Statement by Omisade Burney-Scott, Director of Strategic Partnerships for SisterSong, the national women of color Reproductive Justice collective on recent actions taken by US officials to undermine support for breastfeeding at the
World Health Assembly
"This country is failing Black mothers.
Black women in the US are as at least 3x more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes. Racial disparities exist even when socioeconomic status is accounted for. This comes from the fact that too many Black women do not have access to the services we need to manage chronic conditions that can contribute to complications, that prenatal and postpartum care is often pushed out of reach by financial barriers and that racism is still pervasive in our healthcare system.
The fact is that systemic oppression creates barriers to the services and care that we need when we are trying to plan our families, have a healthy pregnancy and raise our children in safety and with dignity. This includes ensuring that we have the information and support when we want to nurse.
Barriers to breastfeeding initiation and duration are contemporary issues, but for Black women they are rooted in the generational trauma and complicated history of enslavement and the epidemic of policies designed to police our bodies and interfere with how and when we build our families.
Studies have found that Black mothers have the lowest rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration across all study years. This gap is linked to racial disparities in health information and services, the aggressive marketing of formula in communities of color and the fact that women of color are overrepresented in low wage jobs that lack paid maternity leave or adequate workplace protections to ensure that women are able to nurse and pump.
We recognize that the ability to feed and nurture our children is made especially difficult for people living at the intersections or racial and gender inequality. Transgender, gender nonconforming and gender variant people face specific and difficult hardships in the ability to feed and nurture children.
We are committed to pushing for policy, cultural and systemic change to ensure that we get rid of obstacles faced by those who want to nurse or chestfeed. This is a critical part of our overall commitment to ending reproductive oppression and improving maternal and community health.
These efforts faced a huge setback last week when the United States worked to weaken a resolution advanced by the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly. Based on decades of research, the resolution stated that mother's milk is the healthiest option and urged countries to increase investment and implementation in breastfeeding policies, systems, and environmental supports and to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of substitutes.
U.S. officials pushed to remove the language calling on W.H.O members to restrict the way in which companies push artificial infant mile. They even went so far as to threaten trade and aid to try to pressure other members to agree with the changes.
There is a maternal health crisis facing Black women in this country and Black children are more likely to die before their first birthday. This is what officials should be looking at addressing - not bowing to the pressure of formula companies who are willing to put their bottom line before the health and financial stability of families of color.