Wendy Williams just won’t stop insulting breastfeeding mothers. In 2014, the talk show host went in on Karlesha Thurman, an undergraduate student who posted an image online of herself breastfeeding at her college graduation. Last week, she offended actress Alyssa Milano, a guest on her show. According to Wendy, “breasts are sexual things” or “fun bags,” and there is no time or place for a hungry nursing baby to breastfeed in public.
Feeding babies on demand is critical to breastfeeding moms to maintain an adequate milk supply. So for moms on the go, nursing in public is a necessity. Unfortunately, society has sexualized breasts to the point that women are being shamed for using their breasts according to their physiological design.
In addition, Black women have been impacted traumatically by the historical over-sexualization of our bodies. Negative messages in the media and in our personal lives have a profound effect on whether or not Black women have the social support necessary to provide human milk to their infants for at least the recommended first six months of life.
There’s no place for this nonsense when we are working hard to prevent infant deaths.
Did you know that the infant mortality rates for Black babies are double the rates of White babies? Breastfeeding can save the lives of our babies. The U.S. infant mortality rate is 6.61 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, with differences by race and Hispanic origin. The highest infant mortality rate is for non-Hispanic Black women; 12.67 Black babies die per 1000 live births, a rate 2.3 times that for non-Hispanic White women. It’s quite obvious that this is a national crisis.
The death of an infant is devastating for the family, the community and the nation. The death of a child is a profound loss to the child’s parents, family and the larger community. It affects us all at the soul level. Two leading reasons for infant mortality are preterm birth (leading to low birth weight) and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Research has shown that breastfeeding significantly reduces the rate of SIDS by 36%. Although the U.S. Surgeon General has called for national action to support breastfeeding, our community still lacks the support needed to increase breastfeeding rates and save the lives of babies.
We can no longer wait for a trickle-down effect to fill the void of breastfeeding support. We can also no longer have people using their loudspeakers to announce their erotic perversions about breastfeeding. And we certainly don’t need breastfeeding advocates under attack in what should be a friendly interview.
In fact, I am putting out a call for more champions, particularly Black breastfeeding advocates who are in positions of influence. Organizations like the Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA) work tirelessly to reduce racial inequities in breastfeeding support for African Americans. These well-studied inequities are rooted in historical trauma, societal influences/deterrents and social experiences. With Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Clubs in Detroit, Silver Spring, Maryland and Shreveport, Louisiana, BMBFA is changing cultural sentiments and behaviors towards breastfeeding, rekindling community ties and saving the lives of babies throughout the nation.
While Wendy may or may not consider herself a role model, she is in a position of influence. Let’s take the opportunity to turn this negative into a positive. Accept this as a public cry to others who are in positions of influence to use their platform wisely and discuss solutions to serious problems such as infant mortality. Showcase solutions similar to the services provided by BMBFA, including community-centered breastfeeding clubs, breastfeeding peer counselors, and doulas. Together, let’s normalize breastfeeding in our communities and our nation.
This article originally ran on Ebony.com on January 11, 2016.