Uplifting Black Breastfeeding with Community Resources, Culturally Concordant Care, Legal Aid, and Hospital Policy

Breast/chestfeeding is an important mechanism that can provide significant health benefits for both the postpartum person and their infant. In San Francisco, 94% of mothers surveyed intended to breastfeed after birth and 70% of those women hoped to exclusively breastfeed. Yet, the most recent CA Maternal Infant Health Assessment (2016-2018) shows that after three months postpartum, 87% of mothers in San Francisco were still breastfeeding but only 39% were exclusively breastfeeding. When these data are explored even further, disparities and inequities exist. Due to systemic and structural barriers, Black women and birthing parents in San Francisco breastfeed at much lower rates than Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and white mothers. Only, 67% of Black mothers are providing human milk three months after birth in San Francisco, compared to 82% of Hispanic mothers, 86% of Asian/Pacific Islander mothers, and 91% of white mothers.

In this Collaboratory, we present a fictional case study of a postpartum Black woman and scenarios that she may face along her breastfeeding journey. In each scenario, our panel of experts were asked to propose solutions to address the breastfeeding disparity, harnessing the support of community resources and structural change. Our experts included wisdom and perspective from people who are experienced in policy advocacy, legal aid, and lactation care such as an IBCLC or CLES. Watch the recording to better understand what can be done differently, what policies need to be implemented, and what resources can be utilized in order to dismantle the Black breastfeeding disparity.

Aqueelah Russell | Nennies Lactation Consulting

Aqueelah Russell, MBA, IBCLC, LCCE, is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Childbirth Educator who advocates for reproductive justice and the rights to an equitable birthing experience. Currently, she is the Designated Breastfeeding Expert for the Antelope Valley Medical Center WIC Program. There she provides breastfeeding support to​high-risk infants along with staff training and community outreach. Aqueelah has over 15 years of experience working within her community. She is a long-time advocate, supporter, and friend of BreastfeedLA. In her private practice, Nennies Lactation Consulting, she provides compassionate and empowering breastfeeding and childbirth support to families. As a mother of two breastfed children, she understands the importance of promoting breastfeeding as the optimal feeding choice for infants. Her motto is, Every Drop is a Gift!

Sela Steiger | Staff Attorney, Work and Family Program, Legal Aid at Work

Sela Steiger (she/her) is a staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work in the Work and Family Program. She provides legal advice and representation to pregnant workers and new parents, workers struggling with family and medical crises, and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Sela also presents trainings on new parent and caregiving leave laws and engages in policy advocacy to advance the rights of working families.

Robbie Gonzalez-Dow | Executive Director, California Breastfeeding Coalition

Robbie Gonzalez-Dow, MPH, RD, CLE, a registered dietitian and certified lactation educator, has been supporting and working with the CBC since the beginning. Robbie is a seasoned public health advocate with many years of experience in grass-roots engagement, community organizing and media advocacy around nutrition and breastfeeding issues. Her work experience ranges from providing direct nutrition and breastfeeding services to writing and advocating for breastfeeding policy and legislation. She is extremely passionate in forwarding action to remove barriers to breastfeeding so that mothers can fulfill their breastfeeding goals. Robbie received her Bachelor of Science from California State University, Fresno and her Master’s in Public Health from UC Berkeley. Robbie lives in Pacific Grove with her husband, two dogs and one cat where they own and operate a fitness studio.

Payshia Edwards

Payshia Edwards | Associate Director, Expecting Justice

Payshia Edwards is a women’s reproductive and maternal health advocate, Certified Lactation Education Specialist, and Birth Doula. She has over six years of experience in healthcare administration and public health working with historically oppressed and marginalized communities. Payshia received her Bachelor of Science degree in Healthcare Management with a minor in Communication from California State University, San Bernardino, and her Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in Urban Community Health from California State University, Los Angeles. After obtaining her MPH, Payshia continued her education by becoming a Certified Lactation Education Specialist and Birth Doula. Describing herself as a lover of laughter, joy, and self-expression, she hopes to spread more love and light to the communities she serves.

Jo Williams | Program Associate, Expecting Justice

Jo Williams (she/they) is an advocate, researcher, and artist who is deeply dedicated to racial equity and the liberation of people with mental illness.  As a proud alum of Stanford University and a newly minted Cal alum Jo is, in her words, a house divided. Their work at UC Berkeley has focused on applying public health theory and frameworks to the foster care system and reimagining what a society built on Cultures of Care might look like. Jo has lived in the Bay half of her life but will never hesitate to remind you she is originally from LA.. Her lived experience in the foster care system informs much of her politic, study and advocacy. As a new graduate she is so excited to bring her research, conceptual knowledge and Canva skills into the birth justice space!

Selina Lao Mason | Program Manager, UCSF Preterm Birth Initiative

Selina Lao Mason (she/her) is an advocate for equity and justice, a passionate entrepreneur, and a creative writer who is rooted in her faith and her desire to impact systemic change to break cycles of poverty and trauma. She is currently a Program Manager with the California Preterm Birth Initiative at UCSF, and has over five years of experience in running programs that center community partnership, health and racial equity, and trauma-informed practices. She is committed to creating equitable birth and postpartum experiences for all parents and families of color. Her previous work was dedicated to UC-wide sexual violence policy change and ensuring basic needs security for students at UC Berkeley. As a first-generation Chinese-American, she is proud to be a wife, a kitty mama, a Cal Bear alumni, and a Bay Area native.