CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The disparity between black women who breastfeed and women of other races is striking. But a local group is working to change that.
Queen City Cocoa B.E.A.N.S (Breastfeeding, Education, Advocacy, Normalcy and Support) is a support group for Black and Latino women in Mecklenburg and Union counties. The group meets three times a month and is a haven of support and encouragement for moms of color.
"We don't have many safe spaces,” said Rachel Davis, who runs Queen City B.E.A.N.S. “There are so many times where we feel like we go in a room and we're the only one in that room and there is no one else in there that looks like us. Again, if you're not a part of a culture, you don't know what that feels like, but it can be very uncomfortable."
It's why Karen Darlington-Phelps, a Charlotte mom and attorney is so grateful for the B.E.A.N.S. “I'm still breastfeeding now,” she said proudly. “So that is a blessing - my daughter is 13 months. I am grateful that I was able to do it as long as I have been able to. My goal was a year.”
Her mother breastfed her - but Karen never had the opportunity to take advantage of her mom’s experience. “My mother passed away in 2016 from cancer so I didn’t have opportunity to call her and say, ‘Mom, what was it like for you and I did this or you experienced that’?,” she explained.
Darlington-Phelps says the BEANS were a great foundation. “These women were all that I could have asked for as being a great home base,” she said. “A great guide along this journey of breastfeeding that can be a bit, uh, discouraging, intimidating, painful - but extremely rewarding.”
Not only do 58 percent of black women breastfeed compared to 75 percent of white women -- only 27 percent of black mothers breastfeed longer than 6 months. One of the reasons - according to the Centers for Disease Control -- is lack of family support and cultural norms. Cultural norms which include the pervasive stigma breastfeeding has in the Black community that dates back to slavery.
“Slaves were chattel as well they were property and as part of that involuntary servitude, one of their tasks was to serve as wet nurses 38 and much to the neglect of their own children often times,” said Darlington-Phelps.
She saw that firsthand when a close friend became the first woman in her family to breastfeed. "Her mom wasn't very supportive of her breastfeeding and she told her you, know, 'baby you're educated you've got a good job. You don't have to do that. You can afford formula',” she recalled. “It was with an understanding that formula was you know with the advent of formula that you be able to provide the best. And you don't have to behave much like a poor woman would who couldn't afford to provide formula to their children.”
The long-held stigma also indicates another reason the CDC say black mamas don’t breastfeed as much: lack of education, particularly the benefits of breastfeeding to moms. They include lowering your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and breast cancer. Benefits even Karen admits she didn’t know until she became a part of the B.E.A.N.S. “That it’s a privilege to be able to do it,” Darlington-Phelps said. “It’s not anything that you’re being made to do. And it’s nothing that you should be ashamed to doing.”
Find out more about the Queen City Cocoa B.E.A.N.S. here: https://www.harmonynl.com/cocoa-b-e-a-n-s