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The last week of National Breastfeeding Month in August is dedicated to Black breastfeeding. TaCori Hayes, BSN, RN, IBCLC, has had a passion for breastfeeding since giving birth to her first child 3 years ago, and has felt a special calling to offer encouragement and support to Black mothers.

“When I was in the hospital, I didn’t have a consultant ever who looked like me. There was never a Black consultant who came into my room … and so that was my motivation. That’s why I sought out becoming a lactation consultant,” said Hayes.

The decision to breastfeed

Breastfeeding provides many health benefits to both mother and child in addition to the physical touch and bonding time that both enjoy. Breastfed infants are less likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and they also are less likely to experience asthma, ear infections or obesity later in life. Breastmilk also provides some protection against disease. Breastfeeding mothers have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and breast and ovarian cancers.

“Another benefit is that breastfeeding allows all babies to receive optimum nutrition and immunity support regardless of race or socioeconomic status,” said Hayes.

While Hayes makes sure that all of her clients are aware of the benefits of breastfeeding, she is quick to mention that lactation consultants can also play an important role in supporting bottle-feeding mothers. When she is meeting with a mother who chooses to bottle feed, “I empower her in that she is doing the best thing for herself and for her family, as long as I have given her that education and she has made a fully educated decision,” said Hayes.

Supporting breastfeeding

Many potential barriers may stop a mom from breastfeeding, but Hayes’ job is to make sure that education isn’t one of them.

“I believe one of the biggest barriers to breastfeeding is a lack of knowledge regarding normal newborn behaviors & eating patterns. Many parents don’t know it’s normal and expected for babies to frequently wake to be fed. When this happens unexpectedly, mom typically worries that her baby isn’t receiving enough milk via breastfeeding. She may begin to supplement with formula. Excessive supplementation can cause babies to sleep for longer periods of time. This can decrease mom’s milk production, which is established by supply and demand, and baby may develop a preference for the faster flow of a bottle. This can create a cycle that leads to moms ending their breastfeeding journey early. Knowing what to expect before baby arrives can help a mom prepare and make decisions that help her to reach her ultimate goal.”

These challenges are part of the reason that Hayes works so hard to understand her clients’ home lives and support networks.

“I’m going to ask mom what her goals are. Who does her support system consist of? If or when she plans on returning to work. Does she have previous experiences breastfeeding? The answers to those questions guide how I care for that mom and the recommendations I give her. If she has all the support in the world and is highly motivated, then it’s a quick yes, let’s jump right in. If she wants to breastfeed but has a lot of barriers, then I’m going to help her come up with a plan that she feels comfortable with. I remind moms all the time, breastfeeding does not have to be all or nothing.”

The outpatient lactation clinic through Texas Children’s, called the Baby Bistro, is an important way that Hayes and her colleagues can create a support network for moms who are new to breastfeeding, or who are struggling.

“Breastfeeding could have been going completely well the first 3-4 days, and then once you hit day 5 and your milk really comes in and you have engorgement, baby may have a difficult time latching and you may start developing nipple pain and things that just weren’t happening when you had 24-hour access to a lactation consultant, so the clinic is very important to help keep that progression going in a positive way,” said Hayes.

The lactation clinic is available to mothers at any point in their breastfeeding journey, regardless of where the baby was born.

Representation is important

Through her life and career, Hayes is lifting up Black women and cutting down stereotypes that may limit a Black mother’s options. While only 75% of Black babies ever receive breast milk compared to 92% of Asian babies, 85% of non-Hispanic white babies and 85% of Hispanic babies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Hayes sees that these trends are changing and wants to give every mother every opportunity to breastfeed.

“Being the first of my friends and family [to breastfeed] and hearing that so many other Black women have only known women who have formula fed their babies … We are highlighting that Black women do breastfeed,” said Hayes.

Hayes encourages her clients who choose to breastfeed to find a community of support through friends, family, support groups or even online forums. Hayes recently gave birth to twins and she hopes that other mothers who, like herself, are currently breastfeeding will show the world what is possible.

“Representation is just so important. It’s hard to know that you can do something, or that it’s an option, when you haven’t seen it,” said Hayes.

Visit Texas Children’s Baby Bistro Lactation Clinic online for more information about breastfeeding support.

Visit the Texas Children’s blog to see how Texas Children’s is celebrating Black Breastfeeding Week with a free documentary screening.