforce adopt and implement inclusive and diverse practices and to build knowledge and cultural sensitivity. In early 2021 we are training our tutors and supervisors in inclusion and diversity, we are doing this with two external providers – BRAP, an equality charity, and Vanisha Virgo, Mama and Me, who has trained with BfN. We will extend training on inclusion and diversity to all staff by the end of 2021.

We have reviewed our mandatory training requirements to cover training that is important to our volunteers and staff and this now includes inclusion and diversity training.

We are committed to diversity and inclusion being on all agendas – wherever we meet we will actively discuss and invite feedback and learning on diversity and inclusion. This includes our Board, manager meetings and meetings of our project leads, tutors and supervisors.

We are collecting and updating resources, policies and documents on inclusion and diversity and we will make these available for all staff and volunteers as part of the induction process.

Website

The working group in 2019 guided us on changes that have largely been implemented but we want to do more. Our website requires an overhaul both in design, images and content and this is a goal to achieve in 2021/22.

Marketing and Communications

Our communications team do and will continue to ensure that our values around diversity and inclusivity are publicly demonstrated.  This covers our newsletters, all social media channels, blogs, campaigns and printed materials.

Next Steps …

We are committed to taking lasting and ongoing action and progressing our plans publicly. We will share progress. We have dedicated resources within our team and a commitment from the charity to implement real change. We will work with partners and agencies to help guide us as we bring on these changes to ensure that the impact of the changes we make is evaluated and prove to be effective.

We are grateful to the many peer supporters in BfN from Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnic backgrounds who took the time to talk with us about their lived experience of our support, training and volunteering. BfN at its heart is a listening organisation and we believe that it is really only through listening that we can fully understand the needs of the women and families whom we serve.  However, it is through action that we can really build trust and confidence. We welcome any other feedback, especially where you think we could do better. Please contact us ceo@breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk

25 Aug

Black Breastfeeding Week 2020 – thoughts from a mum, midwife and BfN volunteer

Andrea is a trained BfN Helper volunteer based in Wolverhampton. She is a mum of three (now grown up!) children. She worked as an NHS nurse and midwife for 18 years and now works as a Clinical Reflexologist and runs her own holistic therapy business. In this personal account, she shares some of her own views on Black Breastfeeding week, and experiences both as a mum and as a midwife.

I must be honest when I saw the title Black Breastfeeding week. I thought ‘Interesting! Why would we need a separate week looking at Black breastfeeding? Isn’t all breastfeeding the same? Lol!’.  I then had a look at some of the links and listened to a talk by Ruth Dennison on YouTube.
 
I must admit my personal experience of breastfeeding with regards to my family and community has been a very positive one. I come from a family of nine children, two boys and seven girls. I am the baby of the bunch.
 
I watched all my sisters breastfeeding, and skin to skin was always important. My great Auntie would come and do the first bath for the newborn following by her famous stretch massage with olive oil. The baby would sleep for half the day after that.
 
Preparing a nursery for the baby was unheard of because baby was going to stay in the room with parent/s until he/she could sleep in a bed.
Co-sleeping was also a common thing, although this would only tend to be for the convenience of breastfeeding, or if the child was unwell and wouldn’t settle unless close to their mother.
 
One true thing about the Black community is they do like to feed! The thought of someone going hungry, or not getting enough nourishment does not go down well.
 
This is where I think the point Ruth makes in her talk suggesting that black people having the tendency to mix feed comes into play. I believe formula milk was sold to us as ‘good for your baby’. And we still knew deep down that breast was also good, so we would think ‘well why not do a bit of both!’
 
When I had my children, even though I was only 19 when I had my son, I knew I was going to breastfeed. Establishing breastfeeding was not all plain sailing though! I found my mother and sisters were very encouraging, although having said that, if I was given any advice from healthcare professionals that may well have gone against what we had culturally inherited from our African ancestors, I was encouraged to listen to what the healthcare professionals told me.
 
For example, I was told to give my baby some formula as he was described as ‘a hungry baby’. I know now that it was probably down to just needing a slight adjustment to the latch. Because of this I did mix feed my son and stopped breastfeeding after 6 months.
 
Then when I had my twin daughters at the age of 28, and now a qualified Nurse. I was determined they would have no formula. This time I was confronted with a lot of pressure from healthcare professionals to give some formula. I was told “you can’t feed twins”, “they are small they need something more than breast milk” “they are losing weight you need to top them up”.
   
This time though, I was a little older, a little wiser and was even confident enough to reassure my mother when she thought maybe I should listen to the healthcare professionals. Don’t get me wrong – I would never encourage a women not to listen to the healthcare professionals, as I am one myself. But we do know at times we can give out conflicting advice, therefore I always encourage women to seek evidence based research for themselves enabling them to make informed decisions. 
 
I breastfed my twin daughters exclusively for 6 months until I introduced other foods, whilst continuing with breastfeeding up until 18 months old.
During my time as a midwife I was always an advocate for breastfeeding if this was the women’s choice and I would try to support her and the rest of the family to the best of my ability.
 
With regards to supporting women from the Black community, I found because I had a full understanding of the cultural background, it would help me to better understand the woman’s needs.
 
In relation to the recent Black Lives Matter campaign that has been highlighted after the unfortunate death of George Floyd, I would like to share with you two personal experiences that may help to explain some of the inequalities in health related to Black people.
 
When my twins were born in 1990, a few days after their birth I was approached by a white midwife who had two little injections all drawn up and ready to go! When I asked what it was for she said she was going to give my babies a BCG injection.
 
She went on to explain the reason I was being offered this was because (in her words) ‘Asian people come to England and they live all together under one roof, they bring TB with them from India and that’s why we offer it to all black and Asian babies’.
 
Her reply made no sense to me. I was not Asian and I did not live in their houses with them. I lived in a community that consisted of Black, White, and Asian people, yet the injection was not being offered to white babies.
 
I decided I would try to investigate the matter further by asking other midwives and a doctor why it was so important for my babies to have this injection so soon after their birth. I understood the point being made with regards to some Asian communities, but I did not come under that category.
 
I could not get an answer that I was satisfied with. I decided not to give my babies the injection at that stage and they proceeded to have the injection in year 6 of school alongside the majority of children.
 
The moral of this story is that sometimes people of colour are just grouped together without any real consideration or thought. We have white and then BAME!
 
Secondly, when I worked as a midwife on the ward in the mid 1990’s we were provided with little bottles of ready-made formula milk that mothers could help themselves to whilst they were inpatients. Theses bottles of milk were supplied in such vast amounts that quite often they would go past their expiry date before they could be used.
 
Being a person that does not like waste I decided to investigate what happens to all this out of date formula milk. My discovery was shocking. It was being sent to places in Africa and given to nursing moms there!
 
What was even more shocking is that a lot of my colleagues did not see a problem with this, with some suggesting ‘well it’s better than nothing! Because they don’t have much food do they?’
 
We all know there are deeper conversations to be had surroundings this but I think I have ranted enough. With that said I’m still a little unsure about the title ‘black breastfeeding’.
 
Breastfeeding has been sold to us all (whatever colour we are) as something that is unnatural, inconvenient, embarrassing and difficult. I believe our biggest challenge is a reconditioning of our minds. Some of the challenges may well differ depending on our cultural backgrounds, but we all face similar challenges when it comes to breastfeeding our babies, irrespective of our colour.
 
We all have a common interest to make this a better world with less unnecessary discrimination and prejudices that just hold us back. 
 
It’s worth noting that this was some time ago and I know things have changed on maternity units now but it does demonstrate the attitudes that people had then and others have grown up with.
 

Thank you for sharing your story and thoughts with us Andrea.

24 Aug

Guest Blog by Ruth Dennison – Why Black Breastfeeding Week?

Ruth Dennison
Ruth Dennison is a Doula and breastfeeding supporter in London.  She has kindly shared this blog with us to celebrate the first ever Black Breastfeeding Week in the UK.  The original version of this blog can be found here.

.
Black Breastfeeding Week starts 25th – 31st August, we will celebrating Black Breastfeeding Week for the first time in the UK.

 .
There has been a look into what has been happening in the breastfeeding community of black families.  It has been documented in the UK showing that black women have the highest breastfeeding rates of 1-3% .  Many are questioning this, as there are many factors within the black community which causes black women to not exclusively breastfeed their babies until 6 months and beyond as recommended by UNICEF and WHO.  Evidence shows that Black families suffer the highest infant mortality in the UK and it is strongly believed breastfeeding could help reduce the numbers.  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).
 .
In the black community it is very common for mothers to offer their babies alternatives from early, 2-4months, if not earlier.  The top on the list is introducing water, why? because baby has a bad tummy.  Black families have a culture of introducing solid foods from as early as 3- 4 months, why? because their milk is not satisfying baby, because baby is looking at the dinner plate and trying to grab the food off, she is now ready to eat, because granny said baby keeps crying, because your breast milk is not enough, mum needs to rest and let someone else feed baby (this can be done with expressed breast milk and breastfeeding actually makes mothers have to sit their busy bodies down, bond, heal and nurture their babies while they rest), because you never knew what to expect, because no one told you, because you never had any breastfeeding support, because breastfeeding is painful (which it should not be).  I would say I have listed a good few things on why many black women don’t exclusively breastfeed their babies in the early stages of their babies life and there is so much more to this which will be high lighted at the “Why Black Breastfeeding Week?” event.
 .
Do you know there is a history of breastfeeding trauma which has passed down through generations in the black community, this may still be hindering breastfeeding in the black community today, many black women tend to not seek breastfeeding education, they tend to listen to their family elders, especially grandparents, as they are placed as the veterans in parenting.  Learn more about the history of breastfeeding trauma within the black community here: Slavery, Wet-Nursing, and Black
 .
This table below shows research on the reasons why breastfeeding mothers in the Caribbean introduce supplements to their babies, this also effects black mothers in the UK.
The most common reason was that water was given as it was felt the babies were too hot, baby was constipated or have grip (wind), to wash baby’s tongue, to settle baby, supplements were started in the hospital nursery or when mothers was ill, to prevent baby getting gas from the breastmilk, or on doctor’s orders.
 .
How many black women do you see in your local community breastfeeding support groups?
A qualitative study of baby cafe services was carried out in the UK, within this it states, older, more highly educated mothers are more likely to seek help with breastfeeding difficulties.  Which ethnicity/colour do you think these mothers are?
 .
I do get a lot of hate when I speak on colour and breastfeeding, especially on my BBW Youtube video I made last year, it did get to me to begin with but now I do not worry about the negative comments, because those who don’t want to learn about the issues which lay in the black breastfeeding community, don’t really care and to be honest that is life, you can’t please everyone no matter how much you try.  BBW is not a race war, it is a call for action as evidence show black babies die at a higher rate than any other race.
 .
Yes, we all know the world needs major improvements in breastfeeding, but when working within breastfeeding, noticing how badly this is effecting the black community more than any other race, it is only right that someone waves the red flag and alerts the UK breastfeeding community.
 .
Yes, black mothers may have a higher initiation of breastfeeding, but it is also very common for black mothers to introduced their babies to alternatives from early days, weeks and months due to culture influences, social pressures and lack of skilled breastfeeding support.
 .
Here I have attached a link of 3 black breastfeeding mothers stories, with hope that you see it through the mothers eyes.
 .
There are many risk factors contributing to infant mortality such as birthweight, mother’s age at birth of child, and the parents’ socio-economic status, some of these same factors are also what contributes to the high drop off breastfeeding rates in the black community.
 .
Black African origin in the UK, had the highest infant mortality rate at 54.1 deaths per 1,000 live births, you can learn more here.
 .
Black Breastfeeding week isn’t just an issue in USA, it is an issue in the UK and other parts of the world.
My name is Ruth Dennison, I am a Doula who specialises in breastfeeding.  I have been supporting families in breastfeeding since 2007 in the NHS and privately.
 .
On Friday August 31st 2018, I will be hosting the ‘Why Black Breastfeeding Week’ event,  because many don’t understand why we need it and it is important for families, breastfeeding practitioners and organisations to learn the reasons why.  When we learn the reasons why, is when we can then help make a change, help reduce infant mortality and better the health within the black community as evidence shows breastfeeding has long term health benefits for mother and child and this lengthens the longer you breastfeed.
 .
After speaking with Kimberly Seals Allers Author of The Big Letdown and Mars Lord from Abuela Doulas, at the Birth and Breastfeeding While Black UK event, it made me more determined to host this event.  I know it may not be everyone’s cup of tea but neither is it mine when I know how much improvements need to be made for black families and breastfeeding.
 .
Together we can make a change!

Event Information

Event Information

“Why Black Breastfeeding Week?” event coming Friday 31st August 2018, learn more or purchase tickets here.

24 Aug

Guest Post by Ruth Dennison – Why Black Breastfeeding Week?

Ruth Dennison
Ruth Dennison is a Doula and breastfeeding supporter in London.  She has kindly shared this blog with us to celebrate the first ever Black Breastfeeding Week in the UK.  The original version of this blog can be found here.

.
Black Breastfeeding Week starts 25th – 31st August, we will celebrating Black Breastfeeding Week for the first time in the UK.

 .
There has been a look into what has been happening in the breastfeeding community of black families.  It has been documented in the UK showing that black women have the highest breastfeeding rates of 1-3% .  Many are questioning this, as there are many factors within the black community which causes black women to not exclusively breastfeed their babies until 6 months and beyond as recommended by UNICEF and WHO.  Evidence shows that Black families suffer the highest infant mortality in the UK and it is strongly believed breastfeeding could help reduce the numbers.  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).
 .
In the black community it is very common for mothers to offer their babies alternatives from early, 2-4months, if not earlier.  The top on the list is introducing water, why? because baby has a bad tummy.  Black families have a culture of introducing solid foods from as early as 3- 4 months, why? because their milk is not satisfying baby, because baby is looking at the dinner plate and trying to grab the food off, she is now ready to eat, because granny said baby keeps crying, because your breast milk is not enough, mum needs to rest and let someone else feed baby (this can be done with expressed breast milk and breastfeeding actually makes mothers have to sit their busy bodies down, bond, heal and nurture their babies while they rest), because you never knew what to expect, because no one told you, because you never had any breastfeeding support, because breastfeeding is painful (which it should not be).  I would say I have listed a good few things on why many black women don’t exclusively breastfeed their babies in the early stages of their babies life and there is so much more to this which will be high lighted at the “Why Black Breastfeeding Week?” event.
 .
Do you know there is a history of breastfeeding trauma which has passed down through generations in the black community, this may still be hindering breastfeeding in the black community today, many black women tend to not seek breastfeeding education, they tend to listen to their family elders, especially grandparents, as they are placed as the veterans in parenting.  Learn more about the history of breastfeeding trauma within the black community here: Slavery, Wet-Nursing, and Black
 .
This table below shows research on the reasons why breastfeeding mothers in the Caribbean introduce supplements to their babies, this also effects black mothers in the UK.
The most common reason was that water was given as it was felt the babies were too hot, baby was constipated or have grip (wind), to wash baby’s tongue, to settle baby, supplements were started in the hospital nursery or when mothers was ill, to prevent baby getting gas from the breastmilk, or on doctor’s orders.
 .
How many black women do you see in your local community breastfeeding support groups?
A qualitative study of baby cafe services was carried out in the UK, within this it states, older, more highly educated mothers are more likely to seek help with breastfeeding difficulties.  Which ethnicity/colour do you think these mothers are?
 .
I do get a lot of hate when I speak on colour and breastfeeding, especially on my BBW Youtube video I made last year, it did get to me to begin with but now I do not worry about the negative comments, because those who don’t want to learn about the issues which lay in the black breastfeeding community, don’t really care and to be honest that is life, you can’t please everyone no matter how much you try.  BBW is not a race war, it is a call for action as evidence show black babies die at a higher rate than any other race.
 .
Yes, we all know the world needs major improvements in breastfeeding, but when working within breastfeeding, noticing how badly this is effecting the black community more than any other race, it is only right that someone waves the red flag and alerts the UK breastfeeding community.
 .
Yes, black mothers may have a higher initiation of breastfeeding, but it is also very common for black mothers to introduced their babies to alternatives from early days, weeks and months due to culture influences, social pressures and lack of skilled breastfeeding support.
 .
Here I have attached a link of 3 black breastfeeding mothers stories, with hope that you see it through the mothers eyes.
 .
There are many risk factors contributing to infant mortality such as birthweight, mother’s age at birth of child, and the parents’ socio-economic status, some of these same factors are also what contributes to the high drop off breastfeeding rates in the black community.
 .
Black African origin in the UK, had the highest infant mortality rate at 54.1 deaths per 1,000 live births, you can learn more here.
 .
Black Breastfeeding week isn’t just an issue in USA, it is an issue in the UK and other parts of the world.
My name is Ruth Dennison, I am a Doula who specialises in breastfeeding.  I have been supporting families in breastfeeding since 2007 in the NHS and privately.
 .
On Friday August 31st 2018, I will be hosting the ‘Why Black Breastfeeding Week’ event,  because many don’t understand why we need it and it is important for families, breastfeeding practitioners and organisations to learn the reasons why.  When we learn the reasons why, is when we can then help make a change, help reduce infant mortality and better the health within the black community as evidence shows breastfeeding has long term health benefits for mother and child and this lengthens the longer you breastfeed.
 .
After speaking with Kimberly Seals Allers Author of The Big Letdown and Mars Lord from Abuela Doulas, at the Birth and Breastfeeding While Black UK event, it made me more determined to host this event.  I know it may not be everyone’s cup of tea but neither is it mine when I know how much improvements need to be made for black families and breastfeeding.
 .
Together we can make a change!

Event Information

Event Information

“Why Black Breastfeeding Week?” event coming Friday 31st August 2018, learn more or purchase tickets here.