By Voice & Viewpoint Staff Writer
Saturday, August 22 the San Diego County Black Infant Health Program (BIH), operated by the Neighborhood House Association, again celebrated National Black Breastfeeding Week. This year it was with a drive-through swag bag giveaway party for our community’s Black mothers who are pregnant, mothering or breastfeeding. The well attended event was held at O’Farrell Charter School, and women came out by the car loads to both promote and to gain knowledge about the facts and benefits of breastfeeding for our Black mothers and children.
Since 1990, BIH has been on a mission to empower Black women to have healthy pregnancies. Located at the Euclid Medical Center, they are in the heart of the community and serve hundreds of pregnant and parenting San Diego African American women with group-based, client-centered services ranging from prenatal to postpartum sister circles (now provided online) and case management that develops participants’ life skills, stress reduction strategies, and social supports. Their approach is culturally affirming, and the organization is intent on honoring the unique history of African-American women.
“This is another opportunity for us to let women in our community know that they’re supported. That we are excited and happy for them, their babies and their families, and that they are really a network and part of a community, as opposed to a situation where each woman is an isolated entity unto herself,” said Iris Payne, Program Director of the San Diego County Black Infant Health Program.
BIH’s sister circles are a chance for BIH to deeply assess the needs of Black women. “We have a little food, we’re able to fellowship, look at resources and ask: ‘What do we need?’ ‘How do we need them?’ ‘What is home looking like?,’ said Jenaia Bruce, Community Outreach Liaison for Black Infant Health. “We never know what’s needed until we can get in our circles.” It is a safe space, she said, to navigate a health care system filled with health care providers that don’t always “look like us.”
Here are the statistics, compared to San Diego County infants overall, African-American infants are: 1.3 times more likely to be born premature; over 1.5 times more likely to be born with low birthweight; and more than 1.5 times as likely to die during their first year of life.
Double-board certified physician, Dr. Latista Carson attended Saturday’s event. She shared that, because of its complete nutrition, breast milk is best for babies. “But,” she said, “If you’re not able to breastfeed you can also purchase breast milk. Everything is in the milk, so the baby doesn’t need any supplementation at all. They get all of the antibodies that they need. Even if moms are COVID-positive, they can still breastfeed to pass those antibodies onto the baby and protect them.”
Saturday’s event was a collaborative effort between BIH, American Red Cross WIC, Project Concern International (PCI), with sponsorships from UC San Diego, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, and community physicians.
Nyisha Green-Washington, Program Coordinator/ Perinatal Navigator for PCI, embodied the organizers’ spirited dedication. “Black mothers, right now, are dying. So we are here to support you in all the ways: emotionally, physically, in providing resources – because it takes a village to do this. We have to go back to that. It’s all about providing care as a community.” PCI provides monthly, one-on-one programs that include connections to midwifery and doula care, postpartum support and breastfeeding education, in contrast to BIH’s group support model.
For more information about the Black Infant Health Program, call (619) 266-7466 or visit www.neighborhoodhouse.org/blackinfanthealth. “We are enrolling women who are pregnant, at any stage of pregnancy into postpartum. So we are also able to enroll a woman who’s already delivered her baby,” Ms. Payne said.
BIH and its partners certainly fulfilled their mission Saturday to educate and encourage Black mothers to make the healthy choice to breastfeed, for themselves and their families.