EXCLUSIVE: “Breastfeeding Supporters” Leave BFMT for Celebrating #BBW16

The owner of Breastfeeding Mama Talk, Kristy Kemp, has used her platform to support breastfeeding in many ways. Last week, she aligned her community with the efforts of Black Breastfeeding Week, which is celebrated annually August 25-31. She manages the largest following in the online breastfeeding community and actively uses her influence to promote change regarding discrimination towards moms nursing in public. The BFMT community, nearly reaching 800k people across social media platforms, is FIERCE – and I am specifically referring to the negative public opinion that can swarm quickly on their posts related to sensitive topics. Kristy takes pride in only accepting WHO Code Compliant sponsorships and even supports and promotes new initiatives that she believes can bring about true change in the world. When posting about black breastfeeding, in general, you should expect the exact same kind of responses that we observe when people post in support of “black lives matter.”And while that is a completely different topic and unrelated to breastfeeding, the overall concepts are one in the same. Black mothers and babies are more likely to die without breastfeeding education and support. Normalizing black breastfeeding is beyond significant for the state of health in the entire black community and increased breastfeeding rates within the black community will only result in higher breastfeeding rates for our entire country. However, targeted support, education, promotion, and guidance is by far the optimal way to reach these communities of color to bring about lasting cultural change.

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When Kristy announced that she would be actively posting content in support of this year’s Black Breastfeeding Week, she faced angry followers for even mentioning race in the discussion of breastfeeding, upset feelings about all women needing support (right in line with the #alllivesmatter hashtag), and complete ignorance regarding the statistics upon which this celebratory week was created.

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The depth of the negative response went so far that over 2700 followers decided that they would rather not be included as a “like” on the Breastfeeding Mama Talk Facebook Page than celebrate the incredibly necessary #BBW16. This was a spike of 2300 more “unlikes” than what Kristy usually sees on a daily basis. Torn apart about the lack of support by her followers, she approached me about her concerns.

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BFMT makes an effort to normalize breastfeeding in every situation, including advocating for black women who suffer from gaping disparities of initiation and continued breastfeeding for many socio-economic reasons. I conducted an email interview with her about the issue and here is how she responded:

NBF: How did you feel about Black Breastfeeding Week when it was first announced in 2012?
BFMT: I will be honest, I was quite ignorant a few years back. When I first found out there was a Black Breastfeeding Week I didn’t understand why. I thought because we already had a World Breastfeeding Week that it was unnecessary. Also, seeing that the majority (of the BFMT community) seemed to agree that a Black Breastfeeding Week was unnecessary it sort of fed my ignorance.
NBF:  When did BFMT begin celebrating #BBW16 publicly, across social media platforms?
BFMT: We started celebrating/recognizing Black Breastfeeding week in 2014 .
NBF: How do know that your followers are supportive/unsupportive of BFMT’s decision to celebrate Black Breastfeeding Week?
BFMT: Well it’s pretty much the same few comments against Black Breastfeeding Week that are made on every single one of the #BBW16 posts I have made which are:
“Why don’t we have a White Breastfeeding Week?”
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“Why does skin color have to be thrown into everything?”
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But then there are comments thanking us for using our platform to educate and bring awareness on the racial disparities in breastfeeding.
“…Can we take one a day a week or a month to contribute to Black Breastfeeding Week? I feel like I’m learning a lot. I enjoy hearing the stories of the well spoken women on these posts. I really would like the education to continue!”

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NBF: When did you decide to support Black Breastfeeding Week no matter what?

BFMT: When I learned that it was a matter of life and death for so many lives. Black babies are dying at twice the rate (in some places, nearly triple) the rate of white babies. When I learned that breastfeeding those babies could have helped save them. These babies need the immunities and nutritional benefit of breast milk the most. According to the CDC, increased breastfeeding among black women could decrease infant mortality rates by as much as 50%. It was then that I knew in my heart that despite all the hate that will come out of it, it may save just one baby from meeting their untimely demise. That means more to me than hateful, ignorant opinions.
NBF: How important is it for you to support a diverse population of breastfeeding families on BFMT?
BFMT: It’s super important for me to recognize and celebrate Black Breastfeeding Week because my mission has always been to ensure that all moms receive the support, encouragement, and awareness they NEED. In my mind, not recognizing Black Breastfeeding Week would be turning my back on black breastfeeding moms in ensuring they get the support and education they desperately need for their babies. I would not feel like a true breastfeeding advocate for all mothers if I stayed silent during this crucial week. It felt really good when I saw that the Black Breastfeeding Week Page had liked my page. It really made me feel like an ally to the Black Breastfeeding community.
NBF: How many admins have you dealt with over the course of the development of your Facebook page?
At the moment there are about three active admins and then myself. Over the past four years, however, there have been hundreds.
NBF: What is the process for preparing/educating them to handle the upswing of negative feedback from the community during Black Breastfeeding Week?

BFMT: I find reputable articles and I fact check them through numerous sources to make sure they’re legit. I make sure the admins source those articles. It helps to have like minded admins. I talk with them in great length to get a feel for how they will respond to someone on the public page. We did just recently have an error where one of my admins misspoke and was confused about who actually started Black Breastfeeding week. We apologized and we rectified it immediately. We never want to misrepresent facts and encourage people to let us know if we ever mess up in the future. To add, I recently added on a Black Breastfeeding mom who also works at WIC as an IBCLC as a page admin! She has been helping us out on all the BBW2016 threads. Here is one of her comments:

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The overall goal of Black Breastfeeding Week is to reach as many people as possible to make them more aware of this statistical issue and to influence cultural change in the black community on a national scale. Although BFMT’s reach may not target the black community, it can provide others with the information necessary to help mothers struggling in these communities to find the online breastfeeding support they need. From the very beginning, I have described the need to normalize breastfeeding within the breastfeeding community itself as a priority before seeking out change within our society. I am grateful that Kristy Kemp of Breastfeeding Mama Talk has taken notice of the work I have done to unite mothers of all feeding styles through this #NormalizeBfing project and International Day to Normalize Breastfeeding. I think it is necessary that I publicly mention my support of her work and stand with her as she rocks the boat in her own community to speak up for what is right. To everyone who decided to ignore the needs of black mothers breastfeeding in this country during the seven days that helps them to receive the support they need you are all now officially “butters!
For example: “I support breastfeeding, BUT what does race have to do with it?”
Good luck with that.
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Kristy Kemp proudly rockin’ the 2015 #idtNBF shirt

 

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