Bigger than Benefits: Creating an “Understanding” of the Breastfeeding Experience

Lately, in my presentations I’ve been extremely intentional and deliberate about one particular slide. This is what it says:

Why is this so important?

Because for so long, we have sought an interpretation of breastfeeding , as in, how do we use studies and data to better understand how to connect with women. What are the benefits that we need to know and tout to better message to women. While this is important stuff, I firmly believe that what we really need to better message and better support families is a deeper UNDERSTANDING of their lived experience.

This is particularly true for communities of color–who have mostly missing from the data and not included in much of the research. More importantly, their viewpoints and decision making about breastfeeding is so complex that these basic interpretations haven’t worked to engage them to initiate and continue breastfeeding. We’ve been looking at those numbers for far too many years now.

What all women deserve is an UNDERSTANDING of their lives and their lived experience of breastfeeding. But we can’t get to understanding if we are only relying on interpretation models –scientific journals, evidence-based research and so-called best practices that have only been practiced on one type of audience. An understanding requires conversations, spending time in the community and actually listening and learning. It involved cultural humility to allow your “expert knowledge” to fall back and the mothers “knowing” to take the lead. It means moving beyond cookie cutter responses and one-size-fits-all promotion efforts.

Case in point: Recently during Black Breastfeeding Week, we had the glorious experience of a FB Live with about eight black men from all walks of life, including the Assistant Health Commissioner of New York City, a local Congressman who actively supports breastfeeding and a group of fathers from all walks of life. For about an hour, they talked about love, life, their struggles as a father, the realities of being a black man in the current climate and the perceptions of breastfeeding. It was honest, raw, vulnerable and nearly brought me to tears–a powerful demonstration of seeing inside the lives of black men.


While this beautiful demonstration was occurring there were obviously many questions and comments, but some people were looking for one-size-fits-all answers. You would see in the comments, things like, “can you tell us what to say to black men about breastfeeding?”  We intentionally did not respond to those.  Why? Because we offered the community an opportunity for understanding –an opportunity to sit and listen and learn from black men, hearing them talk about their lives in their own words amongst their peers. How many of you have ever had that experience?? But instead of appreciating the opportunity for some UNDERSTANDING of black men, some were still looking for a quick INTERPRETATION.

How sad!

The way forward for all families, and particularly those in communities of color, is about listening and learning not about arming ourselves with a different set of cookie-cutter phrases.

For me that understanding also includes an understanding of their community environment and influences. That’s what my upcoming online event is all about. To be clear: this is no talking head webinar. It’s a full body experience because that’s how I roll. Step into my “studio” for a talk-show style, no holds barred conversation with Simran Noor, of the Center for Social Inclusion Race Forward, as we talk about the role of equity in centering the community in our programs.  Check out our behind the scenes pic!!

AND, you’ll meet the mothers who were community change agents in the Detroit pilot of the First Food Friendly Community Initiative, the innovative WKKF-funded project I led that empowered local residents to make their own community more breastfeeding supportive.

This is an important discussion and opportunity for understanding. Come see what you can learn!

If you can’t join the event, please remember to focus on gaining understanding.


In motherhood,


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top

Donate to the Restoration Project

Donate to Irth