As some people know, I took an extended break from work in December and January. This much-needed pause gave me the chance to re-energize and reflect on the pride I feel for all that we’ve accomplished together in our Baby-Friendly work.
When I returned home with renewed vigor on February 1, which happened to be the first day of Black History Month, I learned some phenomenal news. Research conducted by our colleagues in the CHAMPS initiative has shown that successful implementation of Baby-Friendly practices leads to a decrease in racial disparities in breastfeeding.
It is very exciting to read the scientific evidence that demonstrates our collective work is achieving the desired results.
I have always seen the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) as a great equalizer. By assuring equal access to optimal care and restoring breastfeeding as a viable option for all mothers, the BFHI ensures all mothers and babies have an equal opportunity to receive the best evidence-based care and experience the important health benefits of breastfeeding.
It also points to the importance of our continued efforts. As the WHO and UNICEF put it in their revised BFHI Guidelines published last year, “As long as adherence to the Ten Steps is limited to only selected facilities, inequities in the quality of health care for newborns will persist.”
That’s what the BFHI is about – and that is why hearing the results of this research felt so very rewarding to me and was the perfect capstone to my time off.
We have known for many years that equity gaps disproportionately affect communities of color. African Americans have the lowest rates of breastfeeding among all racial/ethnic groups in the United States.
But we as a community have been determined to change that deep-rooted reality. Projects like CHAMPS, EMPower and Best Fed Beginnings specifically targeted areas of the country where racial disparities were most apparent, thanks to support from the CDC, the Kellogg Foundation and others. And on-the-ground organizations like Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE), Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association (BMBA), Uzazi Village, and the National Association of Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color (NAPPLSC) have deeply enriched our work with their energizing efforts to address structural racism.
Now, more and more black women are proudly nursing their children and helping to reclaim deep-rooted cultural norms.
And in an industry that is typically slow to shift its deeply-embedded practices, we have seen massive change in a few short years. Baby-Friendly practices are now standard care in maternity wards across the country.
I’m so proud that the BFHI and BFUSA have played pivotal roles in making that happen. And I am so grateful for all of the wonderful professionals who have helped break down these walls. I celebrate each and every one of you during Black History Month – and in every other month of the year as well. We still have a long way to go, especially in urban areas and in other communities with high concentrations of African Americans, but thanks to you, I am feeling energized and hopeful about the future. We know what needs to be done and now is the time to do it.
PS…If you haven’t done so already, please enjoy these related stories on BFUSA’s website: