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Working as we do in maternal child health, we’ve long seen the disparities in opportunity and outcomes along racial lines.
Since we opened 20 years ago our milk donors have been less diverse than our milk recipients, and this is no accident. Though breastfeeding rights have a long way to go in our society, white women are 39% more likely to still be making milk for their child at 6 months. Black women are 3-4X more likely to die while giving birth than white women. And while premature birth can strike anyone, Black babies are 40% more likely to be born premature, which we know increases their risks of extended NICU stays, lifelong disabilities, and even death.
This is, and has always been, a result of historical and present-day systemic injustice. It’s why we give our lifesaving donor human milk to babies with a medical need, regardless of their family’s ability to pay our processing fees. It’s why we ask our supporters for money every year to continue our commitment to never turning a family away. And it’s why we partner with changemakers on the ground. Our Charitable Care Program fundraising is vital to our ability to provide equitable care, but it doesn’t solve the underlying problems causing the inequalities. Black women need access to health care providers trained to care for their bodies. Trained in antiracist practices. Able to provide care in a personal and culturally-relevant environment. Until every mother can give birth in a safe space with expert medical and lactation care, and until every baby is born with the same opportunity to grow and thrive, our work and the health care community’s work isn’t done.
If you’re looking for ways to help, or even if these statistics feel surprising and awkward to hear, we encourage you to learn more about our community partners and the work they’re doing on the ground, a few of which we’ve listed here as a starting point:
- US Breastfeeding Committee: we serve on this committee to represent the milk banking industry and the right of every baby to breast milk. The USBC also advocates to Congress members to vote down harmful legislation. Policy work isn’t the only answer to ending systemic inequality, but it’s an important piece.
- March of Dimes: our March of Dimes friends recognize the need to decrease prematurity overall, and to improve the emotional support available for parents with babies in the NICU. Their annual report cards call out each state for their racial disparities in maternal child health outcomes and should be required reading for all maternal health workers and legislators. Texas got a D on a scale of A-F in their 2019 report.
- Hand to Hold: like March of Dimes, this nonprofit fills the gap left by healthcare systems by meeting the emotional and social needs of traumatized NICU families.
- Black Mamas ATX/ Black Mamas Community Collective: this local nonprofit has a wide range of programs, including a Health Subcommittee, where we work together to improve Black families’ access to healthcare. Last year we hosted a public viewing of the documentary Chocolate Milk, and this year we’re creating educational materials for local high schoolers, to encourage students of color to enter the medical and health professions. The milk bank has also just received a grant from St. David’s Foundation to explore more ways to empower and train Black doulas and lactation consultants in Austin.
- Human Milk Banking Association of North America: we serve on committees within this organization to analyze the milk bank industry with an equity lens. Guided by the Kellogg Foundation, the intent is to give every mother an equal opportunity to breastfeed, and every baby, the equal opportunity to receive human milk. This is the heart of our mission here at home and the mission we champion when out in the field with other milk banks nationally and internationally.
- COVID-19 in Human Milk and Infant Feeding: we serve on this international committee alongside the World Health Organization. Focused on COVID-19, we are driving policy and research. Just last month, this included submitting a letter to the editor of a medical journal defending the safety and rights of COVID-19-positive mothers and babies to breastfeed.
There is so much more we can do. Thank you for joining us in this work.
Kim Updegrove, Executive Director
*Stats from: March of Dimes Prematurity Report Card, CDC data