August 5, 2015
By Tonda Thompson, Milwaukee Lifecourse Community Health Ambassador
Growing up in the Borchert Field Neighborhood of Milwaukee, a predominately African-American neighborhood, it was rare to see a mother breastfeeding her child. On the walk home from Keefe Avenue Elementary school, I loved going to the local corner store to buy a bag of penny candy. Every once in a while, I would get stuck behind a mom who was buying cases of baby formula for her hungry baby who was straddled on her hip. Then, when I would visit my aunt who lived in Brown Deer, I would see a different picture; a woman taking pride in breastfeeding my two young cousins. Seeing that second scenario was abnormal behavior to me.
Now that I’m an adult however, I find myself more connected to my aunt’s experience and the importance of having a healthy baby as well as a healthy family. According to the City of Milwaukee Health Department, babies who breastfeed are less likely to have several illnesses, including ear infections, asthma, and allergies. They have less vomiting, diarrhea, and colic.
Studies also show breastfeeding lowers the risk of SIDS, obesity, diabetes, and childhood cancers in addition to encouraging better brain development. African-American communities in Milwaukee, as well as across the nation, are dangerously affected by infant mortality rates that surpass many developing countries.
Not all women are able to breastfeed due to difficult lactating, problems with the baby latching on, the presence of a chronic illness, or simply just not having the time. However, many people, just like me, are not aware of the importance of making an attempt to breastfeed our babies.
Organizations like the African American Breastfeeding Network (AABN) are an important resource for breastfeeding. AABN was formed to address breastfeeding disparities, increase awareness of the benefits and value of mother's milk, build community allies and de-normalize formula use. This organization also partners with the Milwaukee Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families (LIHF) collaborative. Led by United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County, this collaborative works to eliminate racial disparities in birth outcomes and ensure more babies reach their first birthday. AABN is there to help coach mothers with breastfeeding, and Milwaukee LIHF is changing the negative norms with families and helps ensure our families stay healthy and strong.