Photo courtesy of Vanessa Beiler. 

In honor of Black Breastfeeding Week, we’re interviewing a few moms to gain a better understanding of their experiences with breastfeeding and motherhood as black women.

From the moment Avriel Epps found out she was pregnant she knew she wanted to have a home birth and that she wanted to breastfeed. It was important to Avriel as a first-time black mom that she had a black midwife and black doula present for her home birth…ensuring a solid support system as she labored. Fortunately, it all went to plan and her son Geronimo, aka Nemo, was born at home, healthy and surrounded by love.

Avriel—a PhD student studying race, human development, and computer science at Harvard—spent her pregnancy reading up on early childhood development. She knew the benefits of breastfeeding and she knew she wanted to provide that to her son. And she came from a family of breastfeeding—she and her siblings had each been breastfed until they were around 2 years old.

Despite her dedication to breastfeeding, Avriel faced serious challenges. In the first few days of Nemo’s life, he lost "an abnormal amount of body weight" and wasn't gaining any back. Avriel was understandably worried but she was committed to breastfeeding. She visited specialist after specialist to figure out the problem for weeks. One suggested she had low milk supply while another thought Nemo had a slight tongue-tie—though neither issue seemed to be affecting his feeding enough to intervene.

Frustrated but still determined, Avriel enrolled in a "Mommy & Me" group at a local parenting space called Loom. Loom is a women-organized Los Angeles-based company that is committed to offering an inclusive selection of classes, services, and events for parents. 

In her Mommy & Me Class, Avriel discussed her breastfeeding struggles. Other moms shared that they too had similar issues and had found success when they visited with a lactation consultant. Avriel took the recommendation and scheduled an appointment with one, where she found out that Nemo had eczema, a tongue-tie, and serious food allergies. 

Within a month of treatment, Nemo gained three pounds and was climbing the growth charts! Now, he's 8 1/2 months old and still breastfeeding. As Avriel looks back at her journey, she feels fortunate to have the resources that were available to her. She says if she didn't have health insurance and the money to go to specialists not covered by health insurance, she could have easily stopped breastfeeding.

In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, only 64% of black mothers breastfeed at all and on average, black mothers only breastfeed for 6.5 weeks. One of the reasons these numbers are so low is because black mothers statistically have less access to resources like lactation consultants. Avriel having that access made a big difference in her breastfeeding story.

Another advantage? Her education. Statistically, mothers with higher levels of education breastfeed longer. And Avriel’s choice of subject also gave her a leg up. 

"Because I'm getting a PhD, especially in human development, I know how to interpret scientific literature. So I know I'm making an informed decision," she said.

Between the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendations, Avriel's educational background, and her personal drive to breastfeed, she knew it was the right choice for her and Nemo.

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