Racial disparities in healthcare are evident in the UK, and the world of breastfeeding support is sadly no stranger to systemic racism. Not only are maternal and infant mortality rates in this country shockingly higher among Women of Colour than among White women, but there are also structural barriers preventing Black and Brown families from accessing breastfeeding information and support.
According to the 2021 MBRRACE report, Black women in the UK are over four times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy complications and childbirth than White women, while women of mixed ethnicity and Asian women are respectively twice and almost twice more likely. These disparities became particularly evident within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 88% of the women who died of the virus during the third trimester of pregnancy between March and May 2020 being from Black and minority ethnic groups.  Infant mortality statistics are equally shocking: in 2019 stillbirth rates for babies of Black and Black British ethnicity were over twice those for babies of White ethnicity and neonatal mortality rates were 43% higher, while stillbirth and neonatal mortality rates for babies of Asian and Asian British ethnicity were both around 60% higher than for babies of White ethnicity.
Although, according to the UK Infant Feeding Survey 2010, Black mothers actually have higher breastfeeding initiation rates than White mothers (96% vs. 79%), as well as higher breastfeeding rates at six weeks and six months (89% vs. 65% and 64% vs. 40% respectively), being able to access adequate breastfeeding support could further improve these rates, resulting in better short- and long-term health outcomes for Black mothers and babies. Breastfeeding could help save babies’ lives, and this is why it’s so important that the support offered by breastfeeding organisations like LLLGB is accessible, inclusive, equitable and culturally relevant.
We are acutely aware that our lack of racial diversity and insufficient attention to cultural sensitivity may have created an unwelcoming environment for Women of Colour in need of breastfeeding support. We also know that socio-economic factors can have an impact on the ability of families to access our services and that Black and Brown women are often disproportionately affected. Our failure to understand this in the past has contributed to perpetuating systems that discriminate against People of Colour and, as an organisation, we stand accountable for that.
We are taking our pursuit of antiracism very seriously and we are committed to becoming a genuinely inclusive organisation able to offer culturally sensitive breastfeeding support to families of all backgrounds and skin colours. We recognise that we have a lot of work to do to fully address these issues and we are actively taking steps to instigate change. Many of our Trustees have attended racial justice courses to inform and sustain action at the organisational level and we are investigating options to provide EDI training for all our volunteers. For a few years now, we have been holding internal sessions during Black Breastfeeding Week to emphasise the importance of antiracism in breastfeeding support. We continue to ensure that all skin descriptions on our website are representative and not excluding, and we keep assisting our local groups to remove barriers, including financial ones, that might prevent mothers from attending our meetings and potentially accrediting as LLLGB breastfeeding counsellors.
We are listening, even when criticism feels uncomfortable. We’d really appreciate hearing about your past interactions with LLLGB, as well as your suggestions on how to improve the way we support you. You can submit your feedback by email here.
You can access our Equity and Representation Policy here.
McFadden, A. et al. Does cultural context make a difference to women’s experiences of maternity care? A qualitative study comparing the perspectives of breast‐feeding women of Bangladeshi origin and health practitioners. Health Expectations, 2013; 16 (4): e124-e135.
Anekwe, L. Ethnic disparities in maternal care. BMJ, 2020.
Griswold, M.K. et al. Experiences of Racism and Breastfeeding Initiation and Duration Among First-Time Mothers of the Black Women’s Health Study. J Racial Ethn Health Disparities, 2018; 5(6): 1180-1191.
Griffiths, l.J. and Tate, A.R. The contribution of parental and community ethnicity to breastfeeding practices: evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study. International Journal of Epidemiology, 2005; 34 (6): 1378–1386
How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X Kendi
Me & White Supremacy by Layla Saad
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
I Am Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite
So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo
Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga
Natives by Akala
The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla
This Book is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell
Reproductive Injustice: Racism, Pregnancy, and Premature Birth by Dána-Ain Davis
Reproductive Justice by Loretta Ross and Rickie Solinger
Battling Over Birth: Black Women and the Maternal Health Care Crisis by Helen Arega, Dantia Hudson and Linda Jones
Free to Breastfeed: Voices of Black Mothers by Jeanine Logan and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka
What White People Can Do Next: From Allyship to Coalition by Emma Dabiri
The Good Ally by Nova Reid
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi
Anti-Racist Baby by Ibram X Kendi
List of books to facilitate conversation around race with children by Dope Black Mums (https://www.dopeblackmums.co.uk/lets-talk-about-race)
 MBRRACE-UK. Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care – Lessons learned to inform maternity care from the UK and Ireland Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths and Morbidity 2017-19. November 2021. https://www.npeu.ox.ac.uk/assets/downloads/mbrrace-uk/reports/maternal-report-2021/MBRRACE-UK_Maternal_Report_2021_-_FINAL_-_WEB_VERSION.pdf
 MBRRACE-UK. Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care – Rapid Report: Learning from SARS-CoV-2-related and associated maternal deaths in the UK. March-May 2020. https://www.npeu.ox.ac.uk/assets/downloads/mbrrace-uk/reports/MBRRACE-UK_Maternal_Report_2020_v10_FINAL.pdf
 MBRRACE-UK. Perinatal Mortality Surveillance Report – UK Perinatal Deaths for Births from January to December 2019. October 2021. https://www.npeu.ox.ac.uk/assets/downloads/mbrrace-uk/reports/perinatal-surveillance-report-2019/MBRRACE-UK_Perinatal_Surveillance_Report_2019_-_Final_v2.pdf
 Health and Social Care Information Centre, IFF Research. Infant Feeding Survey 2010. https://sp.ukdataservice.ac.uk/doc/7281/mrdoc/pdf/7281_ifs-uk-2010_report.pdf
 Victora C.G. et al. Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. Lancet 2016; 387: 475–90.
Originally written by Eva Williams and Leaders of LLLGB, August 2020. Updated August 2022.