Chocolate Milk Mommies

Reducing the stigma of breastfeeding for minorities. 

By Max Rykov //Photo by Lakisha Cohill of H&C INC


I post way too often on Facebook for my, or anyone else’s good, so it takes something beyond “Hey everyone, I saw a cool car today!” to pierce through their sturdy algorithm shield and get some attention.

Because they were finalists for a grant from Birmingham’s chapter of the Awesome Foundation, I posted a photo of the Chocolate Milk Mommies from their photoshoot with local photographer, Lakisha Cohill, in a few different places on Facebook. For each separate post, there were several hundred likes, and more importantly, every single comment on each post was positive.

It’s a striking set of photos–beautiful, radiant women of color breastfeeding their babies outdoors. Beyond the obvious visceral power of the image, what’s interesting about it is the statistical rarity of its subjects being all in the same place.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 68% of babies in Alabama were breastfed in 2015. At 12 months, that number drops to 36%. Of that 68% in Alabama, black women accounted for only 14.2%, and that number dropped to 6.7% by 12 months.

The benefits of breastfeeding have been widely documented: from superior nutritional content, immunological protection, and improved cognitive outcomes for the infant, and a host of positive outcomes for the mother including protection from cardiovascular disease, premenopausal breast cancer, osteoporosis, and epithelial ovarian cancer. Worldwide, it is estimated that breastfeeding could prevent around 20,000 breast cancer deaths annually, and prevent the deaths of 823,000 children.

Despite both the tangible and anecdotal evidence, there are still cultural stigmas surrounding black women breastfeeding.

The Chocolate Milk Mommies are working to change that.

They are a breastfeeding and parenting support group that focuses on improving healthcare outcomes in minorities by increasing breastfeeding rates. Their biggest goal right now is to bring the first birth and learning center to the state of Alabama, and provide the proper resources necessary to reduce health disparities for women of color. The core team behind the  Chocolate Milk Mommies are: Angel Warren, Charity Moore, Jennifer Miller, Rauslyn Adams, Elyce Hardwick-Burton, Sacorya Adams, and Tiffany Campbell. All these women do work in the medical, social services, and birth fields, and all are volunteers dedicated toward realizing their vision.

The Chocolate Milk Mommies offer a range of services, from hospital and home visits to provide lactation support, to organizing playdates, to providing information to new mothers in need through their social media pages.

Another one of the services the group provides is helping new mothers deal with the realities of Postpartum Depression (PPD), which affects one in four women of color (which is twice the rate of any other race). Half of PPD cases go undiagnosed in the black community because (according to information provided by the Chocolate Milk Mommies), of a mistrust in the health system or cultural perceptions. A 2010 study conducted at the College at Brockport in New York that focused on 12 women in an urban community suffering from PPD concluded that it was support groups that are the most effective means of reducing depressive symptoms.

The Chocolate Milk Mommies currently have two regular meet-up groups, one held on the second and fourth Monday of each month at the East Lake United Methodist Church, and one at UAB West Hospital on the 1st and 3rd Monday of each month. Additionally, they have a Young Mothers Program at three area high schools: Bessemer, Fairfield, and Jackson Olin. It’s no secret that public schools across the state of Alabama leave much to be desired when it comes to sex education, stressing abstinence-only approaches that are proven time and time again to be utterly fruitless and unhealthy.

A few years ago at a Social Entrepreneurship Career Development Conference hosted by the Birmingham Education Foundation, a group of local high school students gave a presentation about an idea they had for a club at their school to help expectant teen mothers get the resources they need for raising their babies (often, unfortunately, alone). They were asked if they had anything like adequate sex education in their school, and the answer was, as expected, “no”. If anyone reading this has any pull with Birmingham City Schools, I would highly recommend asking the Chocolate Milk Mommies for assistance. And if you, or anyone you know is a woman of color with a young child, or who is expecting, I hope you’ll consider reaching out to the group and getting plugged into their network. And if their mission and vision are intriguing to you, look up the Chocolate Milk Mommies on GoFundMe, and contribute to their campaign.•












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