It is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and two Detroit organizations want women to know there is one simple thing they can do to reduce the risk of developing the disease:
They can breastfeed their baby.
By breastfeeding, mothers go through hormonal changes that delay the return of a menstrual period, lowering the exposure to hormones like estrogen. Hormones are linked to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers,according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blog post. Breastfeeding can also reduce a mother’s risk for Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and ovarian cancer.
In the U.S., Black and white women can get breast cancer at almost the same rate, but Black women are at higher risk of dying from the cancer, according to the CDC. Per every 100,000 women in Michigan, the rate of cancer deaths is 19.2. Looking at the demographics of Wayne County, the rate at which Black women die of breast cancer is 29.3 per every 100,000 women, the CDC reports.
The CDC says that breastfeeding can provide health benefits for mothers and their babies.
But breastfeeding isn’t always easy for mothers, and statistics show that although positive public opinion of breastfeeding has increased, it is still not very high. There also are many racial disparities involved, including the fact that Black infants are 15% less likely to be breastfed than white infants, according to the CDC. But in Michigan, it was reported in 2016 that 83% of infants have been breastfed. The percentage decreases to 56.7% as the child reaches six months of age.
Support groups are trying to increase this percentage. Two based in Detroit encourage Black mothers through the process.
The Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association and Detroit Mama Hub both started after their founders had their own positive and negative experiences with breastfeeding their children. Today, the groups serve more than 150 southeast Michigan mothers who regularly come together for support as they embark on their journey as new mothers.
Bridging the gap for Black families
Kiddada Green had a love for teaching and uplifting Black students in Detroit, and, after having her first child, she decided to transition to helping mothers.
“I knew from my own experiences that breastfeeding was kind of hit or miss with Black families,” Green said. “I wanted to see what I could do to help improve breastfeeding rates. From that, I learned so much about the importance of it, the value of health around it, how it’s so critical for babies who are born small and for preterm babies that they received their mother’s milk. It’s like medicine.”
So she started the Black Mother’s Breastfeeding Association in 2008, alongside her mother, Doris Jordan, and her aunt Debbie Clark. The mother-led organization provides parenting advice and a socialization space, which Green calls a “Sister Circle.”
Every year, the organization serves more than 100 mothers in metro Detroit. Since the coronavirus pandemic began in March, the organization has switched to a virtual space for moms to gather once a month. There also is a community-based doula program. Doulas are trained birth workers who provide prenatal and emotional support before, during and after the birth of a baby.
Green has a goal to help mothers find their voices and their impact while “breaking down and dismantling these racist systems that exist.” She wants mothers to know that their experiences are valuable and that she is inspired by members of her organization.
To find the Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association, visit the website, Facebook or Twitter pages. The organization is based in the Detroit McKinney Center, located at 19750 Burt Road, Room 205.
Looking for moms like her
When Jalyn Spencer had her first child in Maryland, she was involved in a support group for mothers. After moving to Detroit, Spencer was pregnant with her second child in 2013 and was trying to find a local support group for mothers. When she couldn’t find one, the idea of Detroit Mama Hub began to form.
“That inspired me to start the organization,” Spencer said. “I felt like there was probably more women like me that wanted to meet other young mothers — either mothers that are pregnant or in that postpartum period. It can be such a lonely and isolating time.”
By 2017, the organization was in full motion. Detroit Mama Hub opened a storefront in northwest Detroit and began to host prenatal yoga, breastfeeding support and educational classes. During the pandemic, virtual classes have been in session, along with one in-person meetup for mothers to connect in an outdoor setting.
Spencer makes sure to mention that breastfeeding reduces the risk of getting breast cancer in her classes. When it comes to Black women, Spencer said that the risk reduction is not discussed much.
“We have one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding, but one of the highest rates of cancer and I don’t think it’s talked about enough,” said Spencer. “This is one thing that’s slightly preventable through breastfeeding. The longer you breastfeed, the lower your risk of breast cancer.”
The organization is all about serving metro Detroiters and a Facebook group is available for mothers to join and get involved.
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