CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The number of black women who breastfeed lags behind every other ethnic group, including other women of color.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, only 58 percent of black mothers breastfeed, compared to 75 percent of white women and 80 percent of latinos. But, a new groundbreaking partnership between Novant Health and Johnson C. Smith University is hoping to change that.
The new program, in its inaugural year at JCSU, plans to diversify the field by recruiting women of color to become lactation consultants.
Tahysha McClain is one of just two black lactation consultants at Novant.
“Most of the time, I’m one, if not the only one in the room,” she said. “And I think it’s really helpful when other women of color see another woman of color coming into their room helping them breast feed and they don’t have to feel so ashamed or you know, we can talk in a certain kind of way to each other.”
Novant Health recognized it too and is now the first hospital in the country to help develop a program at a historically black college or university that will train women of color to become lactation consultants.
The program is rigorous: 90 hours of classroom instruction followed by at least 300 clinical hours.
McClain was thrilled to hear the news as she recalled the struggle to become an internationally board-certified lactation consultant or IBCLC.
“I was like, head over heels excited about this program” McClain said and added, “because when I was trying to get in this path or this line of work, didn’t know where to go, didn’t know where to turn to. I ended up having to do an online program."
Natisha Simms, one of four students in the program this year, remembered hearing about the program two years ago while listening to NPR.
“I actually contacted the dean and I was like, hey - I’m interested in this, can you send me more information?” Simms said.
Fast forward two years and the Charlotte mom of four applied to and was accepted into the IBCLC program at JCSU.
“It’s exciting, but at the same time you think back on it like – ‘wow, it’s taken this long’,” Simms said. “There are no other programs at HBCUs that do what [Johnson C.] Smith is doing. And just to think we’re in 2019 -- like, wow!”
With her mom’s support, Simms breastfed all four of her children.
“She supported me even though my grandmother – her mother – wasn’t that supportive of her breastfeeding,” Simms recalled.
That ignited a passion to do the same for other moms who look like her.
“And so my mom with her support in me - I felt like I wanted to give that so many young black women in my community that may not have that support for various reasons,” Simms said.
Reasons that can really isolate a black mother who chooses to breastfeed.
“You’re up against your own family who may not be supportive - so that’s one hurdle,” Simms pointed out. “You’re up against society who I feel like for black women, for a long time, it hasn’t been OK for us to do things that other women have been granted privileges to do. And I think that stems back to the history of our country.”
Those unique challenges is why the program’s director, and IBCLC, Rachel Davis says their curriculum is different.
“We intentionally put this at an HBCU to have more women of color,” Davis explained. “So we have topics that talk about equity. We have topics that talk about institutional racism. We have topics that, that really get in there and are just honest topics that they need to know.”
Natisha is excited to begin sharing this knowledge.
“We’re taking it back to our community in hope that other women will want to join us in this [and] start a movement,” she said.